In high school, I had a therapist who was tough as nails. She didn’t listen to excuses, and she could not be manipulated. One day, during a particularly exasperating session, she told me that my biggest barrier to happiness was myself; I was creating self-fulfilling prophecies and manifesting my own defeat before I could even get started on doing the things I needed to accomplish.
What Is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?
According to Psychology Today, a self-fulfilling prophecy is “when one predicts an outcome and then inadvertently acts in a way that brings about the very result predicted.” This can be problematic enough on its own, but because self-fulfilling prophecies and the resulting behaviors build upon themselves and ultimately create patterns and habits, the results can be compounded over time.
Vicious Cycle Versus Virtuous Circle
This tendency to develop an expectation and then unconsciously choose behaviors that will lead to the expected outcome can create one of two patterns: a vicious cycle or a virtuous cycle. When the expectations and outcomes are negative, the cycle created is “vicious.” When they are positive, the resulting pattern is “virtuous.”
The point is that our thought and behavior patterns are self-replicating, ultimately reinforcing the positive or negative beliefs we have about ourselves. So how can we ensure that the patterns we create help us rather than hurt us?
Most often, when people reference self-fulfilling prophecies, they are alluding to negative expectations and reinforcing behaviors chosen by people who are expecting poor outcomes. This can be a difficult pattern to break. As stated in the Psychology Today article, “In most cases, these negative cycles start with deep-seated negative and irrational beliefs, ideas, or expectations about oneself, other people, or the world. Such firmly entrenched negative beliefs are usually the product of upbringing and previous experiences and are often implanted by significant people and events.”
Because it can be difficult to address these negative beliefs, ideas, and expectations on our own, therapy is often recommended. Therapy can help change how we see ourselves and the world around us, and thus help us revise our behavior patterns. Therapists are able to see thinking errors that we might not be able to perceive in ourselves and help to correct these errors so that we think more positively about ourselves and our ability to be happy and successful.
How Addiction Is Fueled by Self-Fulfilling Prophecies
Many people who have struggled with substance abuse have a hard time breaking cycles of negative self-talk, which may have started before they ever tried their first substance. The stigma attached to addiction, guilt they feel for pain they have caused, and other addiction-related difficulties may then compound the issue. Even if they are successful in getting sober, they might beat themselves up over relapses or because they think they aren’t progressing quickly enough in their recovery journey. For this reason, and many others, it is important for a person to have a strong support system, no matter where they are in their recovery journey, and to remain open to the idea of therapy.
Rewriting the Mental Script
Over the last couple of years, there have been some viral videos online of adorable little children saying positive affirmations to themselves. While it is cute and entertaining to see toddlers talking about how smart, strong, and brave they are, we can actually learn from this. By giving ourselves positive messages, we can become more willing to believe that positive things are coming our way and that we will make the right choices to have pleasant outcomes. YouTube has many different free videos that can help us practice positive affirmations, some specifically geared toward addiction recovery.
Practicing mindful gratitude can also aid long-term recovery by helping a person to focus on the positive things in their lives. As we mentioned in the gratitude blog post, a number of steps can help develop a gratitude-oriented mindset. These include:
- Focusing on the positive, even when difficult things happen.
- Seeing mistakes as opportunities for growth rather than as failures.
- Investing in your relationships and working to build up the people who love you.
- Allowing yourself to experience a sense of wonder and appreciation for at least one thing daily.
- Looking for things that spark your happiness.
We Can Help
At Safe Harbor Recovery Center, we strive to address the whole-person needs of our guests, including mental, physical, and spiritual needs. Our holistic approach helps clients sustain a positive, long-term recovery.