Common Pessimistic Personality Traits You May Not Know You Have

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 13, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

A man avoids dating because he assumes he won’t find anyone compatible. A woman stays at a job she doesn’t like because she’s sure she won’t find another. A person doesn’t travel, even though they’d like to, because they’re certain the trip will be more stressful than it’s worth. These can be a few examples of how too much pessimism can keep us from living up to our full potential. Although healthy pessimism can help us prepare for those times when things don’t go our way, it can be important to know when it becomes unhealthy. Frequently catastrophizing, being overly self-deprecating, using emotional reasoning over logic, and transmitting pessimism to others may be signs that you’re experiencing unhealthy pessimism. It can be beneficial to recognize and challenge your negative thoughts, practice gratitude, and work with a licensed therapist to reduce pessimism.

Pessimism doesn’t have to create negativity in your life

What is pessimism?

In general, there is no one trait that defines pessimism. While it may be relatively easy to spot in other people, it can be tricky to identify pessimism within our own personalities. For example, many pessimists believe they’re being pragmatic or believe they’re simply less spontaneous than everyone else because they prefer to plan ahead. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines pessimism as “the attitude that things will go wrong and that people’s wishes or aims are unlikely to be fulfilled.” While this may seem straightforward, it’s not the only way we can think about pessimism. 

For example, philosophical pessimism tends to focus more on the beliefs, explanations, and causes of suffering instead of prophesizing negative outcomes. 

Common personality traits of pessimistic people

It might be prudent to mention that most people exhibit one or more of the traits of pessimism at times. If you recognize them within yourself, that may not mean you meet the full criteria of a pessimist. The key may be to consider whether you have a pessimism bias that hinders your everyday choices or impacts your daily life in a negative way. 


Perhaps one of the most classic markers of a pessimistic personality, this trait generally involves drawing broad conclusions based on limited or isolated negative experiences. Individuals who overgeneralize tend to take one negative event or experience and apply it to all similar situations, creating a pessimistic outlook. 


Pessimists tend to magnify and exaggerate potential negative outcomes, often overlooking the likelihood of more positive or neutral outcomes. While most pessimistic traits can affect our mental well-being, catastrophizing everyday situations can be particularly harmful, sometimes leading to severe anxiety. 

Confirmation bias 

This trait often refers to the tendency to seek out information or interpret events in a way that confirms pre-existing negative beliefs or expectations. People with confirmation bias often disregard or downplay evidence that contradicts their pessimistic viewpoints. 

Negative filtering 

Negative filtering can be defined as the process of selectively focusing on negative aspects of a situation while ignoring or minimizing positive aspects. Individuals with this trait may discount compliments or positive feedback and dwell on criticisms or failures. They may downplay positive events in favor of negative happenings. 

Learned helplessness

This trait is typically characterized by a belief that one has no control over their circumstances and that their actions cannot make a significant difference. People with learned helplessness tend to view negative events as permanent and global, leading to a pessimistic and passive mindset.

Emotional reasoning over logic

This trait can involve basing one's beliefs and perceptions solely on emotions, rather than objective evidence or logical reasoning. People with emotional reasoning may let their negative emotions dictate their thoughts and interpretations, leading to a pessimistic outlook.

Overly self-deprecating

While self-deprecation in small doses can seem charming, it may be a sign of pessimism when taken too far. Pessimists often experience the need to dramatically downplay or dismiss their achievements, undermine their intelligence, and sometimes insult themselves outright. Pessimists may use self-deprecation as a bridge to failure. For example, when you make a joke about how bad you are at basketball, it may not be a far stretch to believe you’ll never be good at basketball.

Imposter syndrome

Most people have some measure of self-doubt. When it becomes overblown, though, it could lead to a phenomenon known as “imposter syndrome.” Commonly found in the workplace, imposter syndrome can lead people to doubt themselves and their skills relentlessly, even to the point of perceiving themselves to be a fraud. That same kind of self-doubt can be ubiquitous in pessimists. 

Transmitting pessimism to others

Pessimists may display their beliefs and attitudes around others, which can create an atmosphere of doubt and negativity. Because humans generally have a propensity to pay more attention to negativity (a phenomenon called negativity bias), we’re usually more likely to absorb pessimistic attitudes from others. The more time spent with someone consumed with pessimistic thinking, the more ingrained our own negative beliefs can become.  

Undermining their own successes

Pessimists often have a difficult time giving legitimacy to their own successes. For example, if a pessimist receives praise from their colleagues, they may think things like, “Well, that was a one-off; it’ll probably never happen again” or, “Someone’s made a mistake; I didn’t really do that well.” When we assume the worst, it’s sometimes difficult to convince ourselves that something’s going right, even when the positive evidence is abundant. 

