How to Stop Being Cynical

A cynical person will almost always choose to challenge, discredit, or disbelieve, even when there is no rational reason to do so.

Here are experts’ insights that will help guide your way on how to stop being cynical.

Tom Marino

Tom Marino

Certified Life Coach, Monarch Life Coaching, LLC

What does it mean to be cynical? Cynical is having an attitude or temper of a cynic, someone who finds fault or mistrusts and believes other’s motives are of self-interest. Often times cynics are the naysayer, the resistor, someone who doesn’t trust.

People who are cynics avoid taking responsibility for their actions. They live in a state of consciousness where life happens to them. This mindset is exemplified in pointing blame, finding fault in others instead of finding fault in themselves and holding themselves accountable for their own actions. It is easier to point the finger at someone or something else. We know these people as the ‘woe is me’.

When someone is being cynical they are choosing the negative. They make assumptions that are not necessarily true and they form beliefs that are based on fear and negativity.

Being cynical has roots in fear and anxiety. Being afraid of finding fault in yourself or having to deal with yourself leads you to mistrust others and respond from a place of fear, a fear of change, and what that means for you.

In order to change and stop being cynical, someone needs to move from this level of consciousness to a state of life that happens for them.

When you transition to life happening for you, you stop blaming others and begin an inward exploration of what you are supposed to be learning from life and your experiences. You take accountability for your actions. You point the finger in your direction and not someone else.

When you recognize that life is happening for you, you begin trusting that things happen for a reason. Most times that reason is your own personal growth. In this, you must face your fears and anxieties and come to an understanding.

You also will recognize through this process that you have beliefs that may not be true. You will need to form new beliefs to move forward. You must explore and determine ways to integrate your fears and anxieties in how they inform you.

Our fears become obstacles to us moving forward. Change your perspective…fear is something that informs and guides, it should not hold you back from growing. Fear will make you stuck and paralyzed. The deeper your explore yourself and evaluate your beliefs and fears, you will change how you see others.

Here are tips to help you stop being cynical:

1. Remove judgment from your life

Allow people to find their own way and respect that they are on their own journey. Judgment blinds us to the truth sometimes. Judging less will help in finding fault in others.

2. Express gratitude for the things that you have

Be grateful for what you have been given and what is still going to be given in the future. Putting out gratitude will result in more positive things happening for you.

3. Practice loving-kindness

This is a simple practice where you can express your intentions for the day for yourself. Ask for a day for peace, love, hope, kindness, and friendliness and pleasant experiences for the day. Then put out the same from someone else and wish for them a day filled with the same. This will begin to help you think more positively.

4. Compare yourself to yourself from yesterday and no one else

This will help you take accountability. You are a work in progress like everyone else. The only person that you should be comparing yourself to is yourself from yesterday. If you are in the FOR YOU MOVEMENT, you will learn lessons from day to day and you begin to grow. Focus on your life.

5. Practice positive affirmations

Affirm each day that you are Worthy, Enough, Loving, Caring, and a Work in Progress. When you affirm these things about yourself you become more accepting of yourself.

It is my hope that this perspective sheds some light on your situation if you are struggling to make changes or recognize that you are being cynical.

Remember that the most important thing is not what has happened or be done, but how you choose to continue to respond to it.

Jennie Steinberg

Jennie Steinberg

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, Through the Woods Therapy Center

Because being cynical is such a defense mechanism, it can be a hard pattern to stop. Here are some of the ways we help clients understand and shift these patterns:

  • Joy as vulnerability. The most vulnerable emotion is not fear or sadness, but joy. When you feel joy, you have everything to lose, so people use cynicism as a defense to protect themselves from later disappointment.
  • Negativity bias. Our brains are hardwired to focus on the negative rather than the positive because it’s evolutionarily adaptive to address things that are causing problems, whereas things that are going well are not “action items”. This can be productive, but it feels terrible.
  • Rehearsing tragedy. Brene Brown’s research tells us that people believe that by using cynicism or worry as a defense mechanism, we believe that we’ll be ready if we encounter a tragedy.

But the truth of this is that we can never be ready for the experience of devastation, and all we’re doing by rehearsing tragedy is depriving ourselves of the opportunity to enjoy the moment.

6. Practicing gratitude

When you focus on the things you’re grateful for, it mitigates the feeling that everything is a steaming pile of garbage. It helps your brain refocus from the things that you don’t like to the things that make it worthwhile to get out of bed in the morning.

Make gratitude part of your daily routine by writing in a gratitude journal or sharing things you’re grateful for with a friend or partner at the end of each day.

