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How to Deal with a Pessimist: Understanding and Managing Negative Perspectives

Updated: Jul 10

Pessimists can ruin your whole day if you're not careful. You wake up feeling relaxed, enjoy a nice breakfast, and get some exercise. But then you meet that old friend and cheerfully tell him about your holiday plans. Before you know it, all your energy and enthusiasm are drained because of that one conversation with your pessimistic friend. How do pessimists do that, and how can you deal with it?

A Pessimist Only Sees the Dark Side of an Idea

Pessimists excel at highlighting the negative and dark sides of any idea. They have trained themselves to consider what can go wrong, what isn’t right, and what negative effects might occur.

If you ask a true pessimist, they will never admit to being pessimistic. They consider themselves realists. Most pessimists are quite proud of their outlook. They think they are smarter than others because they often know a lot of facts. As a result, you can never win an argument with a pessimist.

How Do You Become a True Pessimist?

The word pessimist comes from the Latin word "pessimum," which means "worst." Contrary to what many people—and certainly pessimists—think and believe, no one is born a pessimist. This outlook is learned consciously or unconsciously through past experiences.

If we have had unpleasant relationships two or three times, we might become disappointed in people. To protect ourselves, we may start believing that the next relationship will also be disappointing. This is a self-protective measure to avoid getting hurt again.

Of course, this prediction has nothing to do with reality. Even having 100 bad relationships doesn’t determine the outcome of the next one. The negative prediction is a cognitive distortion for self-protection, often due to low self-confidence or self-esteem. A pessimist takes this a step further by predicting negative outcomes not only for themselves but also for others, and they frequently share these opinions.

The art of becoming a very experienced pessimist involves consistently asking yourself the following five questions:

  1. What is the worst thing that can happen?

  2. What problems can this cause?

  3. What negative impact can this have on the world or others?

  4. Who could suffer or get hurt?

  5. What reasons and arguments can I come up with to show why this is not a good idea?

Why Are Pessimists So Negative?

Pessimists are adept at making ultimate negative predictions. They project their past negative experiences onto every new situation or idea. If you have $100, you could keep it, spend it on something fun, or lose it. A pessimist will always assume the most negative outcome and warn you not to lose the money.

For a pessimist, this negativity is a form of giving attention and love. They don’t realize that the recipient often doesn’t perceive it that way. They want to protect you from a delusion that exists only in their minds, which an average person doesn’t need. Out of politeness, many people will say thank you, reinforcing the pessimist’s belief that their approach is helpful. Unfortunately, this means the next person they encounter will also be subjected to an unsolicited pessimistic opinion.

Pessimists Have Obstructive Convictions

Pessimists, with the best of intentions, aim to protect people and the world from delusions that live only in their heads. This "protection" is usually unsolicited and pointless.

Their desire to protect others is not about being realists. The real issue lies in their beliefs about people, the world, and sometimes themselves. Pessimists often hold one or more of the following obstructive convictions:

  • People cannot be trusted.

  • The world is a bad place.

  • Misfortune can happen to anyone who’s not prepared for it.

  • Never trust an optimistic outcome.

  • Always be prepared for negative outcomes.

  • First, see what went wrong or could go wrong.

  • Criticism helps progress.

  • People usually cannot see for themselves what can go wrong and need help.

The Advantage of Being a Pessimist

Pessimists can drain all the energy from someone. However, just as pessimists can have overly negative predictions, optimists can be overly positive. Too much optimism can lead to disappointment.

The many warnings of a pessimist can save us from problems and mistakes that we, as optimists, might overlook. Just as dreamers and critics differ, optimists and pessimists are opposites that can support each other.

What Is the Best Way to Deal with a Pessimist?

Like optimists, pessimists usually have good intentions. They simply approach situations or ideas from a different angle. Pessimists want to be heard and seen, just like anyone else. By listening carefully and asking what problem the pessimist sees, they will feel heard.

Once the pessimist feels heard, they may be open to considering other possible outcomes. In such cases, a pessimist might entertain an optimistic idea but will always remain skeptical.

Pessimism and Depression

Pessimism can lead to depression and vice versa. By constantly focusing on what is wrong in the world, with people, or in situations, a person can develop an overall negative view that prevents them from enjoying life. This is a form of depression. Pessimism is rarely the cause of depression, but it can strongly contribute to it.

Conversely, depression can lead to a negative and pessimistic outlook on people, the world, and situations.

How Can You Learn to Think More Optimistically?

Optimism has a lot to do with where you focus your attention. Some people believe that even the worst person has something beautiful in them. While this philosophy might be extreme for many, it is a way to become more optimistic.

Optimism begins with asking what can be beautiful, good, great, or fine about a person, idea, or situation. By consistently training yourself to focus on the positive, you can slowly but surely become a little more optimistic.


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