Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Response Options to
Excessive Idealism

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Expert's Council

The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/apps/idealism.htm

Updated  01-24-2915

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This is one of a series of brief articles on how to respond effectively to annoying social behavior. An effective response occurs when you get your  primary needs met well enough, and both people feel heard and respected enough.

      This article offers useful responses to someone you experience as "over-idealistic" and/or unrealistically optimistic. It assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it  

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2

  • basic options for all responses

  • how to give effective feedback to someone

  • effective assertion and empathic listening skills.

      This brief YouTube video offers perspective on the common source of over-idealism: the inherited psychological wound of reality distortion:


      We live in a dualistic world; light / dark; hot / cold; good / evil; male / female; comfort / pain; hope / despair; etc. Adults' and kids' personalities can be loosely grouped into "optimists" and "pessimists" - a glass-half-full vs. half-empty attitude about life.

      A third group are "realists," who usually see life as it really seems to be. When someone you care about is too optimistic it can be hard to relate to them. If you agree, can you say why?

       Chronic optimism or pessimism is a form of reality distortion, which usually signals unawareness of significant psychological wounds. When that's the case, there are apt to be multiple barriers to a satisfying relationship - specially if you are wounded also. Realists and pragmatists tend to be often guided by their wise true Selves, which by nature are grounded and clear-visioned. 

      You can feel anxious and frustrated if you fear something painful or damaging will occur to someone you care about and they insist "No, everything's going to be just fine!" This values conflict is specially stressful if you're a pessimist and the other is an optimist. The tipping point between acceptable idealism and excessive idealism (or pessimism) is unique to each person.

      As you know, trying to use logic to significantly change someone's values is rarely effective. In other words, you can't persuade someone to "be less optimistic." You still have many...

Response Options

  • Check your attitude. Do you see well-meant feedback as a gift to the other person, or a challenge? How do you feel when others offer you respectful feedback about your behavior?

  • Use awareness to notice when someone is excessively optimistic or idealistic. Then identify how this trait makes you feel. Your feelings are reliable pointers to what you need.

  • Decide if you want to say something to the other person  now or later. If so, identify what you need from "saying something" - to vent? Learn? Inform? Complain? Hint? Problem-solve? Set or enforce a limit? Whine? Something else?

  • Depending on what you need, choose one or more options from these examples...

"(Name), are you open to some personal feedback? If you get "NO," you have a different problem to respond to.

"I experience you as unrealistically / rigidly optimistic / idealistic."

"I get concerned that you're denying _______ and that could hurt you / me / us."

"Do you see yourself as an idealist or a realist?"

"I see _____ very differently than you do."

"When you're so rigidly optimistic (Name), I lose trust in your judgment."

"I feel your idealism blocks honest communication between us at times."

"Because you're so idealistic / optimistic, I've stopped asking your opinion on some things."

"I think it's more realistic to say that we can't reliably predict (some outcome)."

"I admire that you always see the best in other people - and I worry that that makes you vulnerable to betrayal at times."

"Can you give me a hearing check?" (To test whether s/he received your response accurately)

  • If the person is uncomfortable with your response, s/he may "resist" - i.e. deny, rationalize, joke, explain, excuse, argue, blame you, whine, intellectualize, change the subject, go silent, play "Yes, but...," etc. Expect this (with any direct feedback), and use empathic listening to acknowledge (not agree with) their response/s. Then calmly repeat your feedback with steady eye contact. Continue this listen-repeat sequence until you get your needs met or your needs change.

      If there is an excessively idealistic or optimistic person on your life now, imagine using responses like these with her or him. How would you feel, and how would they probably react? How would your relationship be affected? How about your self respect?

      Bottom line: you don't have to endure overly-idealistic behavior and it's effects!


      This is one of a series of brief articles suggesting effective ways to respond to irritating social behaviors. This article offers (a) perspective on idealism, and (b) ways to respond effectively to an overly-idealistic or optimistic person. The ways are based on...

  • keeping your true Self in charge,

  • maintaining a mutual-respect attitude,

  • clarity on your personal feelings, needs, and rights, and...

  • fluency in the relationship skills of awareness, assertion, and empathic listening.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful    

Share/Bookmark  Prior page  /  Lesson 2  /  Print page 


site intro  /  course outline  /  site search  /  definitions  /  chat contact