7. Grounding yourself

Cynicism is a coping tool for anxiety, and anxiety is any time you leave the present. By grounding yourself, you can stay centered in the here and now, decreasing your anxiety and, subsequently, your need for cynicism.

You can do this by taking several deep breaths, naming physical objects in the room, or focusing your attention on a physical sensation such as the shape your footprint makes on the ground beneath you.

Nancy B. Irwin, PsyD, C.Ht.

Nancy Irwin

Clinical Psychologist

If one wants to give up this negativity, it will require vigilance and management of thoughts. We all have about 100,000 thoughts a day, and we will always have some degree of negative ones because we are human.

We are not robots, and some healthy, respectful fears are indeed important. However, one can increase awareness of the unnecessary negative thoughts, and retrain the mind to focus on what is more desirable.

There is a continuum: on the left side, you can see extreme skepticism, pessimism, cynicism. We call this a strong negative filter. Some see the world through this lens. On the other side, there would be complete gullibility, magical thinking, “Pollyannaism”. Where would you like to fall on this continuum?

Some people by nature have a stronger tendency to be cautious and have a strong negativity bias. And in all actuality, we need those folks. We all want an airline pilot, a heart surgeon, and a bridge builder to be very paranoid about making a mistake and seeing what could possibly go wrong.

Yet even those people can “turn it off” in a social setting in their personal lives. Indeed, Einstein posited that one of the hallmark traits of a genius is having the open-mindedness of a child.

He discounted nothing; he’d listen to a toddler’s input as a way of training himself to always be positive and open to suggestions, yet still making his own decisions.

8. Log your thoughts

A great way to break the habit of cynical thought patterns is to keep a notebook; log every time during a given day that you are having an automatic thought that is cynical, sarcastic, overly, and disrespectfully doubtful, or derisive.

I’m not talking about thoughtful, respectful disagreements….those are positive in nature. But log all the afore-mentioned thoughts in one (left) column, and in the next (right) column, write out what you’d prefer to think.

“What idiot on this planet could possibly think that Medicare for all could work? It’s NEVER going to work!” can be transmuted into: “While it does seem impossible to me with my finite understanding of numbers and health insurance policies, I am open to someone explaining to me exactly how this could work.”

The more you apply this technique, the less you need to. Your brain will fairly quickly begin to short-circuit to retrain how you wish to think.

9. Enroll someone who will help you by gently pointing out when you “go there”

And yet another technique is to wear a rubber band, and every time you catch yourself thinking or saying something cynical, snap yourself and re-state your thought with more open, helpful languaging.

Words are powerful. They paint pictures in the mind, and these pictures are what drive human behavior. You want to be very careful about what you constantly picture because we will actualize whatever we focus on.

Remember, Gandhi said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Katie Ziskind, LMFT, RTY500

Katie Ziskind

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Wisdom Within Counseling, LLC

When it comes to being more positive, it takes practice and perseverance. If you grew up in a cynical home as a child, you may be more prone to being negative or cynical thoughts.

10. Develop self-awareness

If you think cynically, try to observe this thought or behavior and develop self-awareness to slow down and reflect. If you feel cynical, make sure to understand how your words, behaviors, and actions impact others.

Sometimes, people on the autism spectrum tend to be more cynical and rude and benefit from weekly therapy to learn social-emotional appropriate behavior.

11. Focus on positive thoughts

If you are cynical, practice only speaking out loud when you have a compliment or something kind to say. So, don’t speak if you are complaining or negative. If you talk about dying, death, gloom, negativity, or doom, choose to talk about another positive conversation topic. Remember, always apologize if you misspoke.

Related: What are the Benefits of Positive Thinking?

12. Let your friends know

Empathy and being less cynical take time, so tell your loved ones, friends, and social group you are working on being less cynical, so they can hold you accountable.

Build up the ability to think empathetically about how your words may hurt someone’s feelings, and say sorry if you need to. So if you do something hurtful or say something too harsh, then apologize. Apologizing is about being humble.

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.

Tina B. Tessina 1

Psychotherapist | Author, It Ends with You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction

Cynicism is emotional detachment, lack of empathy, and very fashionable right now. When you’re experiencing a turmoil of emotion, hardening your heart and becoming or acting cynically is a defense mechanism. However, it tends to sap all the joy and fun out of life and leave you feeling detached and isolated.

Cynicism is often accompanied by addictive behaviors. Often people who have been bullied use cynicism and toughness as an emotional shield from their pain.

