By | May 14, 2010 17 Comments

The self-fulfilling prophecy

By Ox Drover

My first encounter with a self-fulfilling prophecy (though I didn’t call it that name) was back when I was a band-aid-covered kid learning to ride a bicycle. I kept hitting rocks on the streets on which I rode, and even though I did my best to avoid those rocks and the inevitable spills that hitting them meant, it seemed I could never miss a one. I seemed to hit them all. When I would see a rock ahead I kept my eye on it so I could avoid it, but somehow always seemed to hit the darn thing even though I was trying to be careful to avoid it. I felt like I was doomed to hit every rock on the road.

One day my stepfather mentioned to me that if I would not look at the rock directly I would not hit it. Instead of staring at the rock ahead, I should instead look at where I wanted to go and would avoid the rock. I didn’t think this made much sense because if I didn’t watch the rock, how could I avoid it? So I asked him about this and he said, “You unconsciously steer toward what you are looking at, so by looking at the part of the road that doesn’t have any rocks, you will unconsciously steer a clear path and avoid the rocks.”

Well, being the hardheaded kid that I was, I had to test that out by trying to avoid the rock while looking directly at it, and it was almost impossible to do. Then I tried looking away from the rock, sort of keeping it in my peripheral vision, but not looking directly at it. Sure enough, I easily avoided the rocks.

Though I’ve always been an active, physically pretty fearless outdoors person, I don’t like getting hurt, and though I don’t have the natural grace and rhythm that many successful athletes have (actually, I’m kind of clumsy at some things, like walking and chewing gum at the same time) I try to compensate by using all the intellect I have. I tried to find out what was actually causing my “failures,” and figure out what to do to correct them, so I wouldn’t end up letting my fear of “hitting the rocks” come true with a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

I have learned that many times we sabotage our own success by allowing our fears to make us predict failure in an enterprise in which we have never failed before. Using the bicycle and the rock analogy again, I knew what I was doing wasn’t working, and I kept on doing it, and was about to the point that I had already decided, “There is no way I can keep from hitting the rocks except by looking at them harder and more steadily.” I didn’t realize that my attempt to avoid the rocks was actually causing me to hit the rocks, so I kept on doing it with increasing vigor, to my continued failure.

My stepfather, having had more experience in bike riding, knew what I was doing and showed me how to overcome my fear of hitting the rock, by looking beyond it. By looking at where I wanted to go instead.

Unfortunately, it took me a longer time to realize that I had fallen prey to the self-fulfilling prophecy in other ways, in relationships.

At the community rural health care clinic where I worked for almost a decade, the physician I worked with would had a phrase that I laughed at. It was, “she enjoys poor health.” But after several years of practice in these clinics I realized that he was right; there were people who “enjoyed” their poor health or their plights in life. I saw these people on a regular basis for “physical” complaints of one kind or another, and before long realized that this self-fulfilling prophecy of their “poor health” was generally because they would do nothing to improve it, including following a prescribed diet, exercise or medication, and God Forbid! if you should “accuse” them of not doing everything they could to lose weight or exercise or lower their blood pressure or control their blood glucose. It was never their fault.

I have seen people in relationships who repeatedly had poor outcomes as well, and the primary person who has had generally poor relationship outcomes I can observe by standing in front of my mirror. Yes, about every relative I have had has abused me, and  I’ve had poor relationships with them all, and they are the ones that did the bad things, so how can it be my fault at all?

I’m not responsible for their behavior, they are, but I am responsible for my choices, and I didn’t expect to have good relationships with these people. I knew for a fact that in the future I would hit the rocks of the relationship and get thrown for a loop. I knew these people were not healthy for me, yet it never dawned on me to look away from them. To avoid them, to avoid coming near them where they could wreck my life.

What caused me to repeatedly pursue a path that led to pain and disappointment in my family relationships? Was there some hidden psychological reward? Maybe while “enjoying” my poor relationship status with some of my family members and friends, it did allow me to view myself and my own choices as “morally superior” to those others. The same way I viewed the women from the domestic violence shelter who came to my clinic after having returned to their abusers multiple times. I felt superior because I hadn’t let a man break my arm twice and then gone back to him. But I had let my son and other relatives and friends repeatedly abuse me, so what’s the difference?

