Defensive Pessimism Gone Awry: When Low Expectations Lead to Low Outcomes

It’s about to get a little personal up in here. I’ve been writing some more informative and scientific stuff lately, but I hope that this little tale that I’m about to share will prove equally helpful to some people. Defensive pessimism is at the core of this blog–and this blogger–so I thought I should share an experience of defensive pessimism gone awry.

I’ve talked before about how I tend to have low expectations and how this (sometimes) helps me avoid disappointment. Well, right now I am here to say that this doesn’t always work. Sometimes, having low expectations makes a self-fulfilling prophecy and things will work out to be your lowest expectations.

I recently told someone that I didn’t care if he–let’s call him Bob*–if Bob came to an event with me, but that he was welcome to come if he wanted to. Now, here’s the problem–I really did want Bob to come. But because Bob had flaked out on a few things in the past, I was afraid that he would do so again. Therefore, I told him that I didn’t care one way or another if he came because I was trying to avoid disappointment if he was unable or didn’t want to come. I lied to Bob, but I also lied to myself. I thought that if I acted like I didn’t care, then I could make myself not care, or at least care less, or at least tell myself that Bob didn’t come because I told him it didn’t matter and not because he personally didn’t care.

The thing is, I really really cared. So instead of accepting that Bob was not going to accompany me to this event, I got mad and upset that he didn’t want to come. I didn’t act like it was important to me, so Bob thought he should only do it if he personally wanted to and not because it would make me happy. Again, he really believed it was all aces to me. (Sorry if I’m being repetitive, I just wanted to make it clear that I am taking 99.99% of responsibility.)

Instead of my low expectations allowing me to escape disappointment, they made me more upset, and I also got angry with Bob for not wanting to come with me. Then I had to explain to Bob that I was acting so erratically because I really did care.

And then he asked, “Why didn’t you just tell me?”

Huh, good question Bob. Allow me to just dump a couple decades of emotional baggage on you.

This sort of ties into what I talked about when I said to keep some of your defensive pessimism to yourself in order to not be a downer. Here, this advice translates into being honest with someone rather than setting them up to fulfill your low expectations.

So, sorry Bob.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent victims of my pessimism and general misanthropy.

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