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The Pessimistic Person with ASD: How to Change a Self-Destructive Attitude

Is your glass half-empty or half-full? How you answer this age-old question may reflect your outlook on life, your attitude toward yourself, and whether you're optimistic or pessimistic. 

Unfortunately, too many adults on the autism spectrum are perennial pessimists with a negative attitude (e.g., “nobody understands me” … "good things don't last" … "my future looks rather depressing"). 
These individuals often feel unappreciated, underpaid, cheated, mistreated and misunderstood. They may chronically complain and criticize, and they may blame their failures and defeats on others, posing as victims of a heartless “neurotypical” world.

If this sounds like you – and you would like to break-out of this destructive way of thinking and viewing the world – then consider the tips below:

1. Be open to humor. Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times. Seek humor in everyday happenings. When you can laugh at life, you feel less stressed.

2. Check yourself. Periodically during the day, stop and evaluate what you're thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them.

3. Follow a healthy lifestyle. Exercise at least three times a week to positively affect mood and reduce stress. Follow a healthy diet to fuel your mind and body. And learn to manage stress.
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4. Identify areas to change. If you want to become more optimistic and engage in more positive thinking, first identify areas of your life that you typically think negatively about, whether it's work, your daily commute or a relationship, for example. You can start small by focusing on one area to approach in a more positive way.

5. Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you.

6. Surround yourself with positive people. Make sure those in your life are positive, supportive people you can depend on to give helpful advice and feedback. Negative people may increase your stress level and make you doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways.

7. Positive thinking doesn't mean that you keep your head in the sand and ignore life's less pleasant situations – it simply means that you approach the unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way. You think the best is going to happen, not the worst.

8. Positive thinking often starts with self-talk. Self-talk is the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head every day. These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative. Some of your self-talk comes from logic and reason. Other self-talk may arise from misconceptions that you create because of lack of information. If the thoughts that run through your head are mostly negative, your outlook on life is more likely pessimistic. Here are some examples of negative self-talk and how you can apply a positive spin to them:
  • TURN:  I've never done it before … INTO: It's an opportunity to learn something new.
  • TURN: I don't have the resources … INTO: Necessity is the mother of invention.
  • TURN: I'm not going to get any better at this … INTO: I'll give it another try.
  • TURN: I'm too uninspired to get this done … INTO: I wasn't able to fit it into my schedule but can re-examine some priorities.
  • TURN: It's too complicated … INTO: I'll tackle it from a different angle.
  • TURN: It's too radical a change … INTO: Let's take a chance.
  • TURN: I've never done it before … INTO: It's an opportunity to learn something new.
  • TURN: No one bothers to communicate with me … INTO: I'll see if I can open the channels of communication.
  • TURN: There's no way it will work … INTO: I can try to make it work.
9. Identify negative thinking. Not sure if your self-talk is positive or negative? Here are some common forms of negative self-talk: 
  • Catastrophizing: You automatically anticipate the worst. The drive-through coffee shop gets your order wrong and you automatically think that the rest of your day will be a disaster.
  • Filtering: You magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter-out all of the positive ones. For example, say you had a great day at work. You completed your tasks ahead of time and were complimented for doing a speedy and thorough job. But you forgot one minor step. That evening, you focus only on your oversight and forget about the compliments you received.
  • Personalizing: When something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself. For example, you hear that an evening out with friends is canceled, and you assume that the change in plans is because no one wanted to be around you.
  • Polarizing: You see things only as either good or bad, black or white. There is no middle ground. You feel that you have to be perfect or that you're a total failure.

10. Know that there will be great health benefits from changing your attitude. Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Increased life span
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease

If you tend to have a negative outlook, don't expect to become an optimist overnight. But with practice, eventually your self-talk will contain less self-criticism and more self-acceptance. You may also become less critical of the world around you.

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