13. It is necessary to feel your hidden feelings

Writing about how you feel in an honest way, talking with a family member, counselor, or mentor, and generally opening your heart up will be painful, but worth it.

Recovery from cynicism may require talking with a professional counselor. You may need to learn some emotional skills, like empathy, sharing, openness, and caring.

David Bennett

David Bennett

Life Coach | Counselor | Relationship Expert

The best way I have found to stop being cynical is to practice gratitude.

Gratitude helps us focus on the positives in our lives, and also to see the good side of potentially challenging situations. I recommend my clients list five things they are grateful for each morning, and before bed.

I encourage these to be ordinary things they make take for granted (like the coffee they are drinking or a car that runs well they might be driving as they list the items). I also suggest they list things they are grateful for about challenging situations in their life, which is a direct antidote for cynicism.

Related: 18 Things to Be Thankful for (The Ultimate List)

Stephanie Oguine

Stephanie Oguine

Musical Artist | Speaker | Consultant | CPA

Cynicism, a tendency to be doubtful of the intentions of others, can be more problematic than you might think. Cynicism causes us to disengage and withhold our best from others. Why? Because we believe that others are not giving their best to us.

Cynicism can also lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe that a person has flawed intentions, your mind is primed to find evidence to support that belief. Meanwhile, you might ignore signs of good intentions that may also be present.

14. Adopt a more objective and open-hearted approach to life

In this frame of mind, you allow yourself to see what a person is truly made of, based on their actions, rather than premature judgments. You are willing to assess a person or a group of people, or a situation more holistically. You are willing to recognize and admit to preconceived notions.

Furthermore, you might even cross-examine those notions and search for evidence contrary to what you’ve assumed in order to nurture a more balanced perspective.

With cynicism can come jadedness, resentments, and clouded judgment, and an inability to recognize good opportunities right in front of you, offered by the very person you cannot seem to trust.

Removing a cynical mindset does not mean becoming a naive person. It means becoming a clear-minded person who is willing to objectively weigh out both the good and the bad of a matter.

Related: 9 Self Improvement Tips for a Better Life

15. Recognize that you are cynical

If you’ve struggled with cynicism, you’ve already taken the first step to rise above it. And that is recognizing and admitting that you’re struggling with being cynical in the first place. From there, you can take additional steps to address this frame of mind.

16. Learn to reframe situations with gratitude

To help foster a more empowering and open-hearted mindset, and to stop being cynical, learn to reframe situations with gratitude.

Gratitude is widely recognized as one of the most powerful ways to remedy a variety of mindsets that do not serve us well, including cynicism.

If you’ve found that you have a cynical mindset about a person you’re dealing with or a situation you’re in, take a moment to pause and step back. Look at the bigger picture and see if you cannot find something to be grateful for about that person or situation.

For example, you might have a demanding boss that seems to be tougher on you than your co-workers. It may be easy to think that your boss is out to get you, doesn’t like you, or is trying to hurt or take advantage of you. On the other hand, what if your boss is hoping to pitch you for an upcoming promotion and needs to have a strong set of examples of your qualifications?

When clouded by cynicism it’s difficult to see the goodness in the situation you’re in. With a lens of gratitude, you can embrace the opportunity available to you and spend your energy taking positive actions that lead to success.

Of course, some cynicism is certainly warranted in certain cases. Continuing with the earlier example above, maybe your boss really is being unfair to you and has no intention to properly reward your efforts.

The key point to remember, however, is that cynicism is only warranted after there is real evidence provided to justify it. When that evidence is clear, practice acceptance of what you cannot change (the intentions and actions of others) and focus on what you can change (your own intentions and actions).

Claire Barber

claire barber

Certified Mental Health Consultant | Relationship Expert, Treeological

17. Recognize the trait

Being cynical can be a hard habit to break. It takes a lot of awareness, patience, and effort in order to make a change.

Therefore, the most important thing is to truly recognize this trait of yours and consider why you want to change it. Having the intrinsic motivation to modify your behavior is a crucial part of stopping to be cynical.

18. Fake it until you make it

You can try to embrace immense gratitude and happiness in your quest of being less cynical. This might seem hard, and maybe even phony, but making this effort can pay off.

By trying to fake it until you make it, you might come to learn how giving people the benefit of the doubt and trying to appreciate their efforts can show you another side to the people you know and help deliver even better results.

19. Consider the people you surround yourself with

After all, it’s hard to break habits when everyone around you is doing the same thing. So if you find that many of your friends or family members are cynical too, either try to get them on board to change as well or start surrounding yourself with people who have a more positive attitude.

