Think About It: Awfulizing your life

Don Meyer, Ph.D.
Don Meyer, Ph.D.

“Don’t make a bad day make you feel like you have a bad life.”


Every now and then I hear a new word that makes me stop and think. My friend, Carl Colletti did that when he used the word “awfulizing.” He was describing our tendency to take one negative thing that happens to us and letting it filter out all of the positive things which make up most of our lives.

According to the Psychological Dictionary, “awfulizing refers to an irrational and dramatic thought pattern characterized by a tendency to overestimate the potential seriousness or negative consequences of events, situations, or perceived thoughts.”

This is probably what Frederick Langbridge had in mind when he wrote this short poem, “Two men looked out from prison bars, one saw the mud, the other saw the stars.”


Elizabeth Smart was only 14 years old in 2002 when she was kidnapped out of her Utah home, raped and held hostage for nine months by Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. Her capacity to see stars rather than mud is a testimony to the human spirit to rise above the most horrific circumstances one can imagine.

Listen to her own words ten years later at a Palm Beach County Bar Association luncheon, “I said, ‘If you are just going to rape and murder me, would you please do it here so my family can find my remains?’ because I wanted them to know that I didn’t run away,” she said of being captured. “He turned to me and said, ‘I’m not going to do that to you yet.’”

She continued her story, “I had a million and one things going through my head, but something inside me said, ‘Elizabeth, if you ever escape, you need to listen to what he’s saying.’ I didn’t think there was anything more that could shock me, but the words I heard next I couldn’t believe. He said, ‘I hearby seal you to me as my wife before God and his angels as my witnesses.’ My only reaction was to scream out ‘No.’ He said, ‘If you ever scream out like that, I will kill you.’ Then he forced me down and raped me.”

Elizabeth said, “I’ll never forget how dirty and filthy I felt, and how I lost all my self-worth in seconds. It would be better if he killed me now, so I don’t have to live with this. I ended up falling asleep with those thoughts.”

If anyone would have a reason to “awfulize” their life it would be Elizabeth Smart. But listen to the advice her mother gave her the morning after she came home. “This man has taken nine months of your life. Don’t give him another minute,” she said. “The best punishment for him is for you to be happy and follow your dreams.”

Her own words are simply inspiring. “I’m not going to let it define who I am. People know me as Elizabeth Smart, the girl who was kidnapped and survived. But once they talk to me, I hope they realize I’m more than that. I have a great life. I’ve got a great family. I’ve got a great husband. I love music. I love horses. I love helping other people realize they don’t have to let their life be ruined by what’s happened to them.”

She attributes much of her survival to her faith. In her book My Story she writes that she “never felt closer to God than I did throughout my nightmare with Mitchell.”

Most of us will not face what Elizabeth faced. But when you don’t get the promotion, or when you slip on the ice and break your leg, or when your friends really let you down, or your primary goal is not reached, don’t “awfulize” your whole life.

Teri Guillesnets said, “Life is not always fair. Sometimes you get a splinter even sliding down a rainbow.”

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA

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