You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.
That statement about you is called the Forer Effect, and I was reminded of it again while reading Cracked.com. The Forer effect refers to the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements could apply to many people. The above paragraph is completely generic and is used to illustrate how easily we can be convinced that vague generalities are actually accurate perceptions of our psyche. Most of us can relate to the statement above, it seems to describe us. It is the same effect that you get when you talk to a psychic, or read astrology, or practice astrotherapy. People tend to practice wishful thinking, tend to identify with generalities because we want to. We also tend to accept statements like this about ourself because they are flattering. This is the reason why people spend millions of dollars every year on the pseudosciences and on paranormal fortune-telling.
This is also the reason why most counseling doesn’t work.
There is a tendency in all of us to believe what we want to believe. We are tempted to seek out someone to confirm what we already believe about ourselves. Many of us are also seeking someone to give us permission. I cannot tell you how many times I have been confronted by persons who have come to me hoping to coerce me to tell them it is ok to do whatever it is they are already contemplating, no matter how destructive.
Here is a typical example that counselors are confronted with all the time: You want to have an affair and you are convinced that, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that things will not end well, this time it will be different. You want to believe that you are special, that you are the exception to the rule.
But you aren’t.
None of us are. We are all bound by the same cause and effect rules, the same fallibility, the same propensity to lie to ourselves when we really want something. I know this because I am not the exception either. I have done things, and said things, and contemplated things that I suspected were not in my best long-term interest but I did them anyway because I wanted to and on some level I was engaging in wishful thinking.
Counseling often doesn’t work because you have come to the appointment knowing what you are going to do already because you are convinced that you understand the situation better than I do. In some very legitimate terms you are correct. The problem arises from the fact that you know the situation too well, are too involved. You cannot see the forest for the trees, as the old saying goes. That is the reason that unpacking your problems with someone who is knowledgeable and empathetic can be such a valuable experience. Einstein said it so well when he said, “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.” He was profoundly right. We are all tempted to believe our own bullshit.