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Pessimism: Definition, Types, Examples & How To Handle It

“Pessimism is an excuse for not trying and a guarantee to a personal failure.”—Bill Clinton. Do you see the world from a glass half empty perspective? Or you don’t believe that every cloud has a silver lining? If you happened to answer ‘Yes’ to either of the questions above, you might likely be a pessimist.

Pessimists are often criticized for their tendency to think negatively. They also tend to focus on the worst or unfavorable aspects in most circumstances. Most people believe that being a pessimist isn’t all that bad.

Some even consider it a virtue since it keeps them out of potentially harmful situations. While pessimism might be effective in moderation, many studies have found that it can negatively affect your mental and physical health.

Once you understand what pessimism is after reading this article, you may reconsider your view. In this article, we will be sharing the definition of pessimism, its upsides, and downsides.

You will also learn tips on overcoming pessimism and ways to identify a pessimist’s personality traits.

Pessimism Definition, Origin & How to Handle

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What Is Pessimism?

According to the American Psychological Association’s definition, pessimism is “the attitude that things will go wrong and that people’s wishes or aims are unlikely to be fulfilled.”

A pessimist constantly perceives the negative aspects of a situation and is skeptical when things are going well. They have difficulty believing that everything they do will turn out well.

They are the sort of person that sees the world from a glass-half-empty rather than half-full perspective. Many pessimists feel that the only way to protect themselves is by being prepared for the worst. They think they will not be disappointed if they assume the worst from the beginning.

And, this is usually how they conduct their lives, whether in a professional or personal setting. Negative thinking isn’t always a bad thing. But, being too pessimistic might be detrimental to different areas of your life. Later on, we will discuss the risks pessimism brings, especially to your mental and physical health.

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How to Handle Pessimism?

Instead of being too optimistic or pessimistic, approaching anything with realistic expectations may be the foundation for good health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that low levels of pessimism, rather than high levels of optimism, have been linked to improved health.

In other words, pessimists may be at higher risks of diagnosing physical and mental health problems. And being an optimist may not necessarily make you healthier too.

You should neither always have a bright and positive outlook on everything nor fall victim to a pessimistic view. The objective should be viewing things from a moderate optimistic perspective with a healthy dose of pessimism.

How can I combat my pessimism?

Here’s what you can do to combat your pessimism. When negative feelings start to surface, remind yourself to label them aloud. Focusing on your negative emotions internally will only make them stronger.

Acknowledge the feelings and direct your attention to other things. It can be something you are excited about or looking forward to doing. Instead of scrambling onto the next item on your to-do list, take your time.

Recognize and accept whatever negative feelings you may be experiencing. Find and make a place for happiness and pleasure.

How to Handle Pessimism - How can i combat my pessimism

How can I help someone who is overly negative about life?

Rather than avoiding pessimists, try to approach them with an open heart. While they may appear cold or unapproachable, it’s an excellent opportunity to figure out what’s causing their negativity. Maybe they are facing a challenging situation in their life.

It could be that they get fired from a job or are cheated by their partner. Hence, they could benefit greatly from someone who can lend them a listening ear for what they are going through. Understanding what is behind a person’s negative view might lead to new ideas to improve their mood and wellbeing.

What causes people to become pessimistic?

Individuals seldom choose to decide if they are a pessimist or not. It is rarely an intentional decision. Some of them are prone to be more pessimistic than others due to genes.

However, pessimism tends to occur due to the outcome of external events. Most of the time, these events are painful or traumatic events that impact the person significantly. It could be the loss of someone dear to them, a breakup, illness, accident, or job loss.

Is pessimism contagious?

Pessimism, like other negative emotions, may influence one person to another. Pessimism can spread contagiously if the pessimist spends significant time with a group of people.

It is especially difficult for family members or loved ones to stop being influenced by this negative feeling. In addition, an individual’s genes, past experiences, and stress levels may cause them to be more vulnerable to pessimism.

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The Upside of Pessimism

While the variables that lead to pessimism are mainly negative, a healthy amount of pessimism can benefit most people. Pessimists ensure that they are always prepared for challenging times. They will also think of possible worst-case scenarios and plan to overcome the risks that optimists may overlook.

Another upside of pessimism is called defensive pessimism. It has been shown to be an effective cognitive strategy in preparing oneself for future events. Defensive pessimists establish unrealistically low expectations for any situation regardless of previous successful results.

They are then motivated to plan and work more productively to exceed their expectations and avoid failure. According to research, pessimists anticipate roadblocks quicker as they are more likely to see the bad in most situations. They are more inclined to plan ahead of time to overcome the obstacles expected, should they happen.

