Why naïve optimists don’t cope when life gets messy

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

If you’re a naïve optimist, life sometimes takes you by surprise – and not in a good way. For instance, you can be shocked by the unthinking or even callous way that some people behave. And unpleasant events can send you into a tailspin. Naïve optimists tend to believe that things will turn out for the best – at least for them. They often have the faith that if they do the right thing, others will too. And although they know unpleasantness exists, they’re shocked when it comes close to home.

When something bad happens, most people take a little time to adjust. But they eventually accept the situation, and get on with managing it.

But if you’re a naïve optimist, you may be taken aback by difficult events. You may find it hard to understand why they happen. And you probably keep asking, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?”

And the answer is usually, “Nothing!”

Now that may seem unfair, especially if you play by the rules.

But perhaps a better question to ask yourself is, “Why not you?”

Everyone has problems

The truth is that no-one escapes hassles. No-one escapes the stresses related to health, work, relationships, or finances. No-one lives a life of continual peace and contentment.

In addition, everyone faces grief and loss at different times in their lives. Even rich, beautiful or intelligent people, who appear to have everything, still suffer. They hide the emptiness of their lives; the tragedies and despair are too painful to share.

So why should you be the only one who never gets upset?

Nothing can make you immune to the petty irritations or distress that comes with being alive.

The question then becomes: what unsettles you so much when difficulties crop up?

Perhaps it depends on your expectations about how life should be.

Beliefs about how life should be

If you’re a naïve optimist, your beliefs about how life should be may act as a shield from the realities of life.

By not thinking about unpleasant things, you feel less worry and anxiety. And that helps you stay on a more even keel emotionally.

But avoiding all potential problems comes with its own difficulties. You get used to thinking that life should run smoothly. When it doesn’t, you’re left reeling in shock and dismay.

However, you can learn to be more resilient when faced with difficulties. Start out by identifying the beliefs you hold about the way life should be.

Read the following and see which beliefs resonate with you. Then take a few moments to consider if these beliefs are helpful or not.

Belief 1: Most people have the same values as you

You tend to think that almost everyone holds similar values and ideals to yours. You believe most people mean well and have the interests of others at heart. As result, you expect that others will always do the “right thing,” the way you do.

Belief 2: Intuition is the best guide in life

You believe your intuition or inner gut feelings are the best guide in life. Your inner truth forms the basis for your beliefs and actions.

You actively focus on positive emotions such as optimism or enjoyment. To you, they signal that you don’t need to look deeper into a particular situation. You’re free to go ahead with any plans you may have.

In addition, you’re confident that you’re a good judge of character. You feel you tap into the essence of others and easily form close connections.

Belief 3: You should always be positive to others

You don’t like displays of negative emotions, whether your own or someone else’s.

Even if you’re hurt or annoyed at someone’s behaviour, you’d rather not say anything. You don’t like to make a fuss or be negative.

Perhaps you have a religious background, and value being of service to others. Or your empathy makes you aware when others are likely to be offended or embarrassed.

Whatever the reason, when someone behaves negatively, you prefer to brush it aside and move on.

Belief 4: Life should run smoothly

You like life to hum along smoothly. So when things don’t go according to plan, you’re annoyed. Your first thought is, “I shouldn’t have to go through this frustration or disappointment.”

Wanting life to be without problems can lead to the desire to control what happens. That way, you can make sure you’re never inconvenienced.

So it seems so unfair that hassles still pop up, no matter how hard you try to eliminate them.

Belief 5: It’s better to avoid thinking about reality

You like to think that everything will work out in future, no matter what.

At some level, you’re aware that bad things do happen “out there.” But you don’t really see them as touching your life. You don’t have any evidence that you’re immune from these events, but feel you’re removed from them.

In fact, you strongly avoid thinking of terrible things that happen in the world. Rather than getting anxious and distressed, you block out news that highlights negativity. That helps maintain your belief that bad things only happen outside your circle.

If you allowed yourself to think deeply about these issues, you’d be swamped with a sense of helplessness. So it’s better not to think about them at all.

You may even hold vaguely superstitious beliefs without being aware of them.

For example, you may think it’s tempting fate to think of bad things that could happen. It’s as if thinking or talking about these things might make them happen. And that also raises your anxiety levels. So you’d rather not take this risk.

Others should be considerate

In addition, you want others to be considerate of your feelings. You don’t want them to point out the harsh realities of life.

That means you can see people who raise potential problems as pessimistic nit-pickers. They seem to enjoy making others worry.

You may even feel they’re trying to discourage you from doing what you want. Therefore, you quietly ignore their warnings. That way, you can preserve your positive views of the world and your future plans.

Other beliefs?

You may well hold other beliefs that bolster your naïve optimism. However, in the next article we’ll see how realistic each of the above beliefs are. We’ll also look at ways of modifying any that are unhelpful. This should help you manage problems with less emotional distress.

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