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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17 Comments on "The self-fulfilling prophecy"

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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….


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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