I’ve always liked Pygmalion, the legendary sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory so realistic; he fell in love with her. He secretly wished and believed that she was real until one day, Cupid kissed his statue and brought her to life. Pygmalion married her and they lived happily ever after. I like him because he really sets an example for what can happen if someone believes something and gets a little help along the way.
Educators have found that students are a lot like Pygmalion. The term, Pygmalion Effect, emerged from Educators studying the effects of setting expectations of success and watching as students met those expectations time and time again. The Pygmalion Effect is simple: When students hold a clear image of their success and then believe in their success and when Educators facilitate that vision of success, students succeed. There’s little doubt that the Pygmalion Effect is real.
I have found that the Pygmalion Effect also works in reverse: If people believe that they will fail and if something or someone facilitates that failure, people fail. Which is why I don’t like to label anyone as “addict” or “alcoholic.” If those terms were neutral, I wouldn’t mind them so much. But, they’re not. Those words are loaded with negative meaning that then come to define the people to which they are applied. For me, labeling someone with a negative term at the start of treatment will set the stage for continued harmful behaviors. After all, an addict uses and an alcoholic drinks. Rather, I prefer that clients tell me what success looks like for them such that I can then work with them to make their success come to life.
We all have the power to both create success and also to facilitate others’ success. It all depends upon what we believe, just like Pygmalion.