Benjamin H. Ticho, M.D.

Benjamin Ticho

Pediatric Ophthalmologist, Ticho Eye Associates

Cynicism includes basically two components: an antipathy towards (other people’s) values and a withdrawal from community involvement.

Cynics tend to distrust other people’s motives, expecting that self-interest rather than virtue lies behind most human interactions.

On the surface, this attitude seems to be “realistic”, a more appropriate world outlook than the rosy views espoused by the “softies” who would assume a “benevolent until proven otherwise” stance.

Cynics might claim that they are less likely to be taken advantage of, and less likely to be thrown for a loop by adversity, because they were more or less expecting the worst of others anyhow.

One can’t convince a cynic that their outlook is wrong, actually.

Life is full of injustice and history has innumerable examples where virtue did not triumph, hypocrisy won the day, and fortune smiled or frowned on the undeserving.

A more effective argument is that cynicism is no fun. In particular, it’s hard to have true and full friendships if one has a black view of everything.

Though occasionally very successful people may be cynics, cynicism is more likely to follow disillusionment and disappointment combined with feelings of ineffectiveness and hopelessness.

True success might be defined as living in congruence with one’s own values, whatever they are. I believe it’s hard to be trusting of one’s own values if you can’t find communion in the world with others. And that requires some level of empathy and hope.

Sonya Schwartz

Sonya Schwartz

Relationship Expert, Her Norm

20. Be around people who are right for your mental health

People try to avoid negativity by adopting a cynical attitude. It’s their way of protecting themselves and taking more control of various things in life. However, being cynical is toxic, primarily if it’s affecting your career, relationship, or health.

Here are various ways by which you can stop being cynical:

  • If you want to bring change in your cynical behavior, then accept it. Because if you take control of what you think only, then you’ll be able to change your attitude.
  • Adopt a positive attitude. Start giving positive compliments to people and write down positive thoughts.
  • Have fun, and enjoy life. Indulge yourself in activities that give you an opportunity to see the brighter side of life.
  • Don’t use excessive social media and limit your news feed.
  • Always be true to yourself. Never pretend what you are not.
  • Be around people who are right for your mental health and who spread positivity.

Tim Absalikov

Tim Absalikov

Co-Founder and CEO, Lasting Trend

21. Don’t be too hard on yourself

I used to rationalize that being cynical is necessary in today’s world. However, it gets in the way of living positive experiences. Here are the steps that worked for me:

  • Learn what it means. Look up the definition, the warning signs, and research the topic in general.
  • See the good and the bad. It’s not a black and white issue – there is something in cynicism you can benefit from and something that can harm you.
  • Take a closer look at yourself. Do you actually fit the criteria for being a cynical person?
  • Face the issue. If you realize it brings you trouble, honestly admit it to yourself.
  • Notice what and who you surround yourself with. Perhaps, it’s other people, the news, or social media that’s bringing you down.
  • Surround yourself with people who uplift you. You’ll be amazed at how big of an influence they can have.
  • Find new perspectives. People that you disagree with might have good arguments, so take that into account.
  • Extend a helping hand. It will bring tons of positivity into your life.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s a gradual process, and no significant change will be instant.
  • Find the balance. You don’t have to change who you are. Just adopt new habits without losing yourself.

You can’t expect the world always to be a welcoming place. So naturally, a bit of cynicism is a coping mechanism with negative situations. However, when it reaches the tipping point, it does more damage than you realize.

At some point, being cynical is no longer about protecting yourself. For example, it can affect your health, relationships, and career. It may lead to depression and an overly negative outlook on life. When you find yourself in this position, use these recommendations to change your attitude.

Sarah Mayfield

Sarah Mayfield

Founder, Romantific

22. It’s ok to be un-informed sometimes

You want to be well informed all the time, that is great but it does not mean that other’s information is always wrong. If there is a discussion going on any topic and you feel interested in it, do participate but don’t force others to absorb your information only.

Listen to others and give your opinion and suggestions if you have any. Do not try to mold someone’s thinking about something. This cynical behavior will broaden your social distance and people will avoid talking to you.

Control your anger, fear, and speculations when you hear the news that is not as per your knowledge. instead, try to seek less shouty sources of information.

If you hear the wrong news, don’t just bust away but try to explain your point or the right information with the right logic. This way people will trust your information and won’t mind your interruption either.

Surround yourself with positive thoughts

Positivity begins within you when you start thinking positivity in everything. Try to make choices that are good for others. When you think of good for others a positivity will bloom inside you that will then reflect through your personality.

