What is a self fulfilling prophecy?
Imagine that you are going to go on a date with your dream gal or your dream guy. You are going out to the movies or to the park or to drink a milkshake in a nice little cafe.
However, you are worried. You know that you are quite the clumsy person and worry about slipping or spilling something. As you sit in front of your date with the milkshake in the center, you find yourself worrying more and more. Your palms start sweating and you start feeling more anxious until, in a clumsy move, you do spill everything just like you feared. Was it bad luck? Was it your clumsiness? It seems likely it was a self fulfilling prophecy.
A self fulfilling prophecy can be defined as a situation where your predictions of an event make that event happen. If you are very anxious about failing an exam, for instance, you can’t sleep the night before and come to the test feeling tired, which makes it more likely for you to fail. The prophecy is reinforced and may repeat the next time. Now a self fulfilling prophecy can be result in an either negative unwanted outcome or a positive outcome. This article will focus mainly on when negative results occur as a result of a self fulfilling prophecy. In a separate article I will focus mainly on prophecies with positive results.
A self fulfilling prophecy in psychology refers to any situation where our expectations make the thing we expect happen. It affects us in our personal lives, our relationships, work, and many other areas of our life.
Self fulfilling prophecy example
Let’s take a look at another example of a self fulfilling prophecy. Imagine a new kid arrives at school. Someone tells the teacher the kid is a “handful.” And someone else tells the teacher the kid tends to misbehave, is not at all smart, and has been nothing but trouble at their last school. How will the teacher act towards the kid?
It’s likely that the teacher will be more focused on the kid, noting all signs of possible misbehavior. The teacher might not feel very fond of the child from the start and might apply harsher discipline to him or her than to the other students. They might interpret any mistakes not favorably for the student and, overall, might have a set of behaviors that are not positive.
The kid might end up misbehaving more and doing worse in school due to the teacher’s expectations.
On the other hand, let’s take a look at another self fulfilling prophecy example. The same situation occurs, only the teacher is taken aside and told that the child is showing real promise. The child is very smart and able to excel and reach great heights. The kid is very friendly and usually quite well-behaved. The set of expectations given is entirely different.
How will the teacher behave? The teacher will likely encourage the child and interpret mistakes favorably. They might be more lenient and interpret different situations positively rather than negatively. The teacher’s behavior might make the child friendlier, better behaved, and academically successful.
How to avoid self fulfilling prophecies
Self-fulfilling prophecies in psychology have been studied significantly, not just because of how interesting they were, but also to find how to prevent them (when they result in negative outcomes that often repeat).
The first step to stopping self-fulfilling prophecies is to gain awareness of them. This can be difficult because they tend to lie in our blind spots. A good option is to explore them with a counselor or therapist who can recognize them with more ease. However, we might also try to identify them by asking ourselves:
- What do I say to myself about myself, the future and certain situations?
When looking for prophecies, it’s useful to locate words like always, never, every time, and so on. They point out our expectations about a specific situation.
For example, Mary expects to have bad luck with men, as they always cheat on her. In a relationship, Mary will say things like “men always cheat” and “my partner is never faithful”. She will be watching her significant other like a hawk and might overreact to anything that suggests infidelity: “I knew it!” While at first her partner might show tolerance, eventually it might frustrate them and even lead to some of them choosing an affair. However, if Mary becomes aware of this pattern, she can recognize that before her partners cheat.
I am not saying that Mary “causes” the partner to cheat. But there is a lot going on on the subconscious level starting with selection of the person stemming from unconscious positions.
Time to look back
The next step is to identify patterns. You might look back and see if in the past you were dealing with the same issues are you are dealing with now. For example, Mary might have found that in every relationship she had problems with infidelity.
Take a look at past problems. See if the same patterns of behavior are present now. What negative situations reoccur? Do you feel “hexed” or stuck with certain negative scenarios?
Another idea is to ask someone else, even if it’s not a therapist. You might find that your friends and loved ones see your patterns with much more clarity and that their view of the situation is quite different of yours. Listen to what they have to say and reflect on it.
Powerful imagination exercises can also help connect you with subconscious patterns. Once you are aware of the patterns you can then make changes.
Break the cycle
When you have identified the patterns, you have the freedom to go against them. For example, if you tend to make self fulfilling prophecies about your failure, try building yourself up for success. Hold the opposite beliefs and vision for your future.
Are you setting up prophecies for others (especially applicable to children)? Do you believe your kid isn’t going to achieve much academically? Take a look at how much support you are giving them. Think about the patterns you can adopt to reach success. For instance, Mary might make the conscious decision to trust her pattern unless given reason to believe otherwise. She might stop herself from conflicts.
Self-fulfilling prophecies in psychology refer to those situations where our expectations for a situation and the behaviors and emotions associated with those expectations make the situation turn out just as we expected. Instead of I’ll believe it when I see…it is more like I’ll see it when I believe it. Self-fulfilling prophecies can lead to vicious cycles where we fail in the same ways again and again. Yet, we remain oblivious to the patterns associated creating our behavior, intentions, interpretations, perceptions, beliefs, etc.
In order to break free of the cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies, we need to find ways to identify our common patterns of expectations and change our behaviors next time. Make the unconscious conscious. One of the fastest ways to do this in my experience is through powerful imagination exercises.
You can use self fulfilling prophecy for positive and negative results. It might be worth it trying to create positive self-fulfilling prophecies that will lead you to success. Stay tuned for my upcoming article on how to create positive self fulfilling prophecies for yourself.
What about you?
PS Have you experienced your own self fulfilling prophecies before that you are now aware of? Love to hear about some of your experiences below!