“Why do we insist on dress-rehearsing tragedy in moments of deep joy? Because joy is the most vulnerable emotion we feel. And that’s saying something, given that I study fear and shame. When we feel joy, it is a place of incredible vulnerability—it’s beauty and fragility and deep gratitude and impermanence all wrapped up in.” - Brené Brown
In this quote from her 2018 book Dare to Lead, researcher, author, lecturer and podcaster Brené Brown introduces the concept of dress rehearsing tragedy—basically envisioning every horrible scenario in any situation, especially when it comes to your loved ones, rather than just existing in the moment. Even if you’ve never put a name to it before, we’re willing to bet you’ve found yourself doing it from time to time. Maybe you’re celebrating your grandmother’s birthday when all of a sudden, you’re overcome with sadness that she’s going to eventually die. Maybe you’re in a new relationship that feels naturally wonderful, but you can’t stop thinking about whether or not it’s actually going to work out in the long run. Either way, you’re envisioning sad situations well before they happen instead of being grateful for the present moment.
Even though it’s something many of us do as a way to prepare ourselves for these awful moments, dress rehearsing tragedy is effectively stealing our ability to feel joy in joyous situations. We tapped Jamie Goldstein, clinical psychologist and therapy experience lead at Coa, the gym for mental health, to explain why we should stop catastrophizing—and how.