Defensive Pessimism: What Is It, Characteristics, and Advantages and Disadvantages

What is defensive pessimism and how does it influence our way of interpreting the world?

When someone is going to face a complicated activity in the near future (for example, an examination for an opposition, a sports competition) or a situation that is compromising (for example, giving a public speech), they may have a optimistic vision or, on the contrary, from defensive pessimism.

When you have a vision from defensive pessimism about a future event, the person tends to think that something will go wrong when that dreaded moment arrives, so that he could suffer anticipatory anxiety and have negative expectations about it.

In this article we will see in more detail what the concept of defensive pessimism consists of, what the consequences of having a pessimistic view tend to be and also how it influences people's self-esteem.

What is defensive pessimism?

When we use the concept of defensive pessimism in the field of psychology, we refer to the mechanism of action used by people on those occasions in which they try to protect themselves from a certain future situation, in such a way that they put themselves in the worst-case scenario and Thus, in the event that it is fulfilled, or things do not go as well as desired, the person feels that he had previously prepared to assume that negative result.

There are people who face certain situations that they consider to be complicated or compromised in some way (for example, a sports competition, an exam, a job interview, etc.) from a defensive pessimism to avoid being disappointed and disappointed if everything did not turn out as expected. I wish, so they start from the idea that things will not go well for them in a situation that requires a certain effort, so they commit less than necessary.

When a person uses the mechanism of being pessimistic about a future event so as not to be disappointed, as we have said, they usually try less than they should to make things go well. Then the most likely thing is that your prediction will come true that the situation you have to face will not turn out well, so that what in psychology is usually called a negative self-fulfilling prophecy would be fulfilled. This fact can feed back your pessimism in the face of future similar situations.

It is common for a person who frequently hides himself in defensive pessimism also uses excuses to justify himself for not having made an effort or not having taken the time necessary for that dreaded situation to go well, because in his mind he could feel a kind of cognitive dissonance because what he does does not fit in with the objectives he had set himself long ago.

Let's take an example below to better understand what the concept of defensive pessimism consists of, and also the excuses that the person makes to break with that cognitive dissonance that has formed in their mind.

Imagine the case of a student who is preparing for a very important exam, such as an opposition exam to get a place in a public position. When you start to prepare it, you usually have an optimistic outlook and good intentions; However, as time goes by, defensive pessimism may surface, so that thoughts will spring up in your mind that will tell you that it is very difficult for you to approve, that no one takes the opposition the first time and many more of the kind.

Then, it is likely that little by little you will be trying less and less, at the same time that your defensive pessimism will increase. So when you take the exam, if you don't get a place, you will feel that your pessimistic thoughts were true and, when a cognitive dissonance arises in your mind because deep down you know that you have not made an effort as you should to get that place, you will look for any argument to justify its drop in performance coco that it was very difficult, that it was not worth wasting time, etc.

Relationship of defensive pessimism with self-esteem

In most cases, defensive pessimism is closely related to low levels of self-esteem.

For this reason, people who choose to focus on the negative and pessimistic side of a future event have a tendency to underestimate themselves, so they go so far as not to face a series of situations that require a certain degree of effort and courage to fear of ending up failing. This causes the person to be at a disadvantage compared to others more optimistic.

Defensive pessimism and optimism

The opposite pole of having a vision from defensive pessimism in the face of an upcoming situation or objective would be to have an optimistic vision. Although it should be noted that people are not usually completely at one extreme or the other and that these perspectives can change throughout life depending on the experiences lived and the effort that the person has been able to make.

Likewise, it can also happen that the same person has an optimistic vision in certain areas (for example, in sports) and pessimistic in others (for example, in academia).

Unlike pessimistic people, optimists have a tendency to see things from a more global perspective, so that they always have in mind the virtues they possess and that will allow them to achieve their goals and are also aware that they have certain limitations, and it may be the case that they do not achieve that goal towards which they are aimed; However, they do not throw in the towel and try to focus only on what is the only thing they can control, their day-to-day actions.

For example, in a situation in which an optimistic person is preparing for the examination of an opposition, he will try not to lose sight of his objective and will try to maintain his positive vision because he is aware that he has possibilities, even knowing that there are also quite a few probabilities of not getting a place. However, he prefers to choose to think that he can get the job and that what can lead to it is to have an optimistic vision and focus on working day by day, while continuing to advance in the agenda.

The useful side of defensive pessimism

Both a completely optimistic vision and a vision from a defensive pessimism in most cases could be harmful for people.

An excess of optimism could cause the person to be overconfident, so that they feel little pressure and try less than they should, so the results could be worse than expected, leading to a great disappointment.

On the contrary, having mostly a pessimistic vision would cause a low motivation in the face of any challenge that the person had to face in their life, so that they would not make enough effort and, therefore, the most common is that they would fail.

However, in fair measure, although there is a lot of disparity around this, it should be noted that there are investigations in this regard that found that a certain degree of defensive pessimism can be a personal protection mechanism against suffering any disappointment and, being previously prepared to the possible future failure, the person can also anticipate in the preparation for the confrontation of the failure and look for a way to get ahead of that situation.

Seen in this way, a defensive pessimist tends to be prepared for the worst of results, and may even have experienced higher levels of anxiety prior to the event than when the failure they had imagined actually came to pass.

Likewise, a vision from defensive pessimism, by allowing the person to anticipate a possible failure, so that the tension that it can generate would cause the person to be alert at all times, would allow them to use all kinds of strategies in order to avoid that possible failure and devise some alternative plan to which he could choose when things do not turn out in a positive way. We could call this adaptive defensive pessimism.