An Introduction To Cold Reading

Master Mentalism and Magic Tricks

Revelation Effect Mentalism and Mind Reading

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There have been many definitions of cold reading. Most define it as a technique or skill used to gather information about a subject who is unknown to the reader. In reality, cold reading is not a single skill or technique, but rather a series of them. Therefore, for our purposes, as magicians and mentalists, we shall define it as, "A process by which the reader creates the effect that he or she has knowledge of an unknown subject's life - past, present and future."

This process begins with observation, which enables the reader to build an initial profile of the subject. Based upon this appraisal, along with an understanding of psychology and current trends, the reader is able to make a number of opening statements about the subject. These usually intersperse specific details relating to the subject's profile with general assertions, likely to be true about almost any person. This latter technique is called "warm reading." Probative statements follow these. Based upon the subject's reactions, the reader is then able to zero in on details that appear to hit their mark, and abandon those that do not. In this quest, the reader uses both "try-on" and "multiple out" statements that are open to interpretation by the subject. Any information gleaned is used to refine the accuracy of subsequent statements made to the subject. In the hands of an expert, this process has an uncanny effect.


Most psychologists point to "The Forer Effect" and a phenomenon called subjective validation or selective memory. In general, it states that when you give people a number of both vague and specific claims about them - they tend to remember and give significance to the ones that are accurate or favorable, and dismiss as insignificant or forget, those that are not. In the case of cold reading, this selectivity of the human mind helps the subject interpret or "retrofit" the reader's assertions to fit his or her own particular circumstances or beliefs.

This effect is based upon the work of psychologist Betram Forer. In 1949, Forer first studied an ancient effect he called, "The Fallacy of Personal Validation." He was interested in determining whether people were able to appraise their own individual personalities. Using statements from a newsstand astrology book, Forer compiled the following all-purpose profile:

"Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. At times, you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary and reserved. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. You pride yourself on being an independent thinker and do not accept others' opinions without satisfactory proof. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety, and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. Disciplined and controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside."

"Your sexual adjustment has presented some problems for you. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a strong need for other people to like you and for them to admire you."

Forer's subjects were each given a personality test and told they would get their results back after the tests were examined. When the results were finally returned, Forer actually gave each subject the same generic profile. On a scale of 1 - 5 (with 5 being the highest), the profile received an average accuracy rating of 4.3 from the subjects!

Contrary to the skeptics, the influences of The Forer Effect are not limited to the naive, gullible or less educated people in society. Research has shown that those who are well educated and consider themselves strong-willed are also susceptible to its effects.


Studies that are more recent have built upon Forer's findings with regard to favorable versus unfavorable assessments. These have shown that while negative profiles can add a touch of realism, they are far less likely to be accepted as positive ones by the subject. When these negative statements come from an authority figure or person of higher status they are given slightly higher credibility, however they are still not rated as highly as positive pronouncements. Furthermore, when profiles are given, which are mostly positive but have a few negative statements thrown in - subjects usually consider the positive ones as unique descriptions of themselves and the negative comments as broader in scope. This is important, since it tells us that people tend to see themselves as exclusively good. At the same time, they believe any flaws they may have, are shared by others.


In addition to The Forer Effect, there is another important factor contributing to the success of cold reading - namely, the commonality of subject concerns. For centuries, readers have known that the interests of most people are likely to fall into one or more of three general categories. They are relationships, finances and/or health/welfare. More often than not, these concerns involve an unresolved issue in the subject's life. As one colleague tersely put it, "No one gets a reading because they think their love life is too good or is concerned they have too much money." Armed with this knowledge, the cold reader is able to efficiently narrow the scope of his or her inquiries and systematically uncover the nature of the subject's concern.


In "The Psychology of the Psychic," by David Marks and Richard Kammann (Prometheus Books, 1979), the authors concluded that, "Once a belief or expectation is found, especially one that resolves uncomfortable uncertainty, it biases the observer to notice new information that confirms the belief, and to discount evidence to the contrary. This self-perpetuating mechanism consolidates the original error and builds up an overconfidence in which the arguments of opponents are seen as too fragmentary to undo the adopted belief." In other words, a cold reading that helps put a person's unresolved issues into a satisfactory context, especially one that support's the subject's own beliefs, is likely to be accepted.


