This happens a lot in workplaces when some HR perk is announced, people complain that they worry that someone will take unfair advantage of the new policy and it is implied that complainer's work will be negatively impacted by other people doing so.

However, there is no proof that this situation actually will occur. Is there an idiom or phrase to describe this kind of paranoia or demand for additional rules?

The closest I can think of is "tilting at windmills". Google and SO mostly find results where the problem is actually a benefit, or where a proposed fix doesn't address the actual problem. But what about when the problem is imaginary?

This is different from An idiom meaning someone's doing something useless and has no result at the end, where they look for a phrase about actually doing something that yields no result, whereas in this case, people are perceiving something that doesn't exist and trying to make a "solution" which would actually affect others.


5 Answers 5


A couple of common phrases for trying to solve an imaginary problem are

a solution in search of a problem


a hammer in search of a nail

Another phrase that might fit your scenario is

jumping at shadows


I would say worrying about hypotheticals.

  • Referring to such scenarios as hypotheticals has the advantage over the terms offered in the the other answers of being relatively neutral: it does not imply that considering these scenarios is always wrongheaded, although it leaves it open that in particular cases it may be. Sometimes worrying about hypotheticals is excessive, but sometimes it is a necessary part of responsible legal drafting.
    – jsw29
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 21:29

Tilting at windmills, reference from Don Quixote.

Wikipedia gives this explanation of the idiomatic expression from the literature:

Tilting at windmills is an English idiom that means "attacking imaginary enemies". The expression is derived from Don Quixote, and the word "tilt" in this context refers to jousting. This phrase is sometimes also expressed as "charging at windmills" or "fighting the windmills".

  • This is merely a jot of an answer; an answer should consist of sentences that are grammatically correct. Unless you make the effort to write your answer in normal English sentences it will probably be deleted. Also, you should try to give more explanations; for instance, you really need to give a dictionary definition of this expression.
    – LPH
    Commented Jul 6 at 7:57
  • The answer is now acceptable as it has been edited.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jul 7 at 10:54

Another term is Borrowing trouble that is, to worry about or work on solutions for problems that are not yet yours.


I like stigma for this. While not expressly the definition, it does imply the mental problem or issue as having been created by oneself, and when repeated, becomes reality although false. Perhaps false stigma?

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