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The ONE Non-Negotiable for Healing Success + Understanding Pessimism as a Self-Protection Strategy

Successful self-healers either already possess, or learn to cultivate, an optimistic mindset. 

When it comes to healing the mind and body, I’ve seen repeatedly that doubt, skepticism and a pessimistic mindset will keep us stuck. But more than this, I believe it’s critical to dig in and understand why we develop pessimistic mindsets in the first place. 

Simply trying to outsmart your subconscious or change your mindset with willpower rarely works and often backfires. Beyond this, we can often fall into even more insidious beliefs if we try to overcome a pessimistic mindset only to fail: we might feel defective, broken, ashamed or begin to hate ourselves for not being able to do what other people appear to do so easily. 

I do not believe there is such a thing as a born optimist, or a born pessimist. 

I believe every human being is a born optimist. None of us would be walking and talking adults if we were born pessimistic! Babies learn to walk by falling and falling and falling but they never ever give up. Babies have to learn to talk by first making grunting noises and drooling everywhere while sounding ridiculous, but they don’t let embarrassment or shame stop them from continuing to learn and eventually they triumph. 

Pessimism, in my opinion, is a learned strategy deployed in childhood as a protection mechanism to mitigate the emotional damages that come from repeatedly enduring the pain of disappointment. 

When people show up to work with me who begin to use pessimistic language (seeing failure instead of success, seeing limitations instead of possibilities, expressing doubt instead of hope/inspiration etc), I know it’s time to get curious and dig in. I never try to persuade a skeptical person to be optimistic, and I encourage you to avoid this with yourself. 

Instead, I get curious with a genuinely welcoming attitude to whatever truth they arrive at for themselves. 

In almost every case what I’ve discovered is that at some point in the pessimistic person’s childhood their trust was broken one too many times. The cost of trusting or hoping only to feel disappointment yet again becomes too great a burden, so they begin to assume the worst ahead of time. If disappointment is one of the most painful experiences in your childhood, then being injured or frustrated or stuck isn’t as bad as believing you could get free, only to meet that old familiar emotion again: disappointment.  It’s safer (emotionally) to believe in limitations than possibilities for this person.

Since every healing journey has hurdles or challenges along the way, it’s imperative to cultivate an optimistic attitude. 

However, for those of us who maybe adopted a pessimistic approach to life because we have unhealed trauma related to optimism/trust, we usually have to heal that first before we can do anything else. 

Often, just seeing and acknowledging this pattern and why it was created is enough for some people to find understanding, self-love and begin to nurture an optimistic mindset. 

Remember: everything we do, say and feel (emotionally and physically) are clues to our subconscious psychology, our protection strategies and what we need to address to shake off the shackles of our past and move into a freed up mind and body. 

Rather than trying to override these patterns, shame ourselves for being “defective” or force our minds and bodies to behave the way our now-adult consciousness believes is “right,” we will heal faster and more fully if we allow the wounded child inside to have its say and get integrated into the adult we are now. 

Can we have compassion for the wise part of us that used pessimism to protect our hearts when you were too young to know any better? 

Please share your takeaways below, and whether you agree with me about born optimists and pessimists.

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  • Laura says:

    Makes me see a pessimistic friend of mine in a new light — thank you!

    • Laura – wow, I love hearing this since my primary goal was to help people who are pessimistic, but yes we can be more compassionate towards them when we understand why (perhaps) it is they’ve adopted this strategy of self protection 💛

  • Ann Marie says:

    Spot on Elisha, it’s definitely a way of shielding yourself from disappointment, the pain of not being good enough!
    I suffer hugely from that so I’m very grateful to you for your suggestions how to “handle it”. I will be a kind parent to myself from now on, I’m convinced it will make an enormous difference!

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