The Way to Become the Cynical Stresser

My friend Hal (no that’s not his real name) does not trust people.  This in spite of the fact that he is a stand-up kind of a guy … compassionate, honest and willing to help others.   Not surprisingly, because he always expects the worst from people, he’s often worried, tense and stressed.  Wouldn’t you be, too, if you were constantly waiting for a dagger in the back?

Hal once confided to me that he’s usually disappointed by others.  The large majority of those he thought were good people, usually wind up betraying him or letting him down.

It’s almost as though Hal has a camera with very sophisticated facial recognition software.  This software is programmed to pick out facial expressions of anger, fear, dislike.  So Hal might go to an outdoor concert somewhere and take photos at random as he walks through the crowd.  However, without his knowing it, the software takes control of his camera.  Even as Hal snaps a photo, the software is evaluating the faces for anger, fear and dislike.  If they don’t show any traces of these emotions, the software deletes them.  It only lets the camera store photos of people who are angry or anxious, etc.  At a later date, when Hal looks over the photos, he concludes that the event was a real bust.  All he sees are unhappy people.

Hal’s habitual persective of cynicism – always expecting and looking for the worst – is like that specialized camera software.  The good things that people do are either discounted or forgotten.  What sticks in his mind are all the behaviors that can be seen in a negative light (whether or not they actually were negative). Not only that, but whenever someone is nice to him, he is always looking for the hidden angle, the con, the dishonesty that must be lurking somewhere.

Needless to say, he is always bracing himself for the worst.   And that, my friends, leads to great STRESS.

If you step back for a moment and consider your life …  can you recall past situations in which you reacted like Hal?   And has that happened often enough so as to be a real pattern of stress in your life?


So having considered that, let’s move on.   How can Hal deal with the stress and worry that afflicts him because of his cyncism?

Well, first, let’s acknowledge that not everyone can be trusted.  There are scoundrels out there.  So we don’t want to be pollyannas.  We do want to retain an ability to be skeptical when appropriate.

But rather than letting ourselves be run by the pattern of cynicism, how about taking charge of your mind rather than letting it run you?  How about using your mind to come up with the most positive interpretations of what is going on, as well as the most negative?

So think of this as a game or exercise.  When you notice that you’re looking for the worst, looking for the con or the lie, just acknowledge it and notice that it’s happening. And if it feels like you’re really on to something let yourself finish that line of thought.

But after that,  start to look for the best possible motivations behind the other’s behavior.  Use your imagination to come up with truly positive scenarios for what she is actually doing (that you don’t see) and why she is doing it.   Just imagine, for this part of the game, that she has fairly pure motives (recognizing that there are few saints among us).  Then imagine how she is working in your behalf, what she is going through to help you or get what you want.

The key point of this game is to spend as much time and energy in coming up with positive possibilities as you normally would coming up with negative ones.  It’s not a matter of  just saying to yourself, “Well maybe it’s not so bad,”  or “Well, perhaps she really is trying to help me,” and then getting back to the negative.  Rather,  put real energy and imagination into coming up with positive – dream up scenarios as full of caring and compassion as your negative ones are filled with manipulation and dishonesty.

So that’s the method.  Recognize when you’re looking for the worst and if it seems really justified, then let yourself finish that line of thought.  But don’t stop there.  Go on to imagine the best possible scenarios.  Imagine that his motives are fairly pure, and think of all the ways that he might be helping you, all the things he might be doing that you don’t know about.

In this way, you keep a balanced approach to life.  You keep perspective. And because you are not automatically sucked into assuming the worst, you reduce your level of stress and worry.  Can you come up with specific life situations that might benefit from this game technique?   Perhaps you could describe them in comments below.


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