How to Cope With a Sense of Foreshortened Future

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A sense of foreshortened future involves feeling as if life will be cut short without any real explanation as to why. People who experience this may also feel they won't be able to reach milestones in their life, such as a career, marriage, or children.  

This sense of foreshortened future is a reaction that can occur following trauma. It is considered an avoidance symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to negative expectations about the future.

This article discusses the symptoms and causes of a sense of foreshortened future. It also covers coping with this symptom and when you should seek help from a professional.

Symptoms

A sense of foreshortened future is characterized by:

  • An inability to think about or plan for the future
  • Changes in how a person perceives the passage of time
  • Difficulty trusting that other people will be around in the future
  • Distrust of others and the world in general
  • Experiencing narrative foreclosure, or the feeling that life is over
  • Feeling that the world is unpredictable
  • Losing motivation to pursue projects or stick to commitments
  • Negative views about the future
  • The sense that death is imminent

A sense of a foreshortened future can vary in terms of severity. Some people may have just a mild sense that their life will be cut short, whereas others may have a specific prediction regarding the length of their lifespan and are completely convinced of their premature death. This symptom can be very difficult to cope with and may lead to isolation, hopelessness, helplessness, and depression.

A sense of foreshortened future is also associated with holding negative beliefs. Examples of negative beliefs people might hold include thinking life is meaningless, thinking that they don't deserve happiness, believing they will never reach their goals, and thinking that good things never happen.

Causes

A sense of foreshortened future emerges as a response to trauma. It most often stems from childhood trauma but also happens following other upheavals, including:

  • Growing up with a narcissistic parent may contribute to children internalizing negative attitudes about themselves and the future
  • Long-term abuse or neglect during childhood
  • Acute traumas that involve near-death or the death of a loved one
  • Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD)

One of the primary symptoms of PTSD is holding negative thoughts about the future, which includes the sense that a person simply won't be around in the future. 

This symptom may emerge in situations where people are led to doubt their ability to function, cope, or succeed. When people are made to feel worthless, unsupported, undeserving, and incapable of finding happiness, they may struggle to envision a future for themselves.

Research has also found that people tend to recall past memories in a more general way that lacks specificity and detail. Because being able to recall specific memories is important for visualizing the future, this overgeneralized autobiographical memory may play a role in the sense of foreshortened future.

Coping With a Sense of a Foreshortened Future

There are some steps you can take to reduce the severity of this symptom. A number of potential coping strategies are described below.

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Be Mindful of Your Thoughts

Believing that your life will be cut short following a traumatic event makes sense. You may have feared for your life or even come close to death as a result of your traumatic event. Furthermore, following a traumatic event, our assumptions about the world as a safe and secure place are shattered.

People are forced to come to terms with their own mortality. As a result, the belief that your life will be cut short likely feels very true. However, there is really no way to determine your lifespan. Consequently, it can be helpful to be mindful of those thoughts about your premature death.

Notice your thoughts as simply objects in your mind, as opposed to the truth. Doing so will prevent you from connecting with those thoughts, thus reducing the likelihood of hopelessness and helplessness.

Seek Positive Activities

A sense of a foreshortened future can increase the risk of depression. Therefore, it is very important to identify and increase the extent to which you take part in positive activities. It may be particularly useful to engage in activities that you used to enjoy before the traumatic event occurred.

You may not notice an immediate change in your emotions or thoughts. That is normal. Keep at it. Being more active, especially in positive activities, will eventually improve your mood and can prevent depression.

Pay Attention to Your Choices 

People often make choices based on their emotions. Anxiety may tell you to avoid something. Sadness may tell you to isolate. Anger may tell you to retaliate.

Although listening to your emotions is important, they may not always lead you down the best path. Instead, it is important to think about what kind of life you want to live and make choices that are based on that idea.

For example, if you want to live a life where you are a compassionate and caring person, make choices each and every day to engage in a behavior that is consistent with those values. Doing so will create a sense of agency and purpose as well as increase the feeling that you are living a fulfilling life.

Connect With Others 

A sense of a foreshortened future can cause people to isolate themselves from others. Given this, the best thing you can do to counter this is to connect with others and establish social support. The more meaningful relationships you have in your life, the more fulfilling your life may begin to feel.

Reduce Avoidance 

Following a traumatic event, it is very natural to avoid certain activities or places. The problem with avoidance is that avoidance often leads to more avoidance. When you avoid something, you are delivering the message to your brain that a situation is not safe.

The more you avoid, the more your world feels unsafe, which will then lead to you avoiding more and more situations.

Therefore, it can be important to take steps to approach situations or activities that you want to avoid. Of course, you don't want to approach situations that may be objectively unsafe (like running alone in a park at night, for example). You do, however, want to engage in activities that you used to feel comfortable doing before the traumatic event occurred.

This practice can be difficult, as you may experience anxiety and fear, but these feelings will eventually dissipate. When you start this process, it may be helpful to bring along a trusted and supportive friend.

Practice Self-Care

Another way to combat the sense of a foreshortened future is to engage in behaviors that are about valuing your life. Schedule time to pamper yourself or engage in self-soothing and compassionate activities. Exercise. Eat well. Taking care of yourself can have a tremendous impact on your emotions and thoughts.

Recap

Strategies such as being mindful of your thoughts, seeking positive activities, connecting with others, and reducing avoidance may help you cope with a sense of foreshortened future.

When to Get Help

Many of the coping strategies listed above are easier said than done. Be patient and take your time. Reward yourself for any small amount of progress that you make in reducing your sense of foreshortened future.

It may also be helpful to seek treatment for your PTSD. If a sense of foreshortened future is making it difficult to function or causing distress, talk to your healthcare provider or mental health professional.

By reducing your symptoms of PTSD in general, you will likely notice that your sense of foreshortened future also reduces in intensity. A therapist can also provide you with support as you use the coping skills described above.

There are a number of effective treatments for PTSD. Medications may be prescribed to help treat symptoms related to anxiety, mood, eating, and sleep. Different types of psychotherapy can also be helpful, including cognitive processing therapy (CPT), exposure therapy, group therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.

You might start your search by asking your healthcare provider to refer you to a therapist, checking with your insurance provider for a directory of in-network mental health professionals, or by searching an online directory to help you find appropriate mental health providers in your area.

A Word From Verywell

Trauma affects the mind in many ways, including how people think and feel about the future. When the world feels unsafe, unpredictable, and untrustworthy, you might feel that there is little point in making plans for events that you don't expect to happen. If the future feels intangible, consider talking to a therapist. They can offer help, support, and treatments that can help you change how you think and make plans to support your goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are types of avoidance behaviors in PTSD?

    Avoidance symptoms in PTSD tend to focus on avoiding emotions and reminders of the trauma. While avoidance is meant to reduce pain and help people cope, it actually ends up making PTSD symptoms worse.

  • How does trauma affect how people view the future?

    Trauma contributes to problems with time perception, but it also makes it more difficult to trust that the world is safe and predictable. Feeling a lack of control over the events in one's life can make it more difficult to envision a future.

  • What impact does a sense of foreshortened future have?

    A sense of foreshortened future can make it difficult for people to stay motivated, set goals, or stick to their commitments. They may feel that since there is no future, there is no point in making plans, pursuing goals, or maintaining relationships with others. It can contribute to poor achievement, depression, hopelessness, and isolation.

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10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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