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Overcoming Pessimism and Negativity

Chapter 5: Overcoming Pessimism

and Negativity

Tools for Anger Work-Out

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


How does pessimism and negativity affect my behavior?

When I am negative or pessimistic I:

  • look at the worst side of a situation.
  • say what I'm not rather than what I could be.
  • lack the belief that I could change.
  • lose hope in the future.
  • take the opposing view in any positive conversation.
  • am unable to make upbeat or uplifting comments about myself or others.
  • turn all conversations into griping, complaining, or bitching sessions.
  • have nothing good to say about myself or others.
  • complain about the inequities of life.
  • try nothing new or challenging because I feel that I will fail.
  • get bitter over how people treat me now and in the past.
  • put down new, creative and inventive ideas as impossible.
  • limit my horizons which results in limiting my personal growth.
  • take no risks.
  • challenge those who are looking for the up side of a tragedy, failure, or disaster.
  • ridicule those who believe in the power and mercy of their Higher Power.
  • ridicule attempts to rectify a dysfunctional situation.
  • resist altering my way of thinking, because I feel nothing will help or make a difference.


How do I feel when I am pessimistic or negative?

When I'm negative or pessimistic I feel:

  • lonely, abandoned, and isolated.
  • worthless, empty, and of no value.
  • incompetent, ignorant, and useless.
  • defeated, beaten down, and lost.
  • betrayed, cheated, and unwanted.
  • overwhelmed, overpowered, and defenseless.
  • ignored, invisible, and avoided.
  • like a wimp, a loser, an outcast.
  • defiant, rebellious, and attacking.
  • self-pitying, self-loathing, self-deprecating.


What are the effects of my pessimism and negativity?

As a result of my being pessimistic or negative I:

  • find people avoid talking to me.
  • don't enjoy my life and I get depressed when I think about my future.
  • find it difficult to be a healthy problem solver.
  • don't accept alternative solutions to problems.
  • am told that I'm overly critical by my family, co-workers, and friends.
  • am not a fun person to be around.
  • term constructive criticism a declaration of my worthlessness, and I fail to see any value in the criticism.
  • keep myself locked in a vicious cycle of put downs and rejection.
  • fulfill the prophecy that I'll never succeed in anything I try.
  • put a huge barrier between myself and others, one that is close to impossible to overcome.
  • don't open myself up to ideas about life that conflict with my negative beliefs.
  • am disliked.
  • enjoy a yes…but mentality.
  • lose faith in a power greater than I because of the futility, wretchedness, and misery I see in life.
  • become rigid, one-sided, and stuck in my ways of interacting with others.
  • become close-minded, single-minded and narrow in my focus.

What irrational thinking leads me to be pessimistic or negative?

  • I will never be successful.
  • I can't do anything right.
  • People will never change.
  • No matter how much I change it doesn't make any difference; others don't recognize the changes.
  • There is no reason to have hope for the future; my past negative experiences tell it all.
  • If people can critique my changed behavior, then how can I ever be good enough?
  • No matter how much I change it is never enough.
  • Life should be simpler.
  • Life should be fair.
  • Life should be easy.
  • There is so much wrong in life how can I ever expect anything good to come my way?
  • There is too much to do to change my life for the better. It's too hard.
  • All of life is a sham and there is no such thing as happiness, love, or success.
  • Why fight it? It's always the same: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
  •  Nothing in life is certain except for death and taxes; why take a chance and change my life now?
  • Why can't others change? Why does it have to be me that changes first?
  • Why can't life be easier on me?
  • My parents are the reason I am the way I am; nothing will ever change that.
  • I'll only lose if I take on the challenge to change my life.
  • People are only nice to me to see what they can get from me.
  • Trust no one; open up to no one; play if safe and keep to myself.
  • Nothing in life makes sense except pain, suffering, and misery.
  • My destiny is predetermined; I'll never be able to change it.
  • My genetic, hereditary, and environmental beginnings are totally responsible for what I am in life.
  • Once I am down, I will always be down.
  • All people wear masks, and they are not to be trusted, even when they seem to be nice.
  • What I see is never what it seems so I never get what I see.
  • There is a sucker born every minute and I am the biggest sucker of them all for believing in the goodness of others and the possibility of change in life.
  • I was put on earth to die so why try to make more of life than what it is.
  • I've been treated badly in the past, so why should I expect anything different in the future?
  • There is nothing new under the sun; why try to change things now?
  • I will always be disappointed if I believe in the good will of others.
  • If people loved and supported me, they wouldn't criticize or correct me.
  • It's always the same: extend my hand in friendship and get it slapped in return.
  • No matter how good a person I try to be, I always get screwed in the end.
  • There are the haves and the have nots. I can't change that.
  • I am what I am and nothing will ever change.
  • If God loves the human race why does He permit illness, disasters, tragedy, and calamities?

