“Stop being a pessimist all the time!”. Have you been told this a lot?
Pessimism is something we can all feel at certain times in our lives. However, some of us will be too pessimistic or even inappropriate, which will impact our personal and professional lives.
1. What is a pessimistic person?
Pessimism is the state of mind of a person who perceives life in a negative way. Nothing is going well and even if everything is going well at the moment, it will not last.
Pessimistic people will always see the bad side of things around them while inhibiting the positive. This is called selective abstraction.
There is a misconception that pessimism is innate. It is not! Pessimism is the result of early learning of a way of functioning and of thinking habits. Thus, our brain being (most of the time) well-made, there is always a possibility to change. Indeed, brain plasticity coupled with therapeutic support can help create new habits of thought and behavior.
Often people who are pessimistic will not consider themselves as such, but rather will consider themselves as realistic! It is important to differentiate between pessimistic people as described above and realistic pessimists, who will mainly use pessimism in certain situations to protect themselves. Indeed, realistic people will anticipate the bad, taking into account the objective facts, that is to say without using subjectivity and judgment. This functioning allows them to face a negative event or to take full advantage of a positive event.
In summary, where pessimistic people only see the negative side of things even in positive moments of life, the realist will be able to see the negative and positive sides of events in his life.
2. What are the differences between pessimists and optimists?
To use a well-known expression, the optimist sees the glass as half full, while the pessimist sees the glass as half empty.
The optimist will see the future from a positive point of view, while the pessimist will see it from an extremely negative, even catastrophic point of view. We also find a large part of pessimism in phobias. In both cases, whether for the optimist or the pessimist, the anticipation of the future may be unrealistic or fantasized.
The optimists are doing better and better, taking better care of themselves. The pessimist(s) believe they are “screwed”. In other words, optimists will have better health, will have fewer depressive symptoms and will adapt more easily to situations in order to find solutions to the various problems that arise in life.
We often speak of the energy of the optimist and the discouragement of the pessimist.
One and the other are not necessarily opposed. Like everything in life, they are not in the extreme of optimism or pessimism. Positive people are not all the time optimistic and cheerful about life as those around them, and pessimistic people do not brood all day.
In order to assess pessimism, there is a scientifically validated scale to assess optimism, so you can answer these questions yourself or ask them to your patients:
- In times of uncertainty, I usually expect the best.
- I find it easy to relax
- If there is a chance that things will go wrong for me, they will.
- I am always optimistic about my future.
- I appreciate my friends very much.
- It’s important for me to keep busy.
- I almost never expect things to go my way.
- I don’t get angry very easily.
- I rarely expect good things to happen to me.
- Overall, I expect more good things to happen to me than bad.
3. Disorders associated with pessimism:
Pessimism is associated with a variety of disorders. In particular, we can find more significant mood disorders, such as depressive symptoms linked to this very negative view of the world.
We also find a higher comorbidity of anxiety disorders. Pessimistic people will suffer more from phobias, toc or generalized anxiety.
Pessimists tend to always anticipate the worst.
Studies also show that being pessimistic increases health problems. In particular, people will have a greater risk of death from cancer. There is also an increased risk of developing various pathologies such as Parkinson’s disease or major neurocognitive disorders.
4. Therapy of pessimism
As you can see, the pessimistic person will always see the negative side of things, which will make it very difficult to start new activities. Moreover, there will be a decrease in the confidence that one can have in oneself, which will lead him to limit his projects.
Pessimism is not the only one, it will also have a strong impact on the relationship with others. In fact, most people who come for counselling in the context of pessimism come at the request of their loved ones.
The most recommended therapies for pessimism are cognitive-behavioral therapies and positive psychology.
Be careful, the goal is not to live in a world of carefree dreams and to see all the life in pink.
Here are some tips to reduce pessimism:
- Focus on solutions rather than problems: When faced with a problem, you have different ways of reacting to it. You can dwell on the problem, thinking that fate is working against you and that you should have known better anyway. Or you may say to yourself, okay, I have this problem, what can I do to find a solution to this problem and if there is no solution what can I do to minimize its impact on my life.
- Express your negative thoughts only once, rather than saying them over and over again. This will prevent your brain from focusing on these thoughts indefinitely and will also have less impact on those around you.
- Check if your predictions are coming true. If most of the time it fails, wouldn’t it be a sign to think differently?
- Help your brain to change its perception of the world. To do this, know that your brain does not hear negations. So when you say “I mustn’t feel bad”, “I mustn’t get depressed…”, try to be optimistic from time to time. Your brain hears mainly the words “bad” and “depressed”. Try to tell yourself the same thing, but in a really positive way. IF you shouldn’t feel bad, then you should feel good!
- Try to be as focused as possible on the present moment. Your brain will regularly bring up your past experiences (negative, of course!) and make you imagine a catastrophic future. Try to set up small exercises that allow you to refocus on the here and now. There are different possibilities to help you to be in this exercise, notably all the exercises of full consciousness, meditation…
- Practice a physical activity of endurance!
As you can see, pessimism is not irreversible. A support in the management of emotions and thoughts can gradually bring your brain to visualize things differently.