Mar 02

Dunning-Kruger: Imposter Syndrome’s Opposite

Whereas many of us have experienced aspects of the imposter syndrome and can admit it, how many among us knows they’ve experienced its polar opposite: the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) is one who didn’t know of Dunning-Kruger (because it wasn’t yet a thing) but did utter these words: One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision. Well, that about sums up Dunning-Kruger.

Along these same lines, “Frequently Wrong But Never In Doubt” is how singer-songwriter Cheryl Wheeler musically described an acquaintance in 1993. Probably everyone has known someone like this.

Psychologist David Dunning and his student Justin Kruger coined the term Dunning-Kruger effect after researching the phenomenon of the inability of incompetent people to recognize their own level of incompetence.

One of Dunning’s conclusions: “We are all poor performers at some things.” Or, as he has succinctly stated on the subject, We Are All Confident Idiots.”

It’s not that we’re uninformed, Dunning states—we’re misinformed. “An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge.”

There are possible solutions, though. When we’re in groups, for instance, we can appoint someone “to serve as a devil’s advocate — a person whose job is to question and criticize the group’s logic.” And as individuals we can try to play the same type of role (Big Think):

It helps to try practicing what the psychologist Charles Lord calls ‘considering the opposite.’ To do this, I often imagine myself in a future in which I have turned out to be wrong in a decision, and then consider what the likeliest path was that led to my failure. And lastly: Seek advice. Other people may have their own misbeliefs, but a discussion can often be sufficient to rid a serious person of his or her most egregious misconceptions.

A key additional point made by Dunning is that recognizing we don’t know something doesn’t have to be seen as a failure but as one more step toward figuring out the truth.

Dunning has noted (Politico) the relevance to Donald Trump and his supporters. But the rest of us must also be concerned, he adds, “about our own naive political opinions that are likely to be more nuanced, subtle, and invisible—but perhaps no less consequential. We all run the risk of being too ill-informed to notice when our own favored candidates or national leaders make catastrophic misjudgments.”

So, in our ongoing contemplation of choices, preferences, and engagement in emotionally charged debates, let’s remember that all of us are Dunning-Kruger-ites at least some of the time. “All I am saying is trust, but verify,” Dunning concludes.

Nov 09

Group Therapy Saved Christie Tate’s Life

What’s it like to be in group therapy? Christie Tate tells readers about the importance of her own experience in her new memoir, Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life. “Tate sets a positive example by destigmatizing and demystifying group therapy, but she is careful never to present herself as an expert” (NPR).

How did she make the decision to try group therapy? At the time a high achieving law school student, Tate had hit a depressive low. A therapist recommended she enter one of his therapy groups: “Christie is skeptical, insisting that that she is defective, beyond cure. But Dr. Rosen issues a nine-word prescription that will change everything: ‘You don’t need a cure, you need a witness’.”

An excerpt from Chapter One describes her mental state before making her decision:

In my journal, I used vague words of discomfort and distress: I feel afraid and anxious about myself. I feel afraid that I’m not OK, will never be OK & I’m doomed. It’s very uncomfortable to me. What’s wrong with me? I didn’t know then that a word existed to perfectly define my malady: lonely….

I was already in a 12-step program….Twelve-step recovery had arrested the worst of my disordered eating, and I credited it with saving my life. Why was I now wishing that life away? I confessed to my sponsor who lived in Texas that I’d been having dark thoughts.

‘I wish for death every day.’ She told me to double up on my meetings.

I tripled them, and felt more alone than ever.

From Publishers Weekly:

Tate delivers a no-holds-barred account of her five-plus years in group therapy in this dazzling debut memoir….[She] ended up in group therapy with Jonathan Rosen, a quirky but wise Harvard-educated therapist who insisted that his clients keep no secrets—neither from him nor the group (‘keeping secrets from other people is more toxic than other people knowing your business,’ he reasoned). Tate then unveils the intimate details of her romantic life….Through therapy, Tate found a sense of self-worth, and eventually a lawyer named John at work (‘I felt something I’d never felt with a man before: calm, quiet, happy, and excited’). Readers will be irresistibly drawn into Tate’s earnest and witty search for authentic and lasting love.

Selected Reviews of Group

Kirkus Reviews: “Tate documents her alternately loving and confrontational encounters with fellow group members, but most of the book focuses on her many attempts to find the perfect man.”

Lori Gottlieb, author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (see previous posts, “Therapist in Therapy” and “What Is Therapy?“) : “It takes courage to bare your soul in front of a therapist, but when you add six strangers to the mix, it becomes an act of faith. In Group, Christie Tate takes us on a journey that’s heartbreaking and hilarious, surprising and redemptive—and, ultimately, a testament to the power of connection. Perhaps the greatest act of bravery is that Tate shared her story with us, and how lucky we are that she did.”

Ada Calhoun, author of Why We Can’t Sleep (see previous post here): “In this therapeutic page-turner, a boon especially to women struggling with loss, loneliness, or imposter syndrome, Christie Tate tells the story of how she overcame trauma and found love. Her hard-won strategy is as simple to say as it is tough to do: keep showing up.”