Have you ever felt like you were the only one to experience a certain thought, problem or emotion? Feeling this way can be extremely isolating, leading to loneliness and a bias towards negativity. However, just because you feel different to everyone else, it doesn’t mean that you are.
Psychologists have concrete psychological evidence on how similar our hopes, dreams, and fears really are, and how we can use this information to feel happier, healthier, and more motivated.
An identical personality description can apply to many people.
In 1948, a psychologist named Bertram Forer told his students that he was going to present them each with an individualized sketch of their personality. What the students didn’t know was that each sketch was exactly the same. The sketch consisted of twelve points, which included the following:
- You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.
- You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
- You have a great deal of unused capacity, which you have not turned to your advantage.
- While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.
- Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.
Does this sound like you? If it does, you’re not alone.
After presenting the personality sketch, Forer asked his students to rate it according to how well it applied to them. The average rating was 4.26 out of 5, with 5 being ‘excellent.’
This result demonstrates how similar we are to one another, with each student feeling that the twelve statements were uniquely applicable to them. While people may behave in ways that hide feelings like worry and insecurity, studies like this show that they affect everyone. By keeping this in mind, you’ll find it much easier to relate to others and form genuine connections.
Most humans have very similar needs.
In 1943, a psychologist named Abraham Maslow proposed a ‘hierarchy of needs,’ which represented a variety of human needs in the form of a pyramid. The idea of the pyramid is that in order to move to the next level, the needs of the level below must first be met. For example, before you’re able to fulfill the need for friendship, you must first fulfill basic needs like food and water.
All humans have the same basic needs.
At the base of the pyramid, physiological needs like air, food, and water are listed. The next level deals with safety needs, including personal and financial security. Next comes the level which deals with love and belonging, and includes the need for family, friendship, and intimacy. The next level is labelled ‘esteem,’ and refers to the need to be respected by others and by ourselves.
Respect from others could come in the form of recognition for achievements, positive attention, or high status. Self-respect involves personal strength, independence, and freedom, regardless of others.
We all want to achieve our full potential.
The next pyramid level is labelled ‘self-actualization,’ which refers to achieving your full potential. The way this level manifests itself could be different from person to person – while one might dream of becoming a famous artist, another could aspire to become a successful writer. While our dreams may be different, this theory suggests that the route to achieving them is actually very similar.
Helping others is important for everyone.
While self-actualization was once considered the top of the pyramid, Maslow actually added another layer later in his life. This layer is labelled ‘self-transcendence,’ and refers to achieving altruistic goals, outside of the individual. This could involve charity work, helping others, or helping the environment.
By remembering that we’re fundamentally very similar to other humans, it’s much easier to avoid feeling negative and lonely. Rather than focusing on the ways you feel different from others, try to direct your attention towards everything you have in common. You’ll feel happier, more motivated, and more connected to others.