Do you ever tell yourself that you can’t stand, tolerate or endure something? You can make it harder to cope with unpleasant situations when you have thoughts like:

  • I can’t stand it any longer.
  • I can’t bear … .
  • It’s intolerable … .
  • I’d never be able to live with myself if … .

What we’re often afraid of is not the situation itself, but rather the unpleasant feelings we associate with it. In other words, we anticipate feeling bad (e.g. putting ourselves down, getting anxious, feeling rejected or hurt, etc.) and tell ourselves we simply can’t stand the discomfort of feeling like that. This in turn leads to the demand: Because I can’t stand to experience such discomfort, therefore I must not. Unfortunately, such a combination of awfulising and demanding makes us even more uptight!

This common tendency is known as discomfort-intolerance, or low discomfort-tolerance (colloquially called ’can’t-stand-it-itis’). It is a significant cause of many of the emotional problems that afflict human beings.

Discomfort anxiety

Low discomfort-tolerance leads to discomfort anxiety: the unpleasant sensation that occurs when we perceive some threat to our physical or emotional comfort. As well as discomfort-intolerance, awfulising and demanding are usually involved:

  • ‘I can’t stand discomfort and pain.’
  • ‘It is terrible to feel bad.’
  • ‘I must not experience discomfort.’

If we kept our desire for comfort as a preference, we would be just disappointed or concerned when it was not met. Turning comfort into an absolute ’need’ is what makes it seem catastrophic. It also creates what is called secondary disturbance – having a problem about a problem. If we catastrophise about discomfort, and demand that we avoid it, we make ourselves uncomfortable!

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