I don't know if your preteen (with or without autism) does this, but mine seems to do it by default: when he becomes upset he creates stories around how the upsetting thing/event occurred. These stories have no basis in reality whatsoever and the further he goes in to telling the story, the more upset he becomes. Here is an example (a compilation of many similar stories) of the kinds of stories he comes up with:
Sage: Those are EVIL! They are out to get me. They just jump out and grab me and they won't let me move!
Me: What are you talking about?
Sage: The K'nex. They are chasing me around the room trying to hurt me and I. AM. MAD!!! (His body shakes with the intensity he spends on containing his anger and telling the story.)
Me: Calm down. K'nex don't move on their own. What really happened?
Sage: I was in my room building with K'nex and they are misbehaving (he points his finger as if scolding them). When I tried to put one on my structure, it popped off and flew across the room. When I got up to get it, I stepped on one. I don't know how it got under my foot, it just moved there. It wanted to hurt me and I am mad because it is breaking the law to do that!
So we are a little closer to what really happened. From what I gather, he is frustrated with his K'nex and then he hurt his foot when he stepped on one. That makes a lot more sense than the paranoid horror story he started with!
Isn't that what happens though? When we are frustrated or when we don't have the full story about something upsetting, we just make up the rest. The problem is that usually our made up parts are far worse than the truth.
As I sit here with my coffee at Books-A-Million, a great example of this is brewing. When I arrived, I put my stuff on an empty table and went to get my coffee. When I came back to my small table, a huched-over elderly man switched from his table to mine and sat in the chair across from me with is newspaper.
He stunk to high heaven and I didn't find out if he knew I was already sitting there, because I couldn't breathe in enough air to ask the question!! So I just held my breath and calmly relocated to the other side of the store.
He never looked up, never acknowledged my presence, never seemed to notice what had happened. As I thought about this odd situation, I became worried he may be offended that I moved away from him. I looked over at him but he was still reading his newspaper.
So naturally, I thought to myself, "He must be sneaking looks at me when my back is turned from him so I won't know he's watching. I bet he's is going to glare over at me with his angry eyebrows any minute now, I better keep alert. Maybe he isn't reeeeally hunched over, maybe he is a mass murderer and the hunch is part of his cover. Why else would he smell like that? I'm sure he has a gun in his belt. Or, a knife. I better write a post about this so everyone will know what happened to me after he stabs us all to death!"
It doesn't serve us well, does it? I mean, I could become just as paranoid about that innocent elderly man who needs a brick of deodorant and a bath, as my son can become about his K'nex coming to life and taking over the world of his bedroom. Usually, the stories we've created end up being what psychologists call catastrophizing, and it leads to all sorts of problems like anxiety, anger and hopelessness. At the least, it adds stress to our already overly stressed lives.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Please tell me we are not alone in this....
I guess this is why we are instructed in the Bible about what we are supposed to think about:
1) Whatever is true. (Phil 4:8) Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.
When I am feeling "off", the most useful question I can ask myself is, "What am I thinking about? Is it true?" Usually the answer is no. If I were feeling paranoid or anxious about Stinky Man, I would realize that I am dreaming up a ton of "what if's" that have no basis in reality.
2) Take thoughts captive
What I should do, is take that thought captive and make it obedient to Christ: (2 Cor 10:5) "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." That man is made in the image of God. He is just sitting here reading a newspaper doing no harm. He simply needs to use deodorant every once in a while, for my own olfactory comfort.
3) Be Transformed
In recognizing I am entertaining thoughts that are not true about Stinky Man, and by taking those thoughts captive to make them obedient to Christ, my mind is being transformed and renewed. The more often I take thoughts captive, the more my brain creates new pathways and is rewired. The new way of thinking becomes the go-to path for my brain. It's been transformed!
Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Check out this short but amazing youtube video on the scientific proof of this verse: Neuroplasticity
What do you think?
Do you tend to catastrophize or create "what if" scenarios? Let's continue the discussion in the comments!