My days of the feelings of “moral superiority” are long gone, and I realize that it is up to me to avoid the rocks on the path of life, to see what I am doing wrong when I do hit one, and realize that I am responsible for my choices and the resulting consequences.

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Elizabeth Conley

Great post Oxdrover. Like you, I’m trying to choose better. I’m dealing with a slightly different aspect of this problem however.

I’ve gotten so accustomed to people failing to do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it, that I’ve become a difficult customer. I find that I am nearly incapable of trusting anyone to do the job I’ve hired them to do. (Boy would I hate to have me as a client.) I check on people constantly, double checking their work, calling them to remind them of deadlines, calling them to make sure they’ve met deadlines, gotten permits, sent faxes – you name it.

I’m always trying to cover every single base myself. If someone doesn’t return my call promptly, I become anxious. I start to weigh my options. How will I cope with the fallout if he or she doesn’t get his or her work done properly in a timely manner? I go into CYA mode immediately, because I have zero trust in anything I cannot easily verify.

I’m starting to get my own permits and be my own general contractor, all because of my trust issues. My family and friends find me to be uptight, and I know my blood pressure is getting dangerously high.

I used not to be like this – honest! I used to trust people, I used to have faith that “things always work out”. I’d like to regain some of those feelings and attitudes again. At the very least I’d like to be less of an annoying control freak.

That’s what my anxiety has made me. I’m now a control freak. I am pathologically driven to micromanage. It’s making me physically ill and it’s making me a royal pain to be around.

Anybody else having this problem? What have you done about it?

So far, I’ve tried to mitigate the impact of my micromanaging be being as charming as I know how to be at every personal contact. I’ve even showed up at people’s offices with plate-loads of cookies when they’ve failed to return my calls. “How are you doing? Are the kids well? I hope you like chocolate chips. By they way, how’s the project coming along…” Somehow I think this “charm offensive” fools no one.

Ox Drover

Dear EC,

I can relate to that for sure! I’ve always to an extent been a micromanager because, frankly, I did good work, I did what I said I would do when I said I would do it.

I have also been a manager of units of up to 300 employees at a time (I did that for years! and then opted out of that and went back into direct care of patients because I was frustrated with tryikng to get others to do the work they were paid to do!)

I have also done public relations with “customers” (patients) and their families and I also figured out that many of the people who were the worst patients and customers felt that if they were not cranky and demanding that no one would care about them. My tactic was to find out what was making them cranky and then assure them they didn’t have to be cranky to get good service.

I’ve worked with people who if they were praised became good employees, and I’ve worked with people (high in P tr5aits) that NOTHING YOU COULD DO would make them anything but more dysfunctional and worse employees. Many times though I hadj the responsibility to supervise them I did NOT have the authority to fire them or truly sanction them. THAT was frustrating to me! I finally got to the point I woujld not take a job where I could not fire someone I had to supervise.

Now that I no longer supervise anyone but me, but I do set limits on people I hire to work for me, that includes holding them to their words. Standing up for myself when I get shody service or no service. I return items that are poor quality and I do it with my “Ms Firm But Nice” face on or is that “Ms. Nice BUT FIRM?” Either way I get it corrected. I am like a bull dog, I do not give up.

I vote with my feet and my money. I tell others about poor service from businesses and they know I am going to tell others. I tell people about good service as well, and those businesses know I am touting their names as well.

I do realize though that I must keep my eye on the GOAL, rather than keeping my eye on what I don’t want to happen though. Many times, if we EXPECT someone to not be honest, they will give us that. I try to look ahead and see where I want to GO, but at the same time, sort of keep an eye on any potential problems in the area (“rocks’) but if ALL we look at are the ROCKS then we will hit them as sure as heck! We will steer right toward those problems.
We will expect bad things and then bad things will happen., So it is a REASOANBLE mixture of expecting good things, but realizing that there may be some problems and handling them BEFORE we hit them.


