The Isle of Pessimism

Pessimistic Attribution Style

In reflecting on negative events, many people, especially depressed people, have a pessimistic attribution style. They tend to infer:

“It’s me, it’s going to last forever, it’s going to undermine everything I do”. In other words, they have a tendency to blame themselves, to think that the problem is global (happening everywhere in their lives), and worse, that it is permanent (will continue to happen throughout their lives).

Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours all interact. For example, a tendency to blame ourselves, often translates into feeling sad or depressed. When we feel sad or depressed we tend to think more negatively, and we tend to do less and withdraw from others. This cycle is shown in the drawing below. You will notice that the arrows go in both directions. For example, if it has been -30 degrees Celsius for a week, and you haven’t been able to go for your regular walks, you may feel more down, and you may start to think more negatively

Diagram of pessimism cycle

A pessimistic attribution style has been related to poorer health, possibly because of a heightened stress response and harmful effects to the cardiovascular system. We’ll discuss this more in the optimism and stress sections.

Theory of How Pessimism
Connects to Health

Pessimistic Attributions

Helplessness and Hopelessness

Depression, Worry, Anxiety

Heightened Stress Response

Detrimental Effects to the Cardiovascular system


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