When our beliefs and expectations influence our behavior at the subconscious level, we are enacting what is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A more formal definition of self-fulfilling prophecy is: A false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true.
Sometimes a belief brings about consequences that cause the reality to match the belief. Those at the center of a self-fulfilling prophecy don’t usually understand that their belief caused the consequences they expected or feared. When we believe something about others, we may act in ways that encourage them to confirm our assumptions, thus reinforcing our beliefs about them.
Self-fulfilling prophecies often manifest themselves within cycles. If the behavior is negative, then you have what is commonly referred to as a vicious cycle.
If you expect the battle to be insurmountable, you’ve met the enemy. It’s you.
– Khang Kijarro Nguyen
In communication, an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy is when someone thinks that communicating with someone is not something they can do or perhaps not worth it. By not communicating, they confuse the person or even push them away. This result brings them to the assumption that they were right… communication couldn’t work and didn’t work. Ultimately however, they created this illusion.
In education, when a teacher is given a high opinion of a student, they are more apt to give that student the energy and focus they need because they see them as a low-risk, high-reward endeavor. On the flip side, if a teacher has an expectation that a student is a troublemaker or more likely to fail, they may shy away from spending too much energy and focus on them, thus inadvertently giving that student a higher likelihood of failure. I’m not saying all teachers do this and when it does happen, they usually aren’t even aware it’s happening.
In interpersonal relationships, an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy is when someone forms an opinion that a person is a creeper or stalker. Next, they put this person under a microscope and in some cases even stalk the person whom they mistakenly perceive as being a stalker. Ultimately, they’ve convinced themselves that the person is a stalker so assuredly anything the person does, e.g. writing poetry, visiting a familiar restaurant, or shopping at a certain grocery store, is proof that they are a stalker. I’ve seen this happen to others and experienced it myself, as I was on the receiving end of a self-fulfilling prophecy, created by someone who refused to communicate and love.
The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation, evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true. The specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error.
– Robert K. Merton
I can speak to these things from personal experience as others have self-fulfilled prophecies against me. Likewise, I have self-fulfilled prophecies against myself and others. We’ve all done this, yet many don’t even realize they have. It’s very dangerous, but I think the more we can introspect our motivations and feelings, the better chance we have at avoiding these types of things. I believe self-absorbed and narcissistic people are more prone to self-fulfilling prophecy because they believe they are never wrong, and their focus always starts with themselves.
I also believe if we are willing to communicate openly with others, then we are less likely to form misguided opinions and I believe this lowers the risk of self-fulfilling prophecy.
A major way we can fight negative self-fulfilling prophecy is to surround ourselves with positivity. That means we must turn off the news. We must free ourselves of people who mentally and emotionally take us to negative places. We must turn off music that depresses us. We must remove ourselves from social media and/or digital negativity. We must eat, sleep, and drink positive things. We need a daily routine that shuns negativity. We need healthy stress relief. Finally, we must allow the right people to enter and leave our life.
There is a science behind it and we must be intentional about it.