pygmalion: late night hypotheses

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Pygmalion Effect: an experiment to support the hypothesis that reality can be influenced by the expectations of others.

How we believe the world is and what we honestly think it can become have powerful effects on how things turn out.

– (James Rhem)

To me this talks about making your dreams or expectations a reality, by behaving as if, and believing that, your dreams or expectations are a foregone conclusion, without doubt, definite.

Wikipedia tells me that Pygmalion was a sculptor who made a sculpture of a woman. So disillusioned by seeing the daughters of Propoetides prostituting themselves, he decided he was no longer interested in women. Instead, he devoted himself to his statue, giving it gifts and falling in love with it. Finally Venus takes pity on him and brings the statue to life, and they live happily ever after.

Basically, his reality was altered by how he saw his creation.

Doesn’t it follow, then, that our own realities can be altered by how we see our own worlds? How we see ourselves? How we see those around us?

The Pygmalion Effect has also been defined as a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. You think you’re ugly, therefore you are. You think other people will constantly let you down, and therefore they do. If, on the other hand, you consciously seek the best in people, and expect the best out of them AND yourself, you will subconsciously create an environment that brings those things to pass. I believe it.

The Pygmalion Effect experiment had to do with presenting a teacher with a class of students that had been considered “below-standard” intelligence. This teacher, however, was told that these were gifted and talented students. At the end of the year, they had out-performed the other students in their grade level. I guess no conclusions can be scientifically drawn from that, but how hard is it to draw the connection between what you expect, what you believe is true, and what you get?

It’s so hard for people sometimes to understand the effect that they have on themselves when they refuse to acknowledge the gifts that they have, or the gifts of the people around them. People want to appear modest, or are afraid of acknowledging the awesomeness that lives inside them. I have friends that are absolutely stunning…but persist in believing they are fat or ugly or graceless or whatever. Some of that is a product of our society, yes, but it all comes down to a choice – what will you believe about yourself? Will you believe what the media and what society tells you (that you’re too fat, too skinny, too old, too ugly) or are you going to believe what your heart tells you?

Easier said than done, I know.

I think what’s most difficult is how we think of ourselves and we don’t even realize how badly we’re treating ourselves. I know I’ve said mean things to myself in my head, things like “Jeez, you’re so dumb sometimes!” or “How could anyone even think of finding you attractive?” or even just “You’re so fucking gross.”. Seriously, we all have our moments. What’s sad about that is that I would say that to myself but would NEVER say that to someone else. Why is it that I say things to myself that I would never say to someone else? Why do I treat other people’s feelings with more consideration than I do my own?

And how does this relate to our partners? Do we not all have, to some degree, the idea that we know this person inside and out? That we know all their foibles and all their imperfections and “we’re okay with that” or “we can put up with it”. Don’t we then lock that person into behaving that way since that’s how we expect them to behave? Don’t we then even see that behavior when it’s not even present? How many times have you said something to someone and tensed up in an expectation of how you’re sure they’re going to react? How many times do you think that person has reacted just the way you thought because they could read your tension and so they enacted their own defensive mechanism to deal with it?

These are interesting thoughts to me. Lately my circle of friends has been swept with relationship trauma. Insecurities and mismatched personalities and unmet needs and wants. It’s made me ponder where I am in life, whether I am getting what I really want or if I am being too satisfied with just getting by instead of raising my expectations to get what I want out of my reality. I mean, it’s super simple to sit on the couch all day and dream about what I want life to be, as opposed to actually getting out there and making it happen the way I want. if I were truly being kind to myself – the way I deserve.

I heard some interesting advice the other day: “In relationships, accept the other person exactly how they are and put up with it. If you can’t put up with it, get out.”

On the one hand, I like it. Acceptance of who someone is, is something that I think everyone in relationships struggles with. It’s usually “I love him soooo much. There’s only this one tiny thing that I wish he would do differently.” or “She’d be the best girlfriend in the world if she’d just stop doing this.” The reality is that people are what they decide to be and how they are made. Those two concepts are not mutually exclusive, by the way. I am a firm believer in the idea that someone can completely change, like perform a complete 180 turnabout…it’s just got to be their own decision.

So…put up with it. Accept the person and put up with it. Or don’t. Your choice.

On the other hand: does this mean that you should reject someone out of hand because they have some habits you just can’t stand? Or what if the absolutely awful things you can’t deal with are balanced by the most fantastic things in the world? How do you make a decision like that? What’s more important, staying for the good, or leaving because of the bad? I don’t know.

The only advice I seem to be able to give these days is, being with someone shouldn’t make you feel bad about yourself. Being with that person should make you smile, most (if not all) of the time. You should feel refreshed, buoyed up, joyful, supported, relieved, happy, content. If you’re not feeling those things most of the time, then maybe it’s time to take stock – or maybe it’s time to change your expectations or perceptions. And I don’t mean to lower your expectations – just adjust. Maybe your expectations of yourself need to be higher? Maybe your perception of yourself needs to be kinder? In most things in my life I have not been successful at changing my environment until I change myself.

How much time and effort, in relationships, do we give to trying to change our partners? To “help them” get rid of that one annoying habit, or to “improve” this or that thing about them? Do we spend as much time improving ourselves as we do on worrying about improving others? Taking a deep, hard look at who we are and what we’re putting out there?

I have heard my friends lament over the state of their love lives, and I have been as loud as any of them. What is it about the men in this town/this city/this state/this country/in general? I think the real question is, what is it about ourselves where we think that the behavior we’re getting is okay? What makes women (mostly) think that they only deserve second-rate? I tell you, I think it’s because of how the majority of women out there view themselves. They get what they think they deserve. They think they’re ugly, too fat, too skinny, etc etc etc to get the man of their dreams, and so they settle for the ones that come along that have potential. Potential is a wonderfully seductively awful thing, in my opinion. Potential means that the person in question has so many good qualities that are overshadowed just barely by the bad ones that you want to hang around in the hopes that the good will finally win out and you will have netted yourself a wonderful man. A catch! A rare find!

What is that? Why do women do that to themselves?

Not to say that men don’t do it too, but you have to admit I’m speaking from a particularly biased point of view here.

My point is, currently I am fascinated by two opposing ideas: one, that you can mold your reality based on what you choose to believe (not hope, or wish, or dream about, but truly believe, for good or ill) and conversely, that believing the best of someone doesn’t always make them a good person that makes you feel good. Is the problem there a lack of belief? Is it choosing the wrong person to believe in? Is it that a mediocre person can become great but a bad person can only become mediocre?

Maybe I’m putting too much emphasis on how you can change others. How you can alter your expectations to get different things out of other people. Maybe what I should be focusing on is how you can change your environment and thus draw to you the kinds of people that also enjoy being in that environment. Doesn’t that make more sense? It comes back to changing yourself before worrying about other people. Creating for yourself the reality you want to create rather than trying to create a reality around another person. Why not create your reality and leave a spot open for the right person, when he or she comes along? Have your dreams come true all on their own and THEN let someone into your life to share them? Make of yourself a whole and complete being that can be complemented and enhanced by someone else, and not a starving, empty shell that needs someone else to be complete.


Maybe I’m thinking too much. And maybe, I’m just trying to make things happen for myself. Maybe I’m no longer content to put everyone else’s feelings ahead of my own. Maybe I’m ready to start being as nice (and accommodating) to myself as I am to other people.

Or maybe I’ll just go sit on the couch.

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