Furthermore, another study discovered that worrying about how your life might turn out was associated with positive health benefits and longevity. Pessimists can also be excellent leaders, especially when required to inspire organizational change.

Due to their skepticism, they may be less susceptible to manipulation and misleading information.

Are there benefits to being a pessimist?

Moderate pessimism can be helpful as it warns individuals of potential risks or problems. The feeling of cynicism and anxiety, for example, might be a warning indicator of you experiencing workplace burnout.

Being conscious of these areas of your life’s problems allows you to modify these unhealthy behaviors. It will also help you to acquire a better, less pessimistic mindset. As this research suggests, being somewhat pessimistic may help protect you from disability and death.

Do negative or depressed people see the world more realistically?

Pessimistic or depressed individuals may make more accurate evaluations about an actual or perceived situation. They will not exaggerate and tend to have a more realistic view of their strengths and weaknesses. Depressive realism is the term used to describe this behavior.

Does thinking like a pessimist make people more or less successful?

The answer to this question lies in the individual and their personality. While there’s a lot that people can gain from being optimistic, some of them may be better when they engage in their innate pessimism.

For example, visualizing a dire consequence before an exam might encourage students to perform to the best of their abilities. Visualizing the worst possible outcomes and facing your fear might provide that extra push you need to achieve success.

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Risks and Downside of Pessimism

There are several glaring disadvantages of being too pessimistic. Some of the significant drawbacks of being too pessimistic are:

  • Ruminating on unpleasant and negative feelings is detrimental to one’s health.
  • Excessive negativity and pessimism lead to depression, unhappiness, and anxiousness.
  • Increased risks to health-related concerns.
  • Negatively impact one’s self-esteem and confidence.
  • Experience more stress and lesser coping methods.

Ruminating on unpleasant and negative feelings is detrimental to one’s health

Studies have shown that females may have increased levels of depression. This is because they engage in more rumination, contemplation, and thinking. Rumination and contemplation are both aspects of pessimistic thought.

Risks and Downside of Pessimism

Excessive negativity and pessimism lead to depression, unhappiness, and anxiousness

Worrying too much and constant rumination are common signs of anxiety disorders. Similarly, bad moods, negative thinking, and lack of self-esteem are the traits of pessimists and also contributors to depression.

Increased risks to health-related concerns

A gloomy perspective is linked to increased health concerns, including heart disease and mortality from cardiovascular disease. A negative mindset, according to research, can raise the chance of dying from heart disease.

Negatively impact one’s self-esteem and confidence

Pessimists are not only harsh on others; they also treat themselves the same way. Some of these pessimists are not like this from the beginning. It is something they learned through painful or negative experiences they encountered in their life.

They may be disappointed or hurt repeatedly by others, making them feel it is better to assume the worst in every situation. It’s also a mechanism they created to protect themselves from experiencing the same negative feelings again.

However, more often than not, such an attitude may be counterproductive and causes them to suffer even more.

Experience more stress and lesser coping methods

According to one study, pessimism among older adults is associated with greater stress levels. It appears that they tend to focus more on the negative rather than positive aspects of their lives.

They are also observed to reflect on their past experiences with a much lesser positive outlook, leading to lower life satisfaction.

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How to Recognize Pessimistic Personality Traits

  • You get shocked when things are proceeding well or exceeding your expectations.
  • You don’t pursue what you desire because you know you will fail.
  • You are always concerned about the negative things that may happen in any situation.
  • You suffer from the impostor syndrome and underestimate your capabilities.
  • You are more concerned with your weaknesses and what you are not good at than with your strengths.
  • You also tend to highlight and emphasize other people’s weaknesses too.
  • You are irritated by the optimistic people around you.
  • You are prone to negative self-talk.
  • You don’t believe that all the beautiful things that happen can continue for long.
  • You tend to accept the status quo and are uncomfortable with any changes in your life.
  • You think that nobody likes you for who you are.
  • You always feel that your relationships will not work out well.
  • You are constantly thinking about the past.
How to Recognize Pessimistic Personality Traits

Pessimism Vs. Cynicism

Although pessimism and cynicism are closely related, there are significant differences between them. Cynicism tends to emerge over time and is usually associated with the negative experience in your life.

On the other hand, pessimism can be developed into a personality trait regardless of your life experiences. While moderate pessimism can be considered healthy, cynicism is frequently regarded as destructive to mental health.

Nevertheless, Cynics and pessimists are less inclined to trust others. They believe that others are always trying to hurt them and do not have any good intentions.

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Tips & Tricks on How to Overcome Pessimism

Here are some phrases we tend to hear when things are not going well. “Just smile and let it go.” Everything will be alright.” “Look on the bright side.” However, we all know these pieces of advice are not always feasible and helpful.

