Self-Fulfilling Prophecies In Social Situations

A self-fulfilling prophecy is a psychological phenomenon where someone thinks X will happen, and because of that expectation they unconsciously change their behavior to make X occur.

Having a particular belief about how something will turn out doesn't automatically mean it will come true. Our minds can't magically reshape reality. It's just that if someone has a strong expectation, and it changes their outward actions, then there's a chance that will unintentionally sway the outcome.

Self-fulfilling prophecies can appear in many contexts, such as diplomatic relationships between countries, or in how teachers treat students they've been led to believe have academic potential. This article will focus on how they can pop up in everyday social situations. I'll start by listing some common social self-fulfilling prophecies. After that I'll talk about the reactions people can have to the concept itself.

Some social self-fulfilling prophecies

Helpful self-fulfilling prophecies

You probably can't force yourself to have the beliefs that cause these prophecies overnight. However, you can try to consciously adopt the behaviors that flow out of them.

Self-sabotaging self-fulfilling prophecies

Again, these mostly happen on an unconscious level. People don't sit down and think, "I'm going to do these things to shoot myself in the foot!"

A kind of faux self-fulfilling prophecy is when you don't actually elicit the response you expect, but you think you have. For example, you believe someone is going to reject you and act guarded around them. They pick up on your behavior, but just figure you might be having a hard day and decide to give you some space. Since you're predisposed to see them as being rejecting, you interpret their actions as them hating and ignoring you, even though that's not what was going through their head at all. What happened here is a cognitive distortion known as Mind Reading.

You can also be influenced by someone else's self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, say you're with some co-workers and are happily hanging back and listening to everyone talk. One of your colleagues figures you must be in a bad mood since you're not saying much. They start pointing out how quiet you're being, asking what's wrong, and pestering you to speak up. You naturally feel misunderstood and get irritated. Suddenly you're in a testy mood just like they thought you were, though you'd have never been like that if it wasn't for their initial misread.

Reactions to the concept of self-sabotaging self-fulfilling prophecies

When some people with social problems hear about self-fulfilling prophecies they feel demoralized. They think, "Oh great, so it's my fault I'm lonely, because I'm not sending enough positive vibes into the universe? I do have insecurities about getting rejected, and now you're telling me they're going to screw me over and I can't do anything about it?"

Self-fulfilling prophecies aren't a death sentence for your social life. For one, not all beliefs or worries lead to them. If you're insecure about something, but you don't act any differently because of it, then it can't do much. Even if your behavior does change, it may not be in a way that's particularly influential. Like, maybe a fear of being rejected makes you a touch more nervous around people, but not to the point that anyone notices or cares.

Even if some of your expectations are creating self-sabotaging tendencies, you can deactivate them with awareness. Self-fulfilling prophecies can hinder you when you don't know you're doing them. Once you're clued in to how your beliefs may impact your outward behavior you can address each of those pieces.

First, you can examine your expectations and suss out whether any of them are faulty. That can nip a self-fulfilling prophecy in the bud. For example, if you have the thought, "My friends are going to get sick of me" you may be able to examine, challenge, and dismantle it. If you've decided someone is a snob you can ask yourself why you've jumped to that conclusion.

Secondly, you can intentionally change your behavior. It's okay if you have some insecure thoughts if they don't let them impact how you act for the worse. Say you're afraid your friends will abandon you, and for whatever reason you can't squelch that belief right away. You can still vow to keep yourself from doing anything that's over-the-top needy. You can resist an urge to send a buddy five follow up texts when they don't answer your message right away. If you suspect someone's snobby or dull, you can force yourself to be friendly and give them a chance, rather than acting closed-off or disinterested.