defensive pessimist n.
For strategic optimists, the sorts of people who like to psych themselves up for a challenge, this routine would produce more anxiety, not less. But for anxious people, Norem's findings show that this unusual method can offer a sense of control, however limited, over uncomfortable circumstances.
David Rakoff, "The Year in Ideas," The New York Times Magazine, December 9, 2001
But now two researchers are suggesting that for some people, a little pessimism may be a good thing. According to Julie K. Norem and psychologist Nancy Cantor, these people are able to use "defensive pessimism" to prevent the prospect of failure from immobilizing them. . . . The researchers conclude that when well-intentioned people reassure pessimists that everything will be fine, they may not be doing them a favor. Defensive pessimists may need to play their little cognitive trick on themselves in order to do well. The best way for them to get the doughnut may be to prepare for the possibility of getting only the hole.
Carol Wade, "The power of negative thinking," Psychology Today, May 1987
Norem and psychologist Nancy Cantor published two papers dealing with defensive pessimism in 1986: "Anticipatory and post hoc cushioning strategies: Optimism and defensive pessimism in 'risky' situations" appeared in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research; "Defensive pessimism: 'Harnessing' anxiety as motivation" appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The term didn't get picked up by the mainstream media until 1987.
type T personality