In 1948, psychologist Bertram Forer gave his introductory psychology students a questionnaire and told them that they would each receive a unique personality analysis based on their responses. But unbeknownst to his students, Bertram was conducting a psychological experiment. Instead of each student getting a unique analysis, they got the following paragraph:

“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. 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 pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.”

The students scored the paragraph on a five-point scale. Zero meant that the paragraph didn’t relate to them at all; five meant it absolutely related. The average score given by the students was 4.26. It was said that Forer took the astrology section from the prior night’s newspaper and copied a line here and a line there. He was attempting to debunk astrology; but he actually proved that our minds and personalities are more alike than they are different.

Often we read something that appears to relate to us, and we confuse the experience with synchronicity. When we are in the flow, life does take on a magical quality where things seem to line up. Those meaningful coincidences provide a carrot for staying true to our Self. Synchronicity pulls us forward.

On the other hand, Bertram Forer’s experiment (Forer Effect) is often referred to as subjective validation. Subjective validation occurs when we accept a statement as valid or even true because we can identify with some part of it. Our false self (or persona) uses identification with generalizations to justify our limitations and hold us back in life.

Psychics, clergy, and even car salesmen are often accused of using subjective validation-type manipulation. Their statements are general enough to fit a wide range of people. We can’t deny the statement, so we accept it.

Subjective validation works well because most people’s personalities have an unfulfilled desire to be seen and to be understood. When someone seems to know them, they move toward that person. But it is the personality that has that unfulfilled desire, not the true Self.

This effect has also been used in marketing and is called the Barnum Effect after the circus magnum P.T. Barnum’s observation that he had something for everyone. Barnum is also thought by many to have authored the famous quote “There is a sucker born every minute.” Oddly, these two quotations have a symbiotic relationship.

Forer’s paragraph, authored for his unsuspecting students, describes a common state of mind, as well as a common personality. If a person thinks like Forer’s composite persona, they would feel like they fit in. They would sympathize with others. They would feel understood. Most people would probably describe them as likeable. But they would not be particularly unique or authentic.

Most personalities are designed for the purpose of belonging. We invent the facade that gets us into the right club or brings us attention or accolades. Sometimes our personalities get us the girl or guy or the job. We create personalities because we feel that our true Self won’t accomplish the end we seek. In short, our personality is mostly about impressing others.

The etymology of the word persona comes from ancient theatre. It relates to the idea of wearing a mask or a character. But I learned in a theatre class that characters were usually chosen because they matched the part, rather than because they could act the part. It seems that the idea of acting like someone else is a relatively modern concept.

This made perfect sense to me. I still remember the day when I first realized that I could pretend to be someone else. I was about 24 years old. I was standing in the street in front of my house. I had been married for a few years to a man who had already mastered the art of the persona. In many ways, I wanted to be more like him. I thought he was a great communicator. He seemed to have the right line for every occasion. Suddenly, I felt my mind split, and I realized that I had a secret world within me. I could now say one thing and think another; and no one would know but me. Initially, I was very excited to have this new talent; but eventually I wanted my old mind back. The incongruence nearly drove me mad.

I’ve told this story many times; people laugh and call me a slow learner. Let’s face it; the big money in our society flows to great actors. Now don’t get me wrong. I love acting for its entertainment value. But problems occur if we think we are the characters we play. I wanted my old Self back because I remembered that older, wiser Self. I knew this split mind was inferior.

I learned a great lesson while watching an interview with the actor, Forest Whitaker. In “The Last King of Scotland,” Whitaker played the brutal Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin. He said that when the filming ended, it took him three months to shake off the personality of Idi Amin. “Wait a minute,” I thought, “Three months to shake off a persona. That’s all it takes.” That got me thinking, actors take on the personas of their characters. But like Whitaker, when the show is over, they shake them off.

How can they do that? The answer is easy. They know the persona is not real. They don’t confuse it with their true Self.

Our ancient ancestors knew the difference between the true Self and the false self or persona. But most human’s today, can’t distinguished between the two. The true Self is all about unity. Freedom, unconditional love, beauty, joy, peace, truth, wisdom, and omnipotence are all words that describe it. We are all born with these qualities. And while we can cover them up with beliefs and character traits, we never lose them. They show up from time-to-time, and we describe those moments as blissful.

On the other hand, what Forer described in his pretend analysis were traits that are common for our false selves. We only think they are true because they are normal. The good news is that they are false. We can let them go just like Whitaker let go of Idi Amin. When we let them go, we return to the true qualities that I described.

So the key lesson from Forer’s experiment and P.T. Barnum’s success formula is not what most people learned from these two men. Any traits that we recognized in Forer’s paragraph are hiding our authenticity. Our true Self never needs approval; it is never critical. It has no unused capacity or weakness. The true Self is unemotional; it doesn’t worry. It knows it is safe and secure. It never has to make a decision; the next step is always obvious. It has no pride. It is truthful without fear of being misunderstood. It is neither extroverted nor introverted. And since it can do anything, no goal is unrealistic.

Forer’s paragraph makes sense to so many because authorities convinced most of us that we are limited, insecure, and weak mortals. Somehow society turned our innocence into gullibility and sold the false-self model as right and good. Then we proved Barnum and his cronies right and made them rich men.

But Forest Whitaker’s experience offers a powerful antidote. We can shake off our persona and be ourselves when we realize what is true and what is false, moment-by-moment. When we stop listening to our false self, we no longer believe others who capitalize on it. Slowly that gap in our mind goes away; and we return to our natural state of bliss, enjoying the life we were born to live.

Author's Bio: 

Cathy Eck is the founder of Gateway To Gold and her blog She has studied the ancient mystery school teachings for decades. She is passionate about cracking the code of life’s greatest mysteries and translating the ancient wisdom in a way that is practical, simple, and empowering so that everyone can remember their true Self and live a perfect life.