I came across a very interesting passage in The Storytelling Animal: how stories make us human. It explains the Lake Wobegone Effect, the effect that we think of ourselves as above average when it comes to positive qualities. Like being a good driver (which for a matter of fact I am). In the book the author makes a link to depression.
Depressed people have lost their positive illusions; they rate their personal qualities much more plausibly than average. They are able to see, with terrible clarity, that they are not all that special.Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: how stories make us human (p.174)
He then refers to psychologist Shelley Taylor, who said that “a healthy mind tells itself flattering lies. And if it does not lie to itself, it is not healthy.”
This is a perspective I hadn’t taken on depression before, but it makes a whole lot of sense. As someone who is on the realistic side of self-assessment I can tell you that it is indeed an unhealthy state to be always doubting your self. It would have really helped me sail through life if I had more self-esteem and a less realistic view on the world.
Because, as the philosopher William Hirstein puts it, positive illusions keep us from yielding to despair:Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: how stories make us human (p.174)
“The truth is depressing. We are going to die, most likely after illness; all our friends will likewise die; we are tiny insignificant dots on a tiny planet. Perhaps with the advent of broad intelligence and foresight comes the need for…self-deception to keep depression and its consequent lethargy at bay. There needs to be a basic denial of our finitude and insignificance in the larger scene. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah just to get out of bed in the morning.”
Gottschall goes on to describe the role of a psychotherapist as someone who helps you to rewrite your life story. To give you a story you can live with.
A psychotherapist can therefore be seen as a kind of script doctor who helps patients revise their life stories so that they can play the role of protagonist again – suffering and flawed protagonists, to be sure, but protagonists who are moving toward the light.Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: how stories make us human (p.175)
Excellent read by the way.