All of this brings us to one of the most important subjects we will address in this book, ethics. There is clear historical evidence that magicians and mentalists drawn to cold reading over the years have grappled with the ethical implications of such study. We hope the following synopsis will help you come to terms, personally, with this matter.

Most cold readers fall into one of two camps. The first group consists of largely unscrupulous con artists who use cold reading to bilk sometimes-substantial sums of money from their clients. A gypsy fortuneteller, who convinces an elderly widow to withdraw her life savings in order to communicate with her deceased husband, is a perfect example of this. Some "900" phone line psychics also fall into this category, if to a lesser extent. The second group consists of those who provide cold readings for entertainment purposes at fairs, picnics, ESP home and dinner parties, resorts, corporate hospitality suites, or other events. These performers, who provide one-time readings, paid for either by individual clients or the event sponsor, are usually brief and uplifting. They leave the subject feeling good about him or herself, and do not attempt to extort money or induce the subject to have additional readings. Most magicians and mentalists, who do cold reading fall into this latter group and the most ethical of these, carefully avoid any claim of supernatural powers.

For most subjects, a cold reading provides a brief and amusing diversion from the cares of everyday life - much in the same way, going to a movie or sporting event does. It does no harm and if anything, it provides subjects with an additional outlet to release some of their everyday tensions. There is even a category of subjects who are cold reading "regulars," people who seem to get a reading at every opportunity. Often, these people just want to talk with someone who is sympathetic to their problems. Subjects like these are easy to recognize and will usually begin their session by mentioning other readings they have had. Remember to keep your reading light and flattering, and you will have no difficulty whatsoever. When a reader encounters a subject who has severe, unresolved personal issues and anxiety, the ethical cold reader "drops the act" and becomes a good listener. Afterward, the reader helps this troubled person find professional help. This may be the clergy, a crisis counselor or agency, a shelter, or even the police in the case of a dangerous or abusive relationship. These actions separate the entertainer from the fraud - from those who seek to help people from those who seek to personally benefit from the misfortune of others.


Ethical cold readers ALWAYS use their abilities to have a positive influence on the lives of those they touch. Here are some additional guidelines to follow:

• Never claim supernatural abilities

• Never frame your reading in a religious context

• Never pretend to communicate with the deceased or perform mediumistic stunts

• Never fraudulently induce a subject to have additional readings

Even when a reader disclaims having paranormal abilities, the effect of cold reading is so powerful; some subjects will still credit him or her with powers of ESP. Understand this fact and do not exploit it for immoral reasons.


Those readers without a moral compass who achieve a greater measure of success are likely to attract the attention of magicians who do. Perhaps the best known of these is James Randi, a well-known Canadian magician and escape artist. Like his predecessor, Harry Houdini, Randi has spent his later years in a personal crusade against mediums and psychics.

To aid in his efforts, Randi uses million dollar challenges to test phenomenon, personal TV appearances, best-selling books and even a popular web site. His recent targets have included prime-time psychics, such as John Edward, James Van Praagh and Sylvia Browne. Some people will recall Randi's much earlier media blitz against Uri Geller, an Israeli magician, who claimed to have psychokinetic abilities. Randi's relentless assault all but drove Geller off the public stage, especially in North America, for many years.


Some readers DO believe they have genuine psychic abilities. Lee Earle calls them "eyes shut" psychics, as opposed to those who have their "eyes open." Your well intentioned Aunt Martha who reads tea leaves or prepares astrological charts for family and friends may be one of these. She knows nothing of the mechanics of cold reading, yet by following the stock interpretations (warm reading) her prognostications have an air of authenticity. In addition, over a period, her subconscious learns to recognize certain "types" and she tailors her advice accordingly. The strength of her belief in her own powers of intuition can make the deluded psychic extremely convincing - far more so, in fact, than a less skilled cold reader.


