I’ve done it occasionally over the years. It’s always sad.
But sometimes there’s no avoiding it.
I remember one guy whose therapy was going nowhere. After two years we were still having essentially the same conversation we’d had the first time I met him.
He was a blamer. My wife doesn’t love me. My parents weren’t there for me. I get no respect from my boss, or my neighbors, or my kids.
I tried my best to get him to consider that he might be contributing to these problems. His typical response varied between impatience (No, you don’t understand), defensiveness (I try so hard) and hurt feelings.
He was stuck at the first stage of learning.
There are four stages:
Unconscious incompetence is where you don’t know what you don’t know. Imagine a four-year old watching Daddy drive. “I can do that,” he says, and sits at the wheel and yanks it back and forth. “Look, I’m driving.” He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He’s unconsciously incompetent.
Conscious incompetence is where you know what you don’t know. Flash forward twelve years: the kid’s sixteen, starting Driver Ed. “Parallel park over there,” the instructor says, and the kid panics. He knows what he doesn’t know. He’s consciously incompetent.
Conscious competence is where you know what you know. Now eighteen, the kid’s passed his road test. He drives proudly down the street, knowing he can park if he has to. He knows what he knows. He’s consciously competent.
Unconscious competence, the last stage, is where you don’t know what you know. Now the kid’s forty, a driver for decades. While driving he plays music, eats fast food, makes phone calls or daydreams. Driving’s so familiar he forgets that he’s doing it. He’s doesn’t know what he knows. He’s unconsciously competent.
Acknowledging ignorance always is the first step towards ending it.
But some people can’t or won’t take that first step. They stay stuck in that first stage of learning. So they learn nothing, and their therapies circle the drain.
Often, though, the real problem isn’t that they don’t know what they don’t know.