Woe Is Me, The Self Fulfilling Prophecy

Yesterday, I brought my car in for the usual oil change and rotation of my tires. The dealership that provides these services has a comfortable lounge where waiting customers can sit in a comfortable chair, watch the television news and sip coffee. When I entered the lounge I immediately became aware of two things that were happening. First, there was a news story on CNN about the Gulf oil spill. I live in Florida and this is a matter of concern. Second, there was a man, a fellow customer, who was lecturing the other customers about the lack of integrity and honesty of oil company officials, politicians, and just about anyone in an official capacity. He then went on to predict that this spill would be a disaster for home owners all across the east coast of the U.S. because the spill will foul the beaches resulting in a disaster decline in property values for home owners. My reaction was shock, anxiety and worry about my home and its value. Then,...

Then, I caught myself by using all of my training in psychotherapy to stop a depressing and panic provoking way of thinking. I said to myself, "Wait, homes are homes and the Gulf is the Gulf and what has one to do with the other? Most people do not go to the beaches, they use their pools." Quickly, my emotions settled down. Yes, this is a tragedy for the environment but we are not in this alone and there are many of us who can do things to help, such as saving wild life.

John Kabbat-Zinn, the master of meditation and its application to all types of situations wrote an excellent book titled "Full Catastrophe Living." I highly recommend the book. Well, I thought to myself, this man at the dealership was engaging in "full catastrophe thinking and speaking." This type of thinking is hazardous to our health and can also infect the social environment at work and at home.

There is a concept called the "self fulfilling prophecy. If you convince yourself that the results of your efforts will be failure, you will enact behaviors to bring about the predicted end. In other words, if I tell myself that "I will fail that exam," I will probably not study and fail.

Let me give an example of the opposite of catastrophic thinking. I walked into MD's office for a follow up visit after my recent shoulder surgery. The office secretary, a pleasant young woman, greeted me with, "How are you?" I thought I was being funny when I quipped, "I'm fine...well, if I were fine I wouldn't be here." She responded, "Yeah, but you be soon be all better." She was correct. She and I caught me in a moment of catastrophic thinking and acting.

This is somewhat like the people at work in some places who spend their entire day complaining how awful there job is and how unfair the boss is. As the day goes on they feel worse and worse until some of them feel depressed.

All of us have to clear ourselves of this "poor me" way of thinking. It is not helpful and not realistic. Negative thinking is contagious because it leads to negative talk and the self fulfilling prophecy. If you convince yourself that your life is awful then you go about making your life awful.

Meditation, Yoga and Psychotherapy along with the use of self help cognitive behavioral books, are all helpful in putting a stop to the "woe is me" way of thinking.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.

  • Anonymous-1


    I'm getting older. I have no connections to anyone...no family, few friends, no resources and I'm really scared. My life choices have been what they are....suffice it to say, I had no idea this would end up like this...except that no matter how happy I was or where I was at or what surrounded me, this was my mantra. It turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. I've been through 20+ years of psychotherapy. My therapists think I am terrific and a pleasure and it's my choices in people, that have been wrong. What does it matter now? I can't live with my therapist's family. I am on anti-depressants for years. I am educated, funny, or used to be.

    I remember, once, when I had an evening appointment with my longest and favorite therapist at his home office. I would wait in his waiting room and listen to the happy sounds of his family through one of the doors....kids playing on the piano, mother calling in to tell them dinner was ready...delicious smells of roasting dinner wafting through the walls into my nose. This was the life I longed for. It was all too depressing to be me, sitting in the waiting room, just on the other side of the wall, a real life scenario. And, here was me, a great girl, so much potential, so bright, so funny, so wise....spla, bla bla....

    Here is me! Now 61, how is that possible? Lost everything...everybody. Had a medical emergency the other night. Had to go to the hospital emergency room on my own...noone to call who would come, noone to advocate for me, noone to pick me up the next day...ended up walking home on my own after recovering in a 3 bed room with 2 80 year old women who groaned all night long. What did I realize after this night? 1st...there is not all that much difference, to an outside person, between a 61 year old woman (who thinks she is still 'hip') and an 80 year old woman with probably grandchildren, a home, etc. etc. etc. and 2nd...I am at the end of the road. This is no joke. I have no support system. No resources. I'm totally alone in this world, depressed and don't know what what to do.