Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pessimism: Helping Me Look on the Bright Side Since 1966

I don’t like to say I’m a pessimist. That sounds so, I dunno, pessimistic. Now, I know for a FACT I’m not an optimist. Never have been. And even if I was an optimist, I’m sure I’d fail miserably at it. Since pessimism has such a negative connotation, I sometimes tell people instead that I’m a realist. But technically, a realist is a person who tends to view or represent things as they really are. Hmmm. Not sure how you can do that. You can view things as they really are but expect/anticipate a good/bad outcome. So I guess I’m a realist with pessimistic tendencies.

Here’s the thing, though. I know they say that optimists live longer and are happier and probably make more money and have better sex and heck, they’re most likely prettier and are naturally thin and can eat anything without gaining weight … but I digress.

Optimism is a real downer for me. Because more often than not, when I’ve gone down that Pollyanna road and thought to myself, “Don’t WORRY, Amy – this is gonna be GREAT! Just you wait and see!” it has sucked ass. The first couple of times, I’m merely disappointed. When it happens again and again, I’m devastated. More devastated than if I would have thought, “Wow, Ame, this isn’t looking good. Better batten down the hatches and prepare for the worst.” If the worst happens, I’m ready. If the opposite occurs, I’m pleasantly surprised.

See how that works?

I don’t believe pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy, at least for me. I use it more as a shield against disappointment. Because if there’s one thing that brings me more down than anything, it’s disappointment.

I had certain friends in the past with whom I’d made plans time after time. And time after time, 
they’d cancel or forget. Not just once - that’s understandable. It happened enough to make me feel like I wasn’t important to them. That I was looking forward to getting together WAY more than they were. That it was high on my list but barely on their radar. That disappointed me – a lot. I was told to “not be so sensitive” or “don’t make such a big deal out of it” to the point where I felt bad about feeling bad that they cancelled on me when I should have – and finally did – just stop making plans with them. Sensitive? Sorry not sorry. But it’s affected me to the point that now I sometimes make sure I have a backup in case best laid plans fall through. Which means that sometimes, I leave the backup hanging. Which leads me to wonder if I was someone else’s backup? That’s not a very nice circle of life, there, friends. 

Ironically, though, I’m rather optimistic when it comes to myself. Oh, not about my prowess to wow some guy on a date or to work a room at a cocktail party. Shoot, I can’t seem to do any of that. But I’m very optimistic when it comes to a challenge, like a work project or a workout goal or a task around the house. This past weekend I put together a thousand piece (OK I exaggerate) gas grill. I’ll admit, when I first looked at the directions – visual only – I was a little doubtful. But then I thought, “Sheesh, Ame. Just follow the directions. You got this.” Many curse words and four and a half hours later, I sure did. And you know what? I knew I could do it.

Now for some reason, maybe because I want my kids to be better than me, I try to get them to look on the bright side. I admit, “do as I say and not as I do” does come into play here, because they both definitely have a pessimistic side that I’m sure they get from their mother. But if nothing else, I don’t ever want them to think that THEY can’t do anything they set out to do. I don’t want to see them disappointed in someone else (though hindsight being 20/20 I understand that disappointment is part of growing up and I also need to quit saving them from it.) But I want them think positively at least when it comes to themselves because I do believe that negativity turned inward is just one of the factors that causes low self-esteem and lack of confidence. And since I have ultimate confidence in them, I hope that helps them have it in themselves. 

So I’m a pessimist when it comes to others, unless it’s my kids, who I have raised and attempted to train to believe in themselves. So maybe that’s it. Maybe I can be optimistic when it comes to things that have to do with me, myself and, but when they involve people outside of my children – elements beyond my control – then I turn to the dark side to protect myself. If I am disappointed because of something I did, I have no one to blame but me. But if I’m disappointed because of what someone ELSE did, I’m mad at myself for putting myself in the position to BE disappointed. Does that make any sense? (And of course, I can be disappointed IN my kids, but they will never, ever be A DISAPPOINTMENT to me. Whatever they do in or out of my favor, I know for a fact that they are good people.)

I soften my pessimistic tendencies by telling people that I “hope for the best but preparefor the worst”. And that’s true, in a way. I don’t HOPE for disappointment. Secretly, my sober outlook is forming a protective shield over my heart that says, “I really, really, really, really want this to work out.” That shield coats those words with “Odds are this isn’t going to happen, so be ready.” Then when it doesn’t, my heart is left intact. When it does, that protective layer melts away and my heart is happy. 

I know my method isn’t exactly the most transcendent way to live a life, but I’ve never exactly gone with the flow. Sure, no one’s ever going to describe me using words like, “chipper”, “perky”, “always up”, “sanguine” or “Pollyanna”, and that’s OK. Those people have a place in the world and if it works for them, more power to them. Pessimism keeps my fragile mentality on an even, manageable keel, and I’m happy living in my guarded, glass-half-empty world.

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