What causes my pessimism and negativity?

I have a tendency toward pessimism and negativity because I:

  • experienced a major tragedy or loss in my past and I haven't fully grieved and accepted the loss.
  • have a permanent disability that prevents me from experiencing life to the fullest.
  • have experienced a series of failures in school, work, family, life, or relationships that have convinced me that I am a failure.
  • was ignored and still am ignored by my family of origin; I am convinced that I have to fight everyone to get my opinion heard.
  • feel guilt over a past sin or mistake I made; this guilt blinds me from seeing hope, the promise of redemption, or forgiveness.
  • would rather attend a self pity party than eat at life's banquet.
  • don't want to change my thinking, feeling, and actions.
  • am stubborn and don't want to accept help when others point out optimistic or positive ways of looking at life.
  • am lazy and realize that to change will take too much work, energy, and effort.
  • like to be the center of attention. My current behavior draws a lot of attention to me, even if it is negative.
  • refuse to consider that I might be wrong by taking on my ``causes.''
  • consider those I come in contact with as stupid, ignorant, or irrational and believe my way is the only way to be.
  • have never experienced happiness, joy, or contentment; it's impossible for me to attain.
  • have never felt approval or recognition from the significant people in my life.
  • am constantly reminded of my faults, shortcomings, failures, and lack of successes.
  • give others power over me to keep me feeling badly about myself, my life, and the future.
  • don't take steps to improve my self-esteem and self-worth.
  • constantly give myself negative self-talk and negative visual imagery.

What can I do to overcome my pessimism and negativity?

To overcome my pessimism and negativity I can:

  • analyze my behavior with my family, coworkers, friends, and others; I can identify the negative and pessimistic behavior and their impact on me.
  • admit that my pessimism and negativity is not a productive behavior.
  • identify the feelings that precede my negative attitude; then those feelings I have after the negativity.
  • recognize that my emotional life suffers by negative behavior.
  • watch for the reactions my negativity and pessimism elicits from others.
  • identify how this behavior blocks my healthy interaction with others.
  • identify the irrational thinking behind my negativity and pessimism.
  • develop rational alternatives to the negative thinking.
  • recognize that unresolved anger that lies at the root of my negativity and begin anger work-out sessions to let go of that anger.
  • identify the negative self-talk and visual imagery that keep me locked in my negativity.
  • rewrite and rescript my self-talk and the imagery.
  • pay attention to me and begin to give myself the approval, recognition, and acceptance I depend on from others.
  • empower myself to be my own cheerleader.
  • refuse to give others the power to bring me back to my depression and negativity.
  • revitalize my spirituality and reconnect with my Higher Power.
  • open myself to the possibility that maybe I was wrong; that life is worth living; that I can make a positive difference by taking control.
  • make a commitment to reduce my stubbornness and laziness.
  • begin the hard work of building my self-esteem.

Steps to overcoming pessimism and negativity

Step 1: First I need to read the following story, then answer the questions in my journal:

The Story of the Pessimist and the Optimist

There once was a major research project held at a world renowned university center. The project was to develop working definitions of a pessimist and of an optimist.


The researchers ran a national contest to identify the most optimistic and pessimistic persons in the country. A little girl won in the pessimist category and a little boy won in the optimist one. The researchers brought these two children to the research center for the final observational portion of the study.


The pessimistic little girl was brought to the research laboratory where, in a large room behind a one-way mirror, she was shown a room full of new toys. She was told that each of the toys she played with over the next thirty minutes were hers. All she needed to do was play with them.


She looked at the research team skeptically as she entered the toy filled room. What happened that next half hour shocked and stunned the researchers. The girl systematically opened every single box in the room and rejected each of the toys in turn. The researchers heard her say things like, These aren't new toys.These toys will never work.There are no batteries in here to operate these toys.They'll never let me keep these toys.I don't like these cutsey sweetsy dolls.The stuffing is coming out of these animals, etc. When the thirty minutes ended the girl left the room toyless. Watching this cheerless, lifeless, sour, bitter child leave the room carrying no toys, the researchers had enough data for the operational definition of a pessimist.


The researchers were worried after the dramatic display of the pessimist thinking,  How will we ever be able to top this. They worked quickly on a strategy and finally they brought the optimistic boy to the research lab. In the same room behind a one way mirror he was shown a roomful of horse manure. He was told only that he would have thirty minutes in the room.


To the amazement of the research team, the boy entered the room and dove into the manure. He threw it all over the place. He was animated, excited, alive, and happy. He kept digging and digging shouting with glee. He was ecstatic. The research team members behind the one way mirror were eyeing one another with all knowing looks which meant, Of course we know what an optimist is - an optimist is psychotic.