This delusion of having psychic abilities is not limited to well-meaning old ladies. It also affects some experienced mentalists and cold readers. Long after the mechanics of cold reading require a conscious effort on their part, some performers become convinced they really do have a psychic gift. They begin to remember and dwell on all of the "hits," especially the bold predictions that come true, and forget all of the misses. In other words, it appears the cold reader is as susceptible to The Forer Effect as his or her subjects.


While certainly not essential to the success of cold reading, many readers do utilize some aid or other prop in their presentations. Aids can range from an actual, physical prop, such as a deck of Tarot cards, crystal ball or astrological chart, to the subject's own hand (palmistry). Such devices serve several important functions, not the least of which is allowing the reader to pinpoint the subject's primary area of concern right from the start. Thus, the well-informed palm reader begins by asking the subject, "Should we concentrate on the heart or the wealth line?" Similarly, when the reader is trying to "interpret" something he or she sees in the Tarot cards, the subject feels more compelled to help "fill in the blanks." Alternatively, when there is a slight lull in the discussion, the reader stares intently at the cards. To the subject, the reader appears to be concentrating on deciphering their hidden meaning - not stumped or pondering how to phrase the next statement. An aid also contributes to the air of mystery surrounding the proceedings and helps elevate the event from more mundane, everyday activities. Finally, dealing out Tarot cards from a shuffled deck or reading someone's palm adds to the impression that the reading is personalized. As a result, acceptance by the subject is much more likely.

If you do use Tarot cards, it is a good idea to take the "Death" and "Hangman" cards out of the deck, so you can keep things upbeat. Nothing will ruin someone's day like drawing that death card! Dealing with the fundamental aspects and proper terminology of various cold reading aids is outside the scope of this highly specialized publication. Suffice it to say, there is a wealth of information readily available on every aspect of fortunetelling - just check the Internet, or your local library or bookseller.


The relationship between the cold reader and the subject is one of "Prestige and Faith." That is to say, the reader must possess sufficient confidence and prestige in the eyes of his or her subjects, while the latter must have sufficiently firm faith in the reader's psychic abilities or intuition. This creates a fine balancing act, since the reader must appear confident and self-assured without coming off as smug or arrogant. If the reader makes the mistake of challenging the subject to an intellectual battle of wits, there can be only one outcome - the reader loses.

For this reason, many readers assume a non-threatening role that suits their own personality. This is the same way magicians and mentalists assume an on-stage persona. For example, a mature female reader might approach a subject as almost a mother figure or matronly aunt providing advice and wisdom on dealing with life's challenges. A young male reader, on the other hand, may find that appearing to be slightly eccentric or sensitive, will endear him to his female clientele. Remember, you are playing the role of a psychic - someone who has an extraordinary gift. To have any credibility at all, you must appear special or at the very least, different. Ordinary does not work here.


In addition to confidence and acting ability, the cold reader must have a good head for facts, as well as the ability to observe, retain and process information about a subject. People who cannot think on their feet need not apply. Like the magician, the capable reader must always stay one-step ahead of the subject with the capacity to do one thing, while thinking about something else.


Ask a seasoned cold reader how to get started and his or her likely reply will be, "You just do it." There is some measure of truth in that reply. However, while experience is ultimately the best teacher of cold reading, the aspiring cold reader needs some direction as well. Unfocused talent, no matter how good, rarely succeeds. Moreover, as much as the old veteran may be reluctant to admit it, there is a process at work. A process, which must be first learned, and "then" practiced. That is the purpose of this book -to develop your knowledge and abilities, and thereby provide you with the tools you need to get started in this fascinating field.


One only has to look around to know that people have a diverse array of personality traits. Some are lively and outgoing, while others tend to be more quiet and reserved. Some are analytical in their decisionmaking process, while others make choices based upon personal feelings. Some prefer carefully planned and orderly lives, while others favor spontaneity. All of these personality differences are what make each of us unique.

Yet, for all of our psychological diversity, we are more alike than most of us would like to admit. As far back as ancient Greece, Hippocrates told of four basic temperaments: Sanguine, Choleric, Phlegmatic and Melancholic. While this demonstrates people have long been interested in learning about the psychological factors which unify us, it wasn't until noted psychologist Carl G. Jung began exploring the subject in the early 1920s that a real breakthrough in "personality typing" was made.