Ox Drover

Ooooh this is a post that has pushed me into taking a good hard look at ME that’s why I don’t like it! lol

choosing To be honest? (and not what came up first wanting to be defensive!!) I have to say that I find the rocks on the road MORE INTERESTING than the road itself, and where I’m going? towards the rock to have a closer look. Off the bike, even looking under the rock to see what’s there, chatting tenderly to the bugs! why because I was born with a CURIOSITY that never really matched that of my family etc.

I even said the other day…I would love to work in the area of suicide, it’s my ambition..!! I do not feel “attracted” to wealthy healthy lifestyles! I go straight for the most difficult thing in the room!! and enjoy that!! AAAAArgh and another thing…I find the Psychopath endlessly fascinating because I have a massive conviction there is a HUMAN BEING inside there somehwere. There. that’s the truth. I am even a bit delighted I survived one, and lived to tell the incredibly scary tale that no there is no human being in there….so now I think I will go back UNDER my rock shaking in fear after my confrontation with that truth…until I find some good reason to come back out.


Elizabeth Conley

I relate to what you say totally. Since the P I have become more independent. I do not reach out for help as much (I am trying to, by being here and recieving so much help…but it’s harder to trust people around me )

You say:That’s what my anxiety has made me. I’m now a control freak. I am pathologically driven to micromanage. It’s making me physically ill and it’s making me a royal pain to be around.

Well thank God for defenses and keeping control, but now you see through it and it does not work. The anxiety is also a cover to keep off the real feelings underneath. You will find your own way with it, I would say the real you is underneath the anxiety…dare to go there? with me I found RAGE first, then GRIEF and now it seems to opening into calmness but I still feel the need to stay safe, which has curtailed my interaction with the world dramatically.

Nice analogy Oxy, Of course the third option is to go over the rock and stay upright on the bicycle. And that would have been my take. I can handle it!. Rocks don’t scare me. Watch me…oooops, smash crash bash, ouch.

But at least we all know a rock when we see one. P’s, not so much.

Speaking of P’s, how about the CEO of BP saying that the Gulf is a large ocean, and the spill is rather small! (BBC interview) He should be dropped in the middle of the small spill, with a life jacket and a lit flare.

Aaaargh…why do they end up having so much power and influence?
Bu you are right Oxy, we have to look at were we want to go, rocks be damned.


Oxdrover: I went away from everyone here for some time – once in a while checking in to read. I wanted to give my relationship one last try – without, I felt – looking at him as a rock to avoid, as a villain.

But tonight I had one more go-round on the phone with him. There have been some nice weekends and times out together though all at my monetary expense while he’s looking for a job during the week. I’ve felt for 8 years what has seemed like love, and won’t defend or deny that here. But Oxy, your post really spoke to me that I couldn’t quite get past the expecting of being derailed, hitting the rock of him and the rock of me. He’s known that I’m struggling financially, even suggested we take a break which seemed like a good idea – just so I could work my own job, do my art with a clear head and purpose and stay within some kind of budget with what I make (without buying extra food, extra whatever)to pay my bills. And he could stay in his own city even if it wasn’t comfortable where he’s staying and stay with the job search. But then he continues to call and want to come up again for the weekend and I found myself expressing a desire to have at least the night and next day to work in my studio and he got angry, said I always have ‘excuses’, that I should be able to work with him here (I do fine
when it’s just working on things, not creating something new but I just have a hard time if anyone, not just him – is in my home and has tv on, talks on phone, is in my space, which means headspace – is that that hard to understand. Plus then I feel like I have to go spend more money on food or drink – I should just say he can eat peanut butter and jelly with me if it means he’s really in this with me as well – if he expects me to be a woman who ‘stands by her man’ doesn’t it work the other way around other than him just showing up, finding a way up from the city to ‘be with me?’ I think he has been legitimately looking for work, he makes the calls, goes for the interviews and I’ve been as supportive emotionally as I can, right now there are alot of goodpeople out there looking for work and not having immediate results.

Part of me wants to just say everything that’s happened, the good and bad – still don’t have my guitar or now – compressor back – he promises he will still come through on returning them – at this point I don’t think I care anymore. The other day I wrote “Grey rock’ on a sticky note and put it by me at work – just to keep that neutral flatline feeling going so I could deal with him and not get emotional or wiped out by twists and turns. I’ve been reaching out for help more lately – perhaps that’s the gift of all this – financially friends or relatives have helped me a bit and I’ve realized more that I have their love and respect and it’s not shameful to step up and ask for help when you feel that you’ve hit a wall with all you’ve tried to do yourself.

