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The Nature of Pessimism

We all go through challenging times in life. When we do, our most basic response is to become stressed, a little resentful and even afraid. When we leave those experiences with some manner of unresolved feelings or painfully learned lessons, often we can become pessimistic about the way we view life. If we are not careful, we can develop a perspective that anticipates the worst in each scenario and assumes that every experience is going to lead to disappointment, failure and more hurt.

The problem with pessimism is that it makes several false assumptions about life, about ourselves and about other people. It applies the view that nothing will work out and, if it does, it is only a rare fluke. We might be surprised to learn just how often such a perception can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You see, when we approach people and circumstances with a negative, fatalistic mindset, we already establish parameters which lead toward the path we have (maybe subconsciously) determined.

The reason that our attitude is so predictive of the outcome is that, almost invariably, we find what we are looking for. If you approach your work, your relationships or your family with the expectation that there will be unpleasant results, then you are setting yourself up to look for, and even create, those results. However, if you intentionally search for positive experiences and outcomes, then you can find those enjoyable experiences even in the midst of uncertainty, disappointment and pain. The reason this is so important is that disappointment is a normal and unavoidable part of life. Life after disappointment is largely determined by how we choose to think about it.

So, how does this affect the way we parent and the affect we have on our children? Everything you as a parent do impacts your children. Are you teaching them to expect the best or the worst? Are they learning that life works out in positive ways most of the time, or are they developing an unhealthy fear of taking risks and the belief that everyone is out to get them?

There are certainly times and circumstances where a high degree of skepticism and caution are warranted, but when we allow our own unresolved fear, pain and paranoia to dictate and dominate the way we see ourselves and life in general, we do a great disservice to our children. If you are a parent, you cannot escape the influence you have on helping your child learn to expect the best out of life. Positive expectations will help propel them towards positive outcomes.

So, how do we make sure we are teaching our children to have an outlook on circumstances that will empower them and help ensure their best chance of success? One of the first steps is to teach them to be responsible for their own actions, words and choices. So often, our pessimism develops because, rather than examining our choices to see what we could have done differently, we seek another person to take the blame for our poor choices that have led to an outcome we did not want.

Such outcomes are often the result of poor planning, lack of preparation, lack of commitment, etc. When we see ourselves as entitled to a positive outcome, even when we do not invest the time and energy to help ensure that outcome, we can develop a mindset of victimization and hopelessness that can easily become a repeating pattern in our lives. If we want our children to take responsibility for their own choices, we have to model that behavior in our own lives.

Another tool we can use to instill more optimism in our children’s lives is to help them develop a vision for themselves. So many of us, children and adults alike, meander through our days, months and years, with no real design on where we are headed or what we want to achieve. This feeling that we are just surviving each day without really heading anywhere, in particular, leaves us feeling unfulfilled and discontent.

It is this discontentedness that generates so much pessimism. If we can help our children explore what they would like to achieve out of life and where they want to see themselves in 5, 10 or 20 years, then we can help them establish a vision that will guide them in their choices. This vision can have a dramatic effect on their perspective of where they are headed and why they need to make certain choices in order to arrive there.

These are just a few of the ways that you can begin to confront and change the pessimism you may have become accustomed to in your own life. And, by changing this nature in yourself, you will be helping to ensure that your children take on a more optimistic and enjoyable approach to life!

Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker & Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama.

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