Overcoming pessimism

There can be many benefits to overcoming pessimism. Not only does a negative outlook often have a direct impact on our mental health, but research also suggests that excessive pessimism can negatively affect our problem-solving abilities and romantic relationships.

Most pessimists don’t enjoy experiencing continuous negativity and self-doubt. Still, it can be futile to tell a pessimist to overcome their pessimism since most assume they can’t. Like many other pessimistic beliefs, though, it may be a misconception that pessimists can’t become more optimistic. With some effort, it can be possible to change negative thinking and gain a more positive perspective. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

Strategies to overcome pessimism

Below, find seven methods that may help you move past pessimism and begin to think more positively.

Recognize negative thought patterns

Sometimes, we don’t realize how frequently we think in a pessimistic way. Thus, it can help to become more aware of your overly negative thought patterns and self-talk. Perhaps the easiest and most effective way to do this may be to keep a journal or jot these thoughts down as they come to you. Consider paying attention to the way you perceive situations and the language you use to describe them. Doing so may help you identify recurring negative thoughts that likely contribute to a pessimistic outlook.

Challenge negative thoughts

Once you've identified negative thought patterns, you may want to challenge them by questioning their validity. For example, you can look for evidence that contradicts your negative beliefs and ask yourself if there might be alternative explanations or more positive interpretations of the situation. Once you challenge those negative thought patterns, you may pave the way for more optimistic thinking. 

Practice gratitude

Cultivating gratitude can shift your focus from negativity to appreciation. Consider putting time aside to reflect on the things for which you are grateful in your life. This practice can reframe your mindset and bring more positivity into your day-to-day experiences.

Surround yourself with positive influences

Often, our pessimistic thoughts come from outside influences. Thus, it can help to be intentional about the people with whom you choose to spend time, as well as the media you consume. Surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people can have a significant impact on your own outlook. Consider seeking out sources of inspiration, such as books, podcasts, or videos, that promote positivity and optimism.

Set realistic goals

Pessimism can worsen when we’re feeling overwhelmed or lacking a sense of purpose. Consider setting realistic goals that align with your values and interests. It can help to break these goals down into smaller, achievable steps and celebrate your progress along the way. When things don’t go as smoothly as you’d like, try to use setbacks as learning opportunities rather than reasons for pessimism.

Practice self-care

Taking care of your physical and emotional well-being may be crucial for establishing a foundation to overcome pessimism and develop a more positive outlook. You might want to get regular exercise, eat a nutritious diet, and make sure you get enough restorative sleep. It could also be important to take the time to engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Taking care of yourself can boost your overall mood and resilience.

Try mindfulness and positive affirmations

Engaging in mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help you stay present and focus on the positive aspects of each moment. Additionally, repeating positive affirmations can rewire your thought patterns and promote a more optimistic mindset. You can also write positive affirmations, like “Things often turn out fine” or “Doing the best you can is good enough,” on sticky notes and post them in conspicuous places. These notes can serve as reminders that your pessimistic thoughts aren’t necessarily true. 

Pessimism doesn’t have to create negativity in your life

The benefits of therapy for pessimism

Some people looking to curb pessimistic thinking may look to a mental health professional for help. Therapists can use many methods of treatment to promote a more optimistic mindset. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy may involve reframing overly negative beliefs and thought distortions and replacing them with more positive and realistic thoughts. 

Benefits of online therapy

If you have pessimistic tendencies, you may find attending therapy in person to be challenging. For instance, you may fear judgment from the therapist, or you might think the outcome won’t be worth the hassle of commuting to a therapist’s office. Online therapy may provide a viable alternative. With remote therapy, you can attend sessions from the comfort of your own home. An online environment may also feel less intimidating, so it’s possible you’ll find it easier to open up about any challenges you’re experiencing. 

Effectiveness of online therapy

Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp can match individuals with licensed therapists who have experience helping clients challenge pessimistic thoughts and beliefs. One study investigated the efficacy of an online therapy intervention for treating depression in pessimistic individuals. It found that the intervention “increased the pursuit of engagement-related happiness in the short term and reduced dysfunctional attitudes across follow-ups. Pessimistic individuals had more to gain and reported fewer depressive symptoms at post-test.”


While it can be normal in small doses, excessive pessimism can compromise our well-being and the well-being of those around us. It can be possible to overcome pessimism, but it usually takes time and effort. You may want to practice patience with yourself and celebrate small victories along the way. With consistent practice and a positive mindset, you can gradually develop a more optimistic outlook on life. A licensed online or in-person therapist can be your guide as you work on decreasing pessimism and embracing healthy positivity.

Understand how different outlooks can shape life
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