Here are a few other ways that you may implement when you find yourself being pessimistic next time:

Plan for the worst-case scenario and hope for the best

This method allows you to reap the rewards of being optimistic while remaining vulnerable to the worst that may happen. To enjoy the rewards of being pessimistic, consider and identify what may go wrong in a situation.

From there, you can develop contingency plans to manage the worst-case scenarios if they happen. With that, you can still look forward to your success while being prepared for the worst.

Remember what is important to you

Take time to appreciate and remember what you achieved, and be grateful. Have a look and evaluate your strengths and skills. When you think that the requirement of a situation outweighs your ability, you may experience stress.

You will also start being pessimistic and questioning yourself if you can handle it. Reminding yourself of your strengths can help you to feel less stressed and more confident to face any challenges in your life.

Practice mindfulness activities

As a pessimist, it may be a case of how you perceive the situation and allow it to affect your mind. Doing mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises can help you find your inner peace and release stress.

You may also learn to distance yourself from whatever is bothering you. Allocating some time to pursue your hobbies or have a chat with your loved ones can bring you out of the negative feedback loop.

You can find your inner peace when you take mindful actions to let go of the source of your negative feelings.

Remember, all the bad things you encounter will pass

Positive psychology research has shown us that failures do not make individuals miserable for as long as most people assume. People who have been through tragic events usually revert to their average happiness level within a few weeks or months.

Optimists tend to be happier, whereas pessimists are more likely to be less cheerful. If you feel that you’re a pessimist, don’t worry. You can always practice the steps suggested here to become more optimistic. Sometimes going through a crisis gives you just the perfect opportunity to practice optimism.

Stop your negative self-talk

When you see or speak to yourself negatively, you reinforce pessimistic thinking. Make a conscious effort to refrain from using “never” or “always” when you find yourself in an unpleasant situation.

Question your words whenever you are about to engage in negative self-talk. Ask yourself if what you said is true or are you exaggerating it? Remember that negative statements will only bring you down and not towards your dreams and goals.

Create a checklist of potential benefits and drawbacks

Make it a habit to list the potential benefits and drawbacks when struggling to decide. While this method may not be helpful in complex situations, it will at least assist you in getting a balanced perspective of the problems.

Surround yourself with optimistic individuals

Spend time with individuals who are positive and happy. They can be friends or family members who have a positive mindset on life and take calculated risks to pursue their ambitions.

Connecting with an optimistic friend or loved ones may influence pessimistic people to embrace optimistic thinking. These individuals can assist you in reconsidering ideas or possibilities that you may have discounted because of your pessimism.

Learn from past negative experiences

Consider a situation in which something went better than predicted. Pessimistic thinking tends to lead to unrealistic and damaging expectations. Everybody had encountered a terrible event or was hurt by someone in the past.

However, you should not let that bad experience you had in the past stop you from getting what you deserved out of your life. It is just a one-time incident that will not significantly impact your life. Instead, confront the negative experience and learn from it.

Set your mind never to let your past define who you are and will be in the future!

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Frequently Asked Questions About Pessimism

What is a pessimistic person?

According to the American Psychological Association’s definition, pessimism is “the attitude that things will go wrong and that people’s wishes or aims are unlikely to be fulfilled.”

Most of the time, pessimistic individuals are overly negative about their lives. They are always preparing and expecting the worst to happen in everything they do.

Is pessimism a mental illness?

No, pessimism is not a mental illness. Pessimism can be developed into a personality trait regardless of your life experiences. Excessive pessimism can negatively affect your mental and physical health. It can also lead to depression, unhappiness, and anxiousness.

How do pessimists think?

A pessimist constantly perceives the negative aspects of a situation and is skeptical when things are going well. They have difficulty believing that everything they do will turn out well.

They tend to see the world from a glass-half-empty rather than a half-full perspective. Many pessimists feel that the only way to protect themselves is by being prepared for the worst.

Can pessimists be happy?

Yes, pessimists can be happy. Pessimists focus on the worst or unfavorable aspects in most circumstances. Because of that, they may be at higher risks of diagnosing physical and mental health problems.

The pessimists’ objective should be learning to view things from a moderate optimistic perspective with a healthy dose of pessimism. They can also take simple steps to help them combat their pessimism. For example, when negative feelings surface, remind yourself to label them aloud.

How do you cure pessimism?

  • Plan for the worst-case scenario and hope for the best.
  • Take time to appreciate and remember what you achieved.
  • Practice mindfulness activities.
  • Stop your negative self-talk.
  • Create a checklist of potential benefits and drawbacks.
  • Surround yourself with optimistic individuals.

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