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A failing NHS… A self fulfilling prophecy?

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion” (Dalia Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness).

I would firstly like to point out in this post that I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but I have always understood the power of the self fulfilling prophecy. It therefore baffles me how the media, political leaders and top think tanks can demonize the NHS front line staff by telling them that they are failing on a daily basis!

These sandbaggers continue to display a strategy, involving the false prediction or feigned demonstration of inability in NHS staff (Gibson et al, 2000). The danger is that NHS staff will begin to believe what they hear, and perhaps even become the terrible people they are being currently described as. Thus, the false prophecy will be fulfilled.

Negative press is inevitably damaging the self esteem of NHS staff, and low self-esteem in itself can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading staff to act in negative, unhelpful ways (Marshall et al, 2015). So why does this continue? Has nobody told them of the damage they are doing? (I think not!)

We all deserve compassion, and most of all, self compassion. Nobody goes to work to be mediocre or fail.

Self compassion is described as “being touched by and open to one’s own suffering, not avoiding or disconnecting from it, generating the desire to alleviate one’s suffering and to heal oneself with kindness. Self-compassion also involves offering nonjudgmental understanding to one’s pain, inadequacies, and failures, so that one’s experience is seen as part of the larger human experience” (Neff, 2003).

When we are predicted lower performance we are more likely to actually perform worse – it works as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The media and key leaders thus have the capacity to shape the confidence of NHS staff and influence their performance in both positive and negative ways. In particular, by showing that they believe in “our team,” leaders are able not only to make “us” a psychological reality, but also to transform “us” into an effective operational unit (Fransen et al, 2014).

So please, stop battering the NHS staff, but lift them up to believe they are the best thing ever! (which they are by the way)!

Give them a new prophecy to fulfill, and make it a good one.

Gibson, D.A. Sachau (2000) Sandbagging as a self-presentational strategy: Claiming to be less than you are. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26 (2000), pp. 56–70

Fransen, Katrien, et al. “Believing in “Us”: Exploring Leaders’ Capacity to Enhance Team Confidence and Performance by Building a Sense of Shared Social Identity.” (2014).

Marshall, Sarah L., et al. “Self-compassion protects against the negative effects of low self-esteem: A longitudinal study in a large adolescent sample.”Personality and Individual Differences 74 (2015): 116-121.

Neff, K (2003) Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2 (2003), pp. 85–102