He called me on my not being clearer and not speaking up more right away about my feelings. It’s not his fault I’ve had a lifetime of suppressing feelings or needs but I know I’ve improved ALOT. I know I have a long way to go, but I also know when someone shouts me down and doesn’t let me talk, that that is THEIR issue, that I should be allowed to DISCUSS something without having to raise my voice to be heard or feeling I have to just remove myself from the room, throwing in the towel as it were.

At any rate, everything that everyone shares here has stayed with me, I took a long walk and more and more I see that it is about setting clear goals for myself, goals that are positive and make ME happy, keeping my eyes on the beautiful things along the road. Maybe I haven’t been that much ‘fun’ lately, maybe I’ve been ‘too serious’ – but maybe it’s because I’ve needed to ‘get serious’ about MY own concerns and needs. It’s such a balancing act, I am tired of being both emotionally supported by him at times and then attacked, and then I respond in kind depending how humorous and mellow I’m feeling or tired and humorless about his approach to me. Another long post, thanks for listening.


Dear Ox, Great, great post!
This has made me go back and look at my past and find the pattern that, throughout the years, always seemed to bring me pain and confusion, as opposed to happiness when it came to relationships. It’s not that I’m willing to take responsibility for what the ex spath did to me, it’s that I am looking much, much closer at what was going on inside of me that I tended to allow this kind of person into my life.
I still remember the day the psychiatrist asked me, “What are YOU getting out of this?” That question stopped me in my tracks. It also was a major part of the beginning of the end with the ex spath. At the time, my answer was pain and confusion, loss of integrity and MONEY.

TODAY, as I read your post, it took on a new meaning. What I had also gotten out of the relationship was that feeling of superiority and another big one; CONTROL. Monetarily, I had the money between the two of us and I “ran the roost” or so I thought because of that.(crabbing the whole way of course). Of course, today I realize that it was all an illusion. He was totally in control because he was doing what he wanted to do at my expense. So, as I look in the mirror, I have myself to blame for not paying attention to those red flags, for ignoring the warnings, for plodding along doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes. I, much like you, knew what the outcome would be. I didn’t know when or how, but I knew it would end badly, and it did. Actually, it was worse than I could ever have predicted and it was ME letting him in due to those needs that I had.

Thank you for an eye opening, humble post. You’ve helped me a lot and today, I have to ask for help financially as my business has dwindled to nothing and I have to do something to take care of myself and my son. I have been dealing with such a major depression over this. I was always able to be financially solvent and take care of everything and everyone.

Your step-father was wise and I got the lesson from that as well. The fear I’ve been holding in now about how I’m going to make it financially has had me frozen and because of that, I wasn’t looking ahead. Past the fear. It puts my entire day in a whole new perspective! I can ask for that financial help and I can get back on my feet again.



I am in a total meltdown about that oil spill. it makes me so furious I have to just stop looking at the news. you say that BP farker said:

the Gulf is a large ocean, and the spill is rather small

ooooh God how I wish I could smash his face in the middle of the oil spill and I also wish I could raise millions to help with the clean up….how could this happen …WHAT IS WRONG WITH US??????

Ox Drover

Dear persephone,

Darling, I know it is so tempting to try to go back and see again if it can work, but it never does, it just looks okay for a while, and then becomes all about us taking care of them and putting up with their chit again! It is all really that it ever was.

TAKE CARE OF YOU! Look past the rock! Look where you want to go! Believe me, staying away from the “rocks” keeps us from falling again and “wrecking” our lives. Rocks aren’t going to change, and they are hard and unyeilding however we encounter them! (((hugs))))

Dear Bullet! I hope the article does provoke you, and make you ANGRY enough to take care of yourself! IF so, then it will have been a wonderful success! ((((hugs))))

Sweet Cat! I’m glad the article resonated with you as well–but you have come so far since we first met here at LF. Haven’t we both! But you are staying on that journey to happiness and healt as we all should and it does it better and better the more we learn,, the more we grow! (((hugs))))

Ox Drover

Test post


You offer such good advice to our readers. Thank you.


