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Premeditation of Adversity - You Want Me to Imagine What?

"The mind that is anxious about future events is miserable." - Seneca

Trauma survivors often struggle with developing healthy relationships due to the lasting impact of their past experiences. In addition, people who have not experienced trauma may still face challenges in relating to others in a positive and productive manner. One technique that can be useful for both trauma survivors and those looking to improve their relationships is premeditation of adversity, also known as premeditatio malorum.

Premeditation of adversity is a Stoic philosophy technique that involves imagining potential negative outcomes and mentally preparing oneself for them by imagining specific ways things might go wrong and how you would react to what comes your way, no matter what it is. This practice can be particularly beneficial for trauma survivors who may be triggered by unexpected events or experiences. By anticipating and preparing for potential challenges, individuals can feel more in control of their emotional responses and better equipped to handle difficult situations.

Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. All the terms of our human lot should be before our eyes.” - Seneca, again (that guy had it locked down).

photo of a sunken ship, orange in color, half covered by calm blue water
photo of a sunken ship, orange in color, half covered by calm blue water

Premeditation of adversity is not about catastrophizing or becoming overly anxious about potential negative outcomes, even though we may be able to easily imagine the shipwreck, or forgetting every word of the presentation, or making a fool of ourselves on the first date. It's also not an invitation to obsess over the negative. Instead, it is a proactive and mindful approach to prepare oneself for challenges that may arise in life. By considering potential difficulties and developing strategies to manage them, individuals can feel more confident and resilient in the face of adversity.

confident young, bearded man wearing sunglasses, sitting against a denim blue wall in a power pose
confident young, bearded man wearing sunglasses, sitting against a denim blue wall in a power pose

In addition to helping us manage emotional responses to triggers and conflicts, premeditation of adversity can also foster greater empathy of others, and a better understanding of how people operate within relationships. By imagining ourselves in another's shoes and considering potential challenges or misunderstandings, we can approach conversations with greater compassion and perspective.

For example, if I'm having a hard time understanding my husband's perspective on something (sometimes I do...he's an engineer after all and we think differently!), I can try and imagine myself in his position and consider the challenges and experiences that he may be experiencing. This can help me approach any conversation we have with more empathy and understanding.

When I first started using premeditatio as a healing tool, I was stuck in a cycle of anger. I blamed others for my situation, because after all, I thought things were "done to me" without my having any agency or power. Some things were "done to me" but that doesn't matter in my current stage of healing now and I'll explain why in another post. I started by identifying past events that bugged the crap out of me and began to imagine ways I could have handled things differently. Imagining these alternate scenarios, even though they didn't happen, helped me to release the anger of the actual events that did happen. As well, the practice of imagining alternate scenarios allowed me to more easily imagine future events. All the ways things could go sideways next year, or next month, or later today.