After thirty minutes the little boy, who by this time was covered with manure from head to toe, was brought to the head of the research team. The director of the study asked, Little boy, what was going on in there?


The boy with hopeful, excited eyes looked up and said, Madame, with all that horse manure, there just had to be a pony in there somewhere, and I was sure I would find it!

Questions to answer in your journal:

  • With whom do I identify, the girl or the boy?
  • How is my behavior like the girl's? The boy's?
  • What would I have done differently if I had been in the girl's shoes?
  • What would I have done differently if I had been in the boy's shoes?
  • How do I lose out on the free toys of life when they are offered to me?
  • How hard do I look for the pony in my life?
  • How reasonable were the girl's comments about the toys?
  • How do I feel about the set up by the researchers? In what ways was the girl set up to fail? In what ways was the boy set up to fail? Who was the winner?
  • How willingly do I accept the good things of life? What do I do when I receive the toys of life such as compliments, reinforcement, recognition, rewards, success, positive strokes, and gifts of love and kindness?
  • How often do I get mired or stuck in the horse manure of life? How often do I seek out the pony? What keeps me from looking for the pony? How afraid am I to be called psychotic or out of touch because I look for the pony?
  • What does this analysis tell me about myself? What part does pessimism and negativity play in my behavioral pattern?
  • I will analyze the components of this story as they relate to my life to help me see how negative or pessimistic I am.

  • How could this story have been different for me? What would I have done differently from the boy, the girl, or the research team?
  • What story in my life parallels this story and indicates my degree of pessimism or optimism?
  • I am pessimistic and I display it in the following ways:

The following items parallel my life:

       Story Item                                 Parallel Item in my Life

  • University
  • Research Team
  • Director of Research
  • One Way Mirror
  • Toys
  • Manure
  • Girl
  • Boy
  • National Contest
  • Working definition

Step 2:  I will continue and answer the following questions in my journal:

  • What does my negative and pessimistic behavior look like?
  • How does this behavior make me feel?
  • What are the effects of this behavior?
  • What irrational thinking is behind this behavior?
  • What rational replacement thinking is necessary?
  • What are the underlying causes for this behavior?
  • How could I overcome my negative and pessimistic behavior?


Step 3:  Once I've identified how I could overcome my pessimism and negativity, I need to commit myself to a plan. Review the following strategies for the plan:

Strategies to Overcome Negativity

  • Get support from others to remind me when I'm being pessimistic or negative.
  • Look for the pony in everything that happens to me.
  • Accept myself as a human being who might slip back into old, tried and true behavior.
  • Select only positive people with whom to associate.
  • Watch only TV shows and movies that are upbeat.
  • Read only books and novels that reflect the upbeat, positive aspects of life.
  • Join a church and become active in a ministry to those less fortunate.
  • Set aside at least 1% of my net income for charitable donations to people who have permanent, lifelong disabilities.
  • Volunteer to be a big brother or big sister to a lonely child or visit someone in a nursing home.
  • Volunteer four hours a month in a nonprofit agency that helps people less fortunate than myself.


Step 4:  After reviewing the ten strategies above, I need to respond to these questions in my journal:

  • How would these strategies help me to become more positive and optimistic?
  • How realistic are each of these strategies for me?
  • How did I feel while reading these ten strategies?
  • How comfortable am I in taking direct action to overcome my problems?
  • What keeps me from doing each of these ten strategies?
  • I will include the following strategies in my plan of action:


Step 5:  I have reviewed the steps and the strategies I need to implement a step by step plan of action. I'll use the following outline to keep track of my progress.

Outline for Overcoming Pessimism and Negativity

Current state of problem:

  • Toward family
  • Toward Co-workers
  • Toward friends
  • Others

My feelings about this behavior:

Reactions and feedback from others:

  • Family
  • Co-workers
  • Friends
  • Others

Present Irrational thinking:

New thinking model:

Unresolved issues:

  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Other

Negative thoughts:

  • Self-talk
  • Visual imagery

Replacement thoughts:

  • Self-talk
  • Visual imagery

Self-esteem activities:

Strategies for positive behavior:

Support sought:

  • From family
  • From co-workers
  • From friends
  • From others

Refocusing of spirituality:

How to measure behavioral changes:

Feedback about behavioral changes:

  • From family
  • From co-workers
  • From friends
  • From others

Analysis of changes


Step 6: I will work on this outline to change my negative behavior. I will analyze the changes. If I find that I am stuck in negative thoughts and actions I will return to Step 1, and begin again.


I will continue to look for the pony, life has to offer me.