If you are a pessimistic person, I want you to be able to proclaim it, to own up to it, and to accept it. What I have found over my years in practice is that pessimistic people often don’t see themselves that way. In fact, while they view everything else as being universally negative, they tend to view their pessimism as positive.
Instead of interpreting themselves as pessimistic, they instead see themselves as pragmatic, realistic, more informed and enlightened, and smarter. For them, a pessimistic response to the world is seen as protective and even superior to the optimist. Because they approach life believing the worst in circumstances and in people, they feel they are better prepared for whatever life throws at them. They live a guarded, cautious, defensive life. Problems, difficulties, inconveniences, and downright disasters are expected.
Pessimists have what I refer to as a critical spirit. It refers to a person whose inner default mode is to be critical or negative. Picking on people, jumping on their failures, and criticizing their faults appears to be a positive, proactive position for pessimists. However, doing so says more about your own faults than the faults of others.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I have been in the counseling business too long to think that pessimists don’t have very specific reasons for being this way. I have heard, literally, hours of reasons why a pessimist’s attitude is really a good thing in his or her life. However, in my experience, I’ve found the reasons to spring from a deep well of pain, injury, abandonment, neglect, humiliation, abuse, and disappointment. Is it any wonder, then, with this kind of well, that what bubbles up in the life of a pessimist is bitterness and negativity?
A pattern of pessimism can be very difficult to give up because it seems safe. If you’ve been wounded, it appears smart to venture out cautiously, carefully, defensively. Pessimism appears to be just the armor you need to engage a hostile world. It can seem very right to the wounded person, but it leads to death, a death of optimism. Pessimism becomes not an armor keeping the world out, but a prison keeping you in. Pessimism is a world that says the worse thing that can happen to you is to be hurt by evil flourishes, where wrongs outweigh rights, where oppression is standard and disappointment is the order of the day.
There’s only one problem with this worldview; it’s a worldview. It’s a view completely obscured by this world. It presupposes that all there is or is ever going to be is this world, with all its faults and problems. This is the type of world described in Ephesians 2:11-12. It is a view “without hope and God in the world.”
But you do have hope, and God is in the world, so this worldview is a lie. Since the underlying assumptions of your pessimism are a lie, it’s perfectly logical, rational, pragmatic, enlightened, and savvy to reject it and instead base your response to life on the truth. And what is truth? Instead of a worldview, have a God view. With a God view, your response to life can change from pessimism to optimism.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 35 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.