Picture yourself doing something you’re perfectly capable of doing. You’ve done it many times before. But one day, you’re asked to do the same thing, but with one slight difference: people will be observing you while you’re doing it. These aren’t just any people though, they’re the people who make it clear that they have low expectations for you and that they think you’re not capable of anything. As a result, you feel extra pressure to perform well and you get nervous. Subconsciously, your muscles tense up or stiffen which ends up in you failing to do what you’ve been previously able to do. The people who’ve underestimated you have a good laugh and feel good about themselves because you’ve met their low expectations for you. You’ve fulfilled the prophecy that they’ve given you.
A self-fulfilling prophecy is one where your beliefs or other people’s beliefs about you affect your behavior in a way that these false beliefs become true. It’s a very common phenomenon that occurs in our society. Sadly, it’s rarely ever spoken about. The closest thing that people often hear related to self-fulfilling prophecies is the typical “believe in yourself” motto, which is actually very relevant to the issue. If you believe in yourself to be capable of achieving something, you’re more likely to engage in actions and behaviors that help you achieve the goal. You study harder, practice harder, become less nervous about what it is you want to do, etc. All of this would give you a higher chance to fulfill the prophecy. If you don’t believe in yourself, then you’re more likely to work less, slack off, get nervous, and not try as hard, which also makes you fulfilling the prophecy.
Self-fulfilling prophecies manifest in society in a variety of different ways. It’s often been cited as one of the causes of discrimination, reinforcement of stereotypes, crime, success, or failure in achieving one’s goals, improving one’s self, and a lot more. For students, it’s very common. There are countless scenarios where students improve academically, socially, and even athletically after transferring schools. A lot of times this is due to them being able to escape self-fulfilling prophecies that have previously been imposed on them. Their past teachers and fellow students may have had low expectations for them to the point where they actually believe that they are incompetent and they’re deprived of opportunities that would’ve helped them flourished. Because they thought less of themselves, they performed worse, didn’t try as hard as they could have, or didn’t even attempt to do the activity. However, when they transfer schools, they meet people that support them and are exposed to opportunities that they’ve never had before. Then they think to themselves: “Wow, I didn’t know I could actually do this”, “I didn’t know that I could be the smart guy in class”, or “I never imagined I could be this good at this sport.”
Self-fulfilling prophecies are one of the reasons why supportive friends are important, much more important than most people think. If your friends belittle you, then you are more likely to belittle yourself. On the other hand, if your friends think highly of you then you’ll be more likely to be more confident in yourself and also have a tendency to work harder in order to meet their expectations. Having supportive friends makes people more willing to try things that would result in their self-improvement.
People can also cast self-fulfilling prophecies on themselves. Some individuals can be greatly affected if an accident or even a minor inconvenience happens during the start of their day. The person might interpret it as a sign that his/her whole day will be bad. As a result, their mood changes, they become less likely to engage in conversations with others, and they’re primed to notice the negative occurrences throughout the day more than the positive ones, thus fulfilling the prophecy. Another instance is if a person thinks of himself as shy or not good at socializing, then that person might become more nervous around people or avoid conversations with others, hindering him from improving his social skills.
The reinforcement of stereotypes is also one of the things that can be caused by self-fulfilling prophecies. For example, if a member of a certain indigenous group becomes a student of a big school, the other students might automatically stereotype him/her as stupid, which would lead to that person being more pressured and feeling more nervous about his/her studies. The individual might also be less likely to speak up in class or try activities that would mentally stimulate him/her, thus making the person’s chances of performing poorly in academics higher.
Taking all of this into consideration, you might try to recall if you’ve ever cast a self-fulfilling prophecy on yourself or if other people have put one on you. You might also feel guilt or remorse if you’ve realized that you may have put a negative self-fulfilling prophecy on another person. Would a person have performed better if you didn’t make it clear that you belittled him/her? You might also feel regret upon realizing that there may have been times where you’ve underestimated yourself and didn’t attempt something you wanted to when you were actually capable of achieving the feat. You might feel angry at certain people in your life upon recalling that they made you feel incompetent, but then realized that you weren’t when you met new friends and got exposed to a more supportive environment.
“how do we combat self-fulfilling prophecies?”
With negative self-fulfilling prophecies having such negative effects on societies and individuals, one can’t help but ask the question, “how do we combat self-fulfilling prophecies?” The answer lies within the roots of the problem: be the opposite of what causes it. If belittling people can cause negative self-fulfilling prophecies, then be the person that supports others and you might actually cause a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. If stereotyping people can actually cause them to act differently compared to their normal selves and thus fulfill the stereotype, then make a conscious effort to treat others with equal respect no matter the gender, physical appearance, or race. Advocate for their rights.
But what if self-fulfilling prophecies work on you? Then remember to keep a few things in mind. One is that self-fulfilling prophecies don’t always get fulfilled. There will be times that if you manage to get out of your comfort zone then you might surprise yourself and discover that you’re capable of things that you didn’t know you were before. Also remember that you can use others’ negative remarks as a challenge, a prophecy that you are not bound to You can always workout, study harder, practice more, and meet more supportive people in your life to help boost your self-esteem. All of this can result in you putting self-fulfilling prophecies that have a positive effect on yourself. You can even actually “fake it till you make it” where you constantly try productive things you’re not comfortable with or don’t feel like doing until such time where your constant effort has produced good results in your life.
Remember that there will be individuals that will refuse to be bothered by their environment or the people around them. They will use people’s hate and belittlement as fuel and try to prove them wrong. They make it a habit of disappointing people that don’t support them. There’s nothing that suggests that it’s impossible for you to become one of those people. Remember that you are not confined to other people’s opinions of you. You can always defy expectations and make life better for yourself.
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Bosnia, Herzegovina (2016) Self Fulfilling Prophecies and Stereotypes, retrieved from https://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledge_detail/self-fulfilling-prophecy-and-stereotypes/
Markway, B. (2018) , 5 Reasons People Have Low Self Confidence, Psychology Today, retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shyness-is-nice/201812/5-reasons-people-have-low-self-confidence
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