Saturday, March 11, 2006

Agoraphobia Thoughts: Rigid Expectations, Fatalistic Thinking

Here are two more irrational thought patterns that people with agoraphobia often practice - holding rigid expectations about how things "should" be and feeling like they have no control over their circumstances.

Rigid Expectations: Thinking of personal preferences, wants, or choices in terms of absolute rules. Rigid expectations are usually expressed with words like “should,” “ought to,” “have to,” and “must.”

This type of thinking leads to anxiety because you end up focusing on something you think is wrong and are likely to becomne critical of whoever or whatever is not meeting the rigid expectation. Because in many cases, the rigid expectations are applied to yourself, this type of thinking tends to promote a lot of self-criticism.

When you hold rigid expectations, you think of anything that falls short of the inflexible standard you have set as totally unacceptable. In effect, you have entered an idealistic fantasy world where everything is supposed to be exactly how you think it should be or you feel anxiety.

Examples of rigid expectations:

“I should be liked and accepted by everyone or I am not a worthwhile person.”

“I have to be able to finish my workout before 7 AM every morning or it won’t be a good day.”


Fatalistic thinking: Thinking of yourself as powerless to make choices or affect the outcomes of your own life. Fatalistic thinking is holding the belief that the forces that govern your life circumstances lie completely beyond your control. This is a way of not taking responsibility for your decisions and behavior.

For people with agoraphobia, it is also a way of avoiding responsibility for doing things that might cause anxiety. People who engage in fatalistic thinking often say “I can’t” when they really mean “I don’t want to,” “I am afraid to,” or “I won’t.:

Examples of fatalistic thinking:

I am supposed to go to a conference for work, but it will mean flying in a plane to get their and I am afraid to fly. I say to a co-worker, “I can’t go to the conference because the company can’t really afford to send another person.”

I don’t want to go to class because I am afraid to take a test. I tell my parents, “I can’t go to school today because I feel too sick.”

Fatalistic thinking may start out as consciously making excuses for things someone with agoraphobia would be afraid to do, you event. However, people who talk this way often start believing that their life circumstances really are out of their control. When you perceive the important outcomes of your life as in the hands of fate, you are setting yourself up for feelings of powerlessness, fear, and anxiety.

For most people with agoraphobia, fatalistic thinking gets combined with rigid expectations to cause even more anxiety. That’s because when people holding rigid expectations for themselves succumb to fatalistic thinking, they live in a world caught between what they “should” do but “can’t” do.

An example of this “should but can’t” thinking would be if someone with agoraphobia experienced the death of her mother and the funeral was to be held out of town and would require a drive of several hours. This person might think to themselves, “I really should make the funeral or I am not being a good daughter. Missing my own mother’s funeral would be absolutely unthinkable. But I can’t make it because I can’t drive. What if I had a panic attack and got into a major wreck.”

The person in this example is caught in the classic bind between rigid expectations and fatalistic thinking. There is something she “should” do but feels like forces beyond her control will prevent her. She is likely to feel guilty about missing her mothers funeral and anxious because she doesn’t think she can do anything about it. She is likely to compound her anxiety with self-criticism.

Most people with agoraphobia experience these binds all the time, and live in a near constant state of self-criticism and anxiety as a result.

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