Don’t hate people for having a mindset opposite to yours. Look at their qualities and ignore the other negative attributes in them. Try to seek the company of good people.

Don’t feel ashamed of asking for help if you are sick of people choose who left you because of your cynical behavior. If someone tries to correct you, accept the fact with positivity and try to implement that in your daily life.

I believe cynical people have unresolved issues with themselves. A cynical person is a distrusting person who focuses on the worst of others becoming a critic. They’ve felled to be hopeful of the good in others. I also believe that these people can be hurt and bitter. The cynicism is only a byproduct of their bitterness.

23. Reflect on yourself

We need to ask the question, “why am I cynical?” Once that is determined, the reason we are cynical needs to be addressed. This will come with honesty.

Sometimes, cynical people are so prideful that they only deflect how they feel onto others; instead of dealing with themselves.

24. Forgiveness is necessary for allowing healing

The more healed a person becomes; the more they will attract more genuine people. Most people do not want to be around someone who is mean-spirited, critical, or cynical.

Therefore, people who operate in a cynical spirit attract other cynical people. I believe that furthers the cycle of reinforcing the false belief that people, in general, are not trustworthy.

25. Connect with more well-meaning people

One who has determined to be free from cynicism will have to allow themselves to feel the discomfort of being open again. After a while, that discomfort will turn into curiosity, excitement, and reinforcement that there is no need to be cynical.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Causes a Person to Be Cynical?

Cynicism is a skeptical attitude characterized by a distrust of motives and an inclination to see the worst in people or situations. Several factors can cause a person to develop cynicism:

• Negative life experiences: Exposure to painful or traumatic events, such as betrayal, abuse, or injustice, can lead to feelings of disillusionment and mistrust.

• Cultural and societal influences: A culture or society that emphasizes individualism, competition, and materialism can foster a sense of cynicism.

• Exposure to negative media and news: Constant exposure to negative news, conflict, and corruption can make a person more prone to cynicism.

• Personal and emotional struggles: Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, and existential uncertainty, can contribute to cynicism.

• Lack of control: Feeling a lack of control over one’s life, environment, and circumstances can lead to feelings of powerlessness and cynicism.

• Social comparison: Observing others who appear to be more successful, happy, or fulfilled can foster envy, resentment, and cynicism.

• Cognitive biases: Certain thinking patterns and biases, such as confirmation bias, can cause a person to selectively attend to negative information and dismiss positive information.

It’s important to note that while various factors can influence cynicism, it’s not necessarily a permanent state of mind. Through therapy, self-reflection, and intentional effort, one can shift one’s perspective and overcome cynicism.

Is It Normal to Be Cynical?

In small doses, cynicism can be a healthy defense mechanism that helps protect against disappointment or exploitation. However, when cynicism becomes a pervasive and dominant attitude, it can negatively impact the individual and their relationships with others.

From a psychological perspective, cynicism can signify underlying emotional or psychological distress (e.g., depression or low self-esteem). It can also be a learned behavior developed as a coping mechanism in response to negative experiences or a general lack of trust in the world. Chronic cynicism can lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, and dissatisfaction with life.

In terms of relationships, cynicism can strain and damage personal and professional relationships by creating barriers to communication and collaboration. It can also lead to a tendency to assume the worst in others, even when there is no evidence to support such a view.

Is Cynicism a Coping Mechanism?

Cynicism can be considered a coping mechanism in certain situations. This attitude can be developed as a response to negative experiences, such as disappointment, betrayal, or injustice, to protect oneself from further hurt. In such cases, cynicism can be a barrier to guarding against emotional vulnerability and potential harm.

However, while cynicism can be a means of coping with negative experiences in the short term, it can also have long-term negative effects on a person’s well-being. Cynicism can lead to feelings of anger, bitterness, and isolation, and it can limit a person’s ability to form positive relationships and experience joy and happiness. Furthermore, it can lead to a general negativity bias, where a person sees only the negative aspects of situations and people and overlooks the positive.

Is Cynicism the Same as Pessimism?

No, cynicism and pessimism are not the same. While both attitudes can involve a negative worldview, they differ in important ways.

Cynicism refers to one’s tendency to doubt the motives or sincerity of others. It is characterized by a distrustful and negative view of human nature and a general mistrust of others. 

Pessimism, on the other hand, is a general outlook on life that is characterized by a negative and discouraged attitude. Pessimistic people tend to expect the worst to happen and see life through a lens of negativity and doubt.

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