While Jung's writings are quite complex, his most important contribution was his proposition that our personalities are determined by four functions (Feeling, Thinking, iNtuition and Sensing) and two attitudes (Extraversion and Introversion). He recognized that people with introverted personalities focused on the inner world of ideas and thoughts, while the emphasis of their extraverted counterparts was the external world of people and things. He stressed this preference is best expressed as a tendency, since no one is purely introverted or extraverted - though some have stronger inclinations than others do. According to most data, approximately 75% of the population leans toward the extraverted end of the scale.

In 1962, building on and simplifying Jung's work in personality typology, Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katharine Cook Briggs, developed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The MBTI, which is now widely accepted for career guidance both in academia and in business, uses four scales. In addition to E -I Scale for Extraversion and Introversion already discussed, there is the S - N Scale, the T - F Scale and the J - P Scale. The S - N Scale is for the Sensing function and determines how you perceive or acquire information - either intuitively or through your external senses. The T - F Scale depicts how you make decisions - either by thinking logically or simply by how you feel about it. The J - P Scale refers to how you relate to the outside world - it is tied-in to the two previous scales. Thus, one assumes either a Judging attitude (using Thinking or Feeling) or a Perceiving outlook (using Sensation or Intuition).

These letters are combined to classify both the four general personality categories, as well as each of their four sub-categories using two- and four-letter designations, respectively.


It is worth noting that 30% of the people taking the "Keirsey Temperament Sorter" online are NFs (Identity Seeking Personalities) and just 13% are the equivalent of SPs (Sensation Seeking) - almost the inverse of Myers' findings. The KTS assessment is similar to, and based upon the Myers-Briggs system. This deviation is probably the result of "identity seeking" individuals being more driven to learn about themselves from a psychological standpoint, which would be fully in keeping with their type description.


E = Extraversion

I = Introversion N = iNtuition F = Feeling P = Perception

S = Sensation T = Thinking J = Judgment


NTs are introspective, technically minded problem solvers. Described as scientific, complex, analytical, systematic, exacting, independent, inventive and logical; NTs exhibit differences in the way they tackle problems but always have a rational basis for everything they do.

Relationships: As parents NTs help their children establish individual identities, stimulate their partners' minds, and place an emphasis on learning as children themselves.

NTs represent 5% to 7% of the population.


Also introspective, NFs dedicate themselves to giving meaning to life - their own and those who are close to them. Described as humane, sympathetic, enthusiastic, religious, intuitive, insightful and subjective; conflict is painful for NFs. They are always fighting an internal battle between Good and Evil - one where Good ultimately prevails. They care deeply about nurturing the positive self-image of their loved ones and try to have a positive effect on the lives of everyone within their immediate circle of friends and associates.

Relationships: As children, NFs are usually very creative and have vivid imaginations, as parents they endeavor to provide a similar rich fantasy world for their own offspring, and as partners, they seek mutuality and spiritual intimacy.

NFs represent 8% to 10% of the population.


SPs strive to enjoy life. Described as open minded, easy going, tolerant, unprejudiced and persuasive, as well as adaptable, artistic and athletic; they revel in their own spontaneity and freedom to act impulsively. SPs rarely miss an opportunity to indulge themselves with whatever or whomever they find pleasurable, exciting or useful. They are daring and seek first hand adventures. SPs will compromise when necessary and usually make sure to get what they want. Many SPs have a natural gift for using machines and tools.

Relationships: SPs tend to be lenient as parents, playful as partners, and fun oriented as children.

SPs represent 35% to 40% of the population.


SJs are the rule followers and enforcers. They are the guardians of all that is right and proper. Described as conservative, conscientious, consistent, factual, stable, detailed, persevering and thorough; hard working SJs enjoy order and routine in their daily lives and keep a vigilant eye on others and their surroundings. They trust in legitimacy and desire membership.

Relationships: SJs work to instill traditional values in their children, are helpful and loyal as partners, and tend to conform to rules as children.

SJs represent 40% to 45% of the population.