Good one….
Reminds me if a saying-

“do you want help with that problem or just sympathy for having it”

Both are legit but there is an expiry date on the latter. Sooner or later, you just have to get over it and move on to another problem….

At least thats what I bring with me from the notion that the adult children have to decide to grow up…

riding a bike a good way of looking at the complezity of a full adult like- its a lot of simutaneous multi tasking and watch out for the Rocks….


Ox Drover

Thank you Donna, for making this blog possible.

Dear Silver, Yea, we do have an expiration date on our grief, but for others they seem to think aboujt a week should be it! LOL

Some days I feel great if I can just crawl much less get on the bike and ride, or have a destination. It does help to focus on where I want to go though, rather than on where not to go, but being able to share the road with mjy LF buddies who encourage me does help!!!! ((((hugs)))) and God bless you all!


Thanks, silvermoon, for saying:

“do you want help with that problem or just sympathy for having it”

Just in the past 24 hours, I can relate. Not about me, but about somebody else, or a whole bunch of people who just want to waste my time ignoring the advice they ask for and squandering the help I give because all they really wanted was to hear tender words. But maybe we see in others what we’re really working out as an issue in ourselves. Not that I run that help-versus-sympathy racket on others, but I’m aware of avoiding it. My front-and-center gaze on that “rock” just attracts more of it from other people. And, of course, I know that I don’t do it, so I get to feel great about myself!

I’ve often been told that I’m “harsh” and “hard-nosed.” Me! The person who says hello to all the dogs in the street, like, “Hey puppy!” and pets the kitties and goofs with the kids. I think it’s about that expectation that I would never call anyone accountable, if I were truly a nice, sweet, soft person. Guilt.

Again, it’s an issue that comes from me — a little insecurity, wondering if people are thinking that — and it comes true, as if I started a vibe that needs to resonate somewhere, to echo off someone else. They all start to think that about me.

I’m going to have to think on this phenom a lot more, and I hope that others will, too, and tell me what they’ve noticed.


Dear Oxy: thanks for the reply – I’m in the midst of making changes. Like Silvermoon said, I’m aware of hitting my own wall of knowing I can’t expect anyone, even myself
to put up with excuses anymore. I’ve been behaving irresponsibly with the choices I continue to make and life is forcing me to change – and it is for the better.

I’m glad Donna acknowledged how much you help all of us, Oxy – one of the main reasons I came back here.


Oxy ”“ that’s a great post. I hear you about self-fulfilling prophesy.

I think I ran into problems in my life from almost the opposite of that. Well, maybe not the opposite, perhaps just from sheer stupidity… In a lot of situations I didn’t even acknowledge the rock.

In my young and foolish days in the mountains I got some sage advice from a wise old mentor who was helping me with my back-country skiing technique. He told me: “The expression is wrong. You don’t ski the trees. You ski the spaces. If you concentrate on the trees you’ll forever be running into them. Let your eyes refocus: put the trees into the background and bring the spaces into the foreground.”

Well, just like your bike lesson, that instruction worked like magic. I could go so much faster. It almost felt like flying with the trees whipping past!

But later he made another point which took me years to appreciate. I was a very strong skier with lots of miles under my belt, and skiing the trees was well within my comfort level. But one day there was a skier at the top of the “run” who wasn’t strong, and had convinced someone to let him tag along. My mentor pointed out that that person shouldn’t be there, and was putting both himself, and us, in harms way. He said that the only time you should put the spaces in the foreground, and the trees in the background, is IF YOU KNOW HOW TO HANDLE A TREE SHOULD YOU COME UP AGAINST ONE UNEXPECTEDLY WHEN YOU WERE EXPECTING A SPACE. In order to focus on the spaces while tree skiing you need to be confident in your ability to quickly recognize danger, immediately shift focus back to the trees (or cliff, or boulder, or tree root), SOLVE THE PROBLEM, plot your next move, and then refocus back on the spaces.

He said this guy needed to recognize that he was over his head and needed to take the safest way down, which in this case meant NOT FOCUSING ON THE SPACES (which would make him ski too fast for the terrain), but instead focusing on the trees and going very, very slowly.

