The self fulfilling prophecy is powerful in many areas of our lives. When we expect to have a certain experience or outcome, we subconsciously tend to make that expectation come true. Sounds a bit like magic perhaps? Well, don’t underestimate your power over how things turn out. For better or worse, as the self fulfilling prophecy is sadly as effective, if not more so, in us creating the situations we fear or worry might happen or be true.
I often see the power of this process in my work and help individuals realise when and how they are causing or increasing their own unhappiness or sense of failures. The good news in these coaching situations, is that everyone with a wish to open their minds and take more responsibility in their lives, can and do improve their lives immeasurably when they see how this subtle process is operating. Awareness, as always, is key to breaking a negative self fulfilling prophecy cycle.
Let me give you an example to paint the picture of how it works. A client of mine, let’s call her Jo, felt isolated and unpopular and wanted to improve her ability to socialise and create a busy network of friends around her. When looking at what was getting in her way of already enjoying great friendships, we discovered some very deep seated liming beliefs about her perception of her own ability to do so, ultimately boiling down to negative perceptions of her own self worth. When we explored where such limiting beliefs came from, Jo had some very compelling evidence (in her own mind) dating back to her years at university. Here, she had a great group of friends who went out and had a great time together during the first two years. In the third year, she noticed they stopped inviting her and gradually she lost contact with the group. The group of friends hadn’t dissolved, it was only her that wasn’t part of it anymore.
When we explored what had happened in a bit more detail, it transpired that Jo felt that she was overweight and unattractive and generally believed that she was boring and that her company ‘dragged down’ her friends. She was keenly telling them this every time they were due to do something together and was always suggesting they should go without her; they’d have a much better time. As good friends do, the group told her not to be silly, that they think she’s great and let’s get going! For two years they kept with this message….But then in the third year, they accepted her professions and went without her! Jo had gone on about what a drag she was to be around for so long that they finally gave up, and admitted defeat – the fun and lovely parts of Jo were overshadowed by this nagging, which in fact turned her into the very thing she’d repeatedly called herself – a drag!
Jo at the time, nor when I met her 20 years later, recognised how she’d in effect pushed and pushed until she was proven right. She managed to align her experiences with her expectations. She created the reality she was expecting. Sadly, the main person she hurt in this process was of course herself. And by not seeing how it was all her own creation, she was at complete mercy of this subconscious self fulfilling prophecy cycle. Not a great place to be! And for years, she’s been convinced that her friends turned their back on her because she is a drag and a bad friend, allowing this ‘knowledge’ to stop her from making new friends. Feeling awkward and clumsy in social situations, preventing her from getting to know people and time and time again proven herself right. When actually, she created (and continued to create) this reality. Before her insistence to prove to her friends that she was a drag to be around, they loved her company! As would many others if she’d allowed them to see the funny, caring part of her. Instead, this became hidden behind a insecure and stand offish attitude.
20 years she’d carried on this subconscious self fulfilling prophecy. Imagine how liberated she was when she realised it was all her own doing. She was in control. I’m not saying it was necessarily easy to break this very well rehearsed habit, but she managed to do it. Firstly through awareness, secondly through taking responsibility and thirdly through careful identification and practice of new behavioural strategies to break the habit and implement new, more healthy and helpful ones.
We all have self fulfilling prophecies affecting us and our lives. We all have situations when we do whatever it takes to prove ourselves right, even when the main person we hurt in the process is ourselves. May it be at the dinner party with all couples where I’ll feel like a misfit as the only single one, the get together with mum and dad when I’ll end up feeling like a failure or not good enough, in the office where I always get dumped on with the boring stuff. Well the list is endless and very personal of course, but well worth checking in with yourself – where I don’t feel things are great, do I have something to do with creating that situation and/or feeling. Not always easy to spot but ever so liberating when you do and allow yourself to deal with it effectively!