Unlike a psychologist, the cold reader is not able to use a written questionnaire to probe the subject's psyche to classify his or her personality. Rather, the reader is forced to be a bit more clandestine and resourceful.

Through observation, we can first determine whether a subject appears introverted or extraverted. Introverted people often seem shy, reserved or at the extreme, somewhat self-conscious. They may not smile easily and often have trouble establishing or maintaining eye contact. On the other hand, extraverted individuals may be overly talkative upon first meeting them. They will usually look you directly in the eye, smile easily, and think nothing of invading your personal space. Extraverted individuals may also wear more colorful or attention-getting clothing and accessories, including flashy or ostentatious jewelry, bright lipstick, etc., whereas introverted people tend toward earth tones or conservative color schemes that do not draw unwanted attention to themselves. They may also wear very little make-up or jewelry.

When you are able to identify an introverted or extraverted subject, you can work some of the following key personality traits into you opening warm reading:


• Be more comfortable alone than in a crowd

• Draw energy from personal activities, such as reading, listening to music, computers, or working on their favorite project or hobby

• Have a few select, long-time friends

• Become drained of energy from extended contact with larger groups

• Need down time to recharge their batteries when their job, family or social responsibilities require them to be outgoing


• Be more comfortable socializing in groups than being alone

• Become energized by interaction with other people

• Have a large circle of friends and acquaintances

• Easily approach others, even strangers, and strike up a conversation

• Need contact with other people to make them feel alive

• Become exhausted and drained of energy from quiet and seclusion

• Feel lonely when not in contact with other people

Remember, 75% of the population has a tendency toward extraversion to a greater or lesser degree. When in doubt, you can always hedge your bet by adapting Forer's line: "At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary and reserved."

Probability tells us that nearly half of the population has personalities that seek security (40% to 45%). These people enjoy daily routine, like to follow rules and try to make sure others do as well. About another third of the population are sensation seekers who believe those rules are made to broken (35%

to 40%). These hedonists seek to gratify their own whims at every opportunity. Finally, the remainder - less than one-fifth of the population, are almost equally divided between knowledge seeking (5% to 7%) and identity seeking (8% to 10%) personalities. Both of these groups are highly introspective and independent, though one focuses on complex, technical matters, while the other works on furthering their compassionate ideals.

As you can see, each of these basic categories represents a divergent view of, and approach to, life. The value to the cold reader of understanding which one a subject fits into, should be obvious.

That is not to say that you must accurately "type" your subject in order to perform a cold reading. Even without identifying the subject's general personality type, you can still use many common personality traits. These are characteristics, which most people attribute to themselves, whether they are accurate, or not.


• Hard-working and dependable

• Kind and considerate

• Loyal and honest

• Problem solvers

• Good at completing tasks

• Flexible and adaptable

• Bright and capable

• Natural leaders

• Independent and resourceful

• Cooperative and friendly

• Good communicators

• Family-minded

• To have excellent people skills


• Are sensitive to other people's feelings

• Often put other people's needs ahead of their own - especially those of their family and close friends

• Get personal satisfaction from helping others

• Sometimes take on too much responsibility

• Are not always appreciated

• Are perceptive about people

• Are intuitive or psychic to some extent


• Self confident

• Attractive to women

• Objective, logical decision makers

• Able to accomplish almost anything they put their mind to

• Respected to the extent they follow through on their commitments


• Being controlled or manipulated by others

• Doing things that do not make sense to them

• Change without a clear benefit


Here is an example of a warm reading for a married female subject, which works in some of the preceding traits (capitalized). You will note, it is not always necessary to use the exact same words, so long as the meaning remains consistent.

"I sense that you are a person with strong FAMILY VALUES, who often PUTS OTHER PEOPLE'S NEEDS ABOVE YOUR OWN - ESPECIALLY THOSE OF PEOPLE WHO ARE CLOSE TO YOU. In this way, you are LOYAL AND HONEST. At times, you may feel that YOUR OWN CONSIDERATION OF OTHERS IS NOT ALWAYS RECIPROCATED, OR RETURNED IN KIND. I sense that troubles you somewhat