It took me a while to recognize that in some areas of my life, particularly in relation to predators at work, I was over my head – just like that guy. I think what I was doing wrong was, instead of recognizing the trees/problems while simultaneously focusing on the spaces/opportunities, I was just disregarding the potential problems altogether. So I never gave myself time to properly build skills around dangerous people because I wouldn’t let myself acknowledge them, or the situation I was in, as dangerous. You can get a very long way into a dangerous situation by just taking advantage of opportunities (think BP in the Gulf of Mexico). I made it even worse by disregarding pain (a learned behaviour from my childhood). Not matter how hard I was hit I would just pick myself up and say “I’m OK! I’m tough ”“ I can take it.” I got a lot further in my life than I probably would have if I weren’t a risk-taker; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “You shouldn’t be where you are in life considering where you’ve come from”.

But eventually you need some skills or you need to get out of there, because when you ski with the big boys the problems and the risks get much bigger ”“ no matter how many spaces you concentrate on. I should have learned this ”“ but didn’t ”“ when a good friend went through 6 hours of surgery after being medivac’d by helicopter off the mountain. You need skills to recognize and handle both the trees AND the spaces.

There’s a difference between taking a calculated risk with a fall-back plan for the worst-case scenario vs. going for broke and playing the odds that nothing bad will happen (again, think BP). Or, in my case, thinking you had an adequate fall-back plan, but learning that you’d underestimated the risk.

So I got hit harder by a predator at work than I was prepared for, and my health really took a beating. But I’m using my time hunkered down in relative isolation, while I’m working to get my health and my strength back, to learn to pay more attention to dangerous people: how to read them, how to read the environmental cues, and learning what to do about it. Which is why I’m here at LF.

I was theorizing that ”“ perhaps ”“ pessimists need to learn to focus more on the spaces, and optimists need to learn to focus more on the trees. I know it’s not that simple (Oxy, I don’t think you’d ever refer to yourself as a pessimist!), so I’m open to anyone else’s thoughts.


Dear Lovefraud friends and victims
I have been a reader of Lovefraud for 5 years now and the occasional post. Again I must thank everyone on Lovefraud for the insightful and informative information, the personal and tragic stories everyone shares and the support. 5 years no contact from an 8 year relationship with a spath that literally stole my soul and nearly stole my life. I can now appreciate I allowed it all to happen.
With the support of everyone at Lovefraud I am now a 5 years happily single 42 year old mum of 2 beautiful girls. Almost half way through a counselling degree (having left school and home at 14 this is certainly an achievement i am personally very proud of). My aim to support victims of spaths once the degree is completed as I found in my time of need very few counsellors had the experience of dealing with victims of spaths, which made my recovery just a little more difficult.
I however wanted to share a very profound moment for me that occurred this week at my College. For the module Counselling Skills 2 we were required to submit 2 assessments (i had expected to receive assessment one back prior to completing assessment 2). However the teacher is very busy marking many papers and as a single working mum trying to juggle study I needed to submit my 2nd assessment early thus not being able to improve upon my 2nd assessment from feedback received from my 1st assessment. I did voice my concerns to my educator who kindly offered to return my 2nd assessment to be improved upon. After some consideration i wrote to my wonderful educator and unfortunately declined her kind offer. I stated that I knew the rules when i handed my assessment in that once it was handed in that was it but so most importantly above all else although this sounds very silly and I may have accomplished a Distinction or High Distinction instead of just a high credit, I declined stating i am a “truer person to myself these days”. Meaning that i abided by the rules, i also felt it unfair to others in the class also.
Without sounding like a spath myself (mind you I know I can think like one on occasions having lived with one for 8 years, I used to worry I had turned into one), I really felt a deep sense of my own inner personal strength and values had returned prior to my spath ordeal. I guess this a really positive affirmation for me that I’d like to share with you all and give all of you hope, that things really do get better. From the brinks of death by spath to the opposite end strength brought about by the spath ordeal, I could almost thank the spath for putting me through so much trauma and despair so I could grow into a stronger and better person.
Love and strength to you all on your journey of recovery. It is a long road but a worthwhile journey I have discovered. Thankyou Ox Drover a wonderful post as always.

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