Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

I have been doing a lot of thinking, both personally and professionally, about the impact of our thoughts and beliefs on the life that we create and experience; the impact of these self-defined truths on our relationships with ourselves and with others; the impact of these expectations on what we accept from ourselves and others.

My personal process with this occurs as I prepare for a significant life change- welcoming my and my husband’s first child in June. I’ve been in a state of naming and confronting my own beliefs and thoughts about what this new chapter of life will entail, and have been (trying) to be thoughtful in exploring whether these beliefs are grounded in absolute truth or in a reality that I have subscribed to or created.

Professionally, this is an experience that I bump into at least several times in a week. I am broken. This is how I am. I don’t deserve better. I come alongside clients as they feel themselves sinking into their current reality and their belief that this current reality must be the only reality. My goal, and one which I share transparently, is that they will begin to find a way of seeing themselves and the world that is not defined by a single experience, a single emotion, or a single shortcoming; that their reality will begin to grow to encompass one that is greater than their experience at this moment.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

A self-fulfilling prophecy refers to a belief that manifests itself because a person acts in a way that assumes the belief is true. The belief becomes so engrained in their minds as truth and reality, that they behave in a way that ultimately fulfills the belief. This outcome is then used to validate the truth of the belief at its core rather than stepping back and recognizing Ah, the outcome is not wholly a result of this belief being true at its core, but rather a result (at least in part) of my acceptance of this belief as being true.

Goals: The self-fulfilling prophecy can manifest itself in the goals you set for yourself and the way that you approach these goals. Goals can be risky; they can be scary; they can put you in a vulnerable position, stepping outside your comfort zone.

What if I fail? What will that mean about who I am? There’s no way I’ll actually be able to accomplish this. I am not going to be able to handle failure.

If you begin to accept these thoughts and beliefs as truth- not as a possibility, not as a fear- they will begin to shift your approach and actions. Maybe you stop prioritizing deadlines for a project; maybe you stop putting in so much time to studying for an exam; maybe you stop networking with others for your business. Unfortunately, there aren’t many goals that can be reached with this approach. The goal does not come to fruition, or develop the way you hope, and you say I knew it! I knew I couldn’t do this. You fail to see that the goal was not necessarily doomed in and of itself- that perhaps, with a change in approach or belief, the outcome may have been different.

Relationships: Relationships are not safe from the self-fulfilling prophecy. Many people at once hope for a safe and stable relationship while also fearing the vulnerability inherent in this experience.

I’m not good enough for this person. They would never understand this part of myself or my life. I will be rejected if I share this piece of myself.

Again, these beliefs and fears are adopted as an absolute truth. You hide away parts of yourself, being careful to only share the parts of yourself you are certain your partner will accept and understand. But with such significant parts of you being kept in the shadows, it can be hard to feel truly known and accepted by a partner. You also often live in fear that these hidden parts will be discovered. Both partners experience a feeling of being disconnected, the relationship struggles, and you say I knew it. Oftentimes, within the context of a safe and supportive relationship, sharing these vulnerable pieces bring partners closer rather than further. Partners experience a deeper sense of knowing and understanding in the relationship.  

Sense of Self: So often we begin to define ourselves by a significant event, experience, or trauma. This is understandable- an experience with such intensity, frequency, or impact is bound to alter us in a sometimes profound way. But what is the language you use around this?

I am broken. I am a victim. I am depression. I am anxiety.

When you define yourself by a piece, however large or significant that piece is, of your experience, you often become limited to moving forward and existing within this singular experience. This is not to say that traumas or depression or anxiety do not become a part of our sense of self- it is to say that they do not need to become our only sense of self. Authentic acknowledgment and validation of a feeling or experience can exist without it becoming who you are. This shift occurs between a place of I am broken and I feel broken at this moment, but know I am and can be so much more than this broken feeling.

Challenging Beliefs

How can you begin to recognize the work of a self-fulfilling prophecy and begin to detangle yourself from these beliefs?

1.     Become aware. You have to start being aware of the inner voice that proclaims truth about who you are, what you are capable of, etc., etc. What am I telling myself about who I am or what this experience means?

2.     Question your belief. Once you are aware of the statements that you tell yourself, stop to ask yourself if this belief is grounded in truth and if it is a belief that you want to continue to hold as truth. What is the evidence that this is true? Could I believe something different?

3.     Act. Begin to take action and engage in a way that is reflective of the person that you want to grow as, and not necessarily within the constraints of who you have told yourself have to be. How will I choose to experience and process this moment?

To learn more or to book an appointment, contact me via telephone or email.

Brenna Burke, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Santa Clarita, CA. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling. Information provided through this website is for informational purposes only. It does not create a therapist-client relationship and does not replace clinical assessment or professional consultation.