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  • Writer's pictureRowin

Realism vs Pessimism

I strongly suspect that we all have that voice inside ourselves which tells us things like “you’re not strong enough to do this” and “you’re just not worth this person’s time” or “you’ll never live a fulfilled life, and it’s all your fault.” It can tell you the worst things you could possibly hear, and at times can be a constant reminder – not of humility, but rather of worthlessness. Humility is a useful trait to have; it helps us respect the plight of others and act kindly towards them. It tells us that we’re not always better than our fellow human, and that all of us have some part to play in the great and decorative interwoven threads of fate. With humility, we can empathise and sympathise; we can feel connected to the people around us and perhaps even learn from them; glean some kind of information or lesson from them.

On the other hand, our internal soliloquy here tells us not of such facts; it doesn’t remind us to be humble, and it’s important that we don’t confuse the feeling of worthlessness (perhaps an extreme variant of humility) with humility itself. To devalue oneself as we seem to do so frequently and with great ease serves only to harm the self. And it’s done in such a sly, subtle way.

This nasty habit stems from the belief that bad information is somehow more valid than good information. As though to believe that anything good will ever happen is childish, unlikely and unreasonable. To some, in fact, with higher tendencies to feel guilt, for instance, it’s inconceivable to think optimistically. The reason for this is that every positive thought concerning the future or the present, or indeed the past, is invalid, because such a person must always place themselves below others, and those thoughts result in feeling guilty; ashamed that good things should ever happen to themselves, since they ought to happen to the folk around them instead. After all, the goodness that’s shown to them is undeserved and unwarranted in their eyes. It’s vital that every individual understand that, quite simply, it’s ok to accept good things. We must allow good things to happen to us, and be comfortable with that. Such people will never truly take anything good as being legitimate; always the gift-horse of Troy. The reception of positive things will be met with ferocious scepticism and discarded under the incredible strength of their scrutiny and learnt distrust.

It’s perhaps a more widespread phenomenon than we might know; not just those who readily feel guilt are the victims of such thought patterns. Those who have been hurt, damaged and who have learnt to be distrusting of everyone and everything over the course of terrible betrayal and likely unresolved issues will also often find themselves in the same quagmire. And of these people, there are many.

Such mindsets easily turn away others, as no one can easily penetrate that layer of thick cynicism in order to gain that trust that is mostly required in healthy interpersonal relationships, and it’s often that the social circle around such people with the aforementioned views of the world and the self will quickly turn away and give up on them. It’s fairly easy to see how when all one’s friends turn their backs on them, it won’t help the pessimistic voice inside them as it gains more and more credibility. As such, so does the feeling of worthlessness it carries intrinsically in itself grow into a seemingly more probable reality.

Since the voice which represents pessimism gets louder and louder each time something bad happens (slyly, with great guile does the voice itself cause such badness itself so often), it instates itself as the voice of reason. Our worst-case-scenarios become, to our minds, the likely outcome. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here! As such, this evil-doer tumorously inserts itself into our minds, growing and feeding off of the havoc in our lives, over which it has some strong degree of control. Such do we feel worse and worse, so do our bad thoughts become more real to us. We end up confusing pessimism with realism, and that pessimistic voice inside our heads, that depressing bastard, becomes the only voice which doesn’t seem silly and childish.

Blind, faithful optimism is daft. Good things can happen, and often they do, especially with a positive and optimistic mindset, however it’s important to be prepared for the possible outcome that the best things to ever possibly happen just won’t turn out that way. If you buy a lottery ticket, you will not win the jackpot. It’s hopeful to play, just as it is with any other form of gambling. You will lose more often than you will win, by an incredible margin in most cases. Liquidising all your assets to gamble more might make you a millionaire, but it’s important – vital even – to understand that it is unwise. Stupid, in fact. Don’t do it. Hence, sometimes, it’s clever to ignore, or at least dial down, one’s optimism. It’s unrealistic and will likely lead you to a worse place than the one you currently occupy.

Our default, often, is to resort to the other voice in our heads; the voice of pessimism. Understand this, however, that pessimism is just as unrealistic as optimism. If you imagine a spectrum from one to the other, from hopelessness to blind faith, the path of realism is more or less always near the middle. We don’t really have a voice inside ourselves to guide us there though. It’s something we need to work out through rationalism, which is annoying because it can be hard work at times. Hell, at times, it’s hard just to ignore the negativity that plagues our minds, let alone give ourselves the perspective and detachment required to actually think for three seconds about being rational. It’s hard! Don’t be too worried if you have trouble with it.

If you visualise the different aspects of yourself as people; that is to say, the different voices or monologues in your mind which come and go depending on your mood, for instance, it can help select what you hear from them. For example, imagine that this pessimistic voice is the classic cartoon devil on one of your shoulders. It becomes easier to identify when it’s telling you something bad and not worthwhile hearing or acknowledging. In fact, we can choose, believe it or not, to ignore this voice. We can banish it from our minds, if we try. We think that it’s important to have around, because its advice is legitimate, more so than optimism because it’s more realistic. Begin to understand that it is certainly not, and your life will be easier without it there, and you can still rationalise your way to realism, instead of the extrema of the hope spectrum, which are both as unlikely as each other. So don’t be afraid to lose your pessimism, to let go of the voice which ultimately serves to hold you back and make you feel worthless. It’s not as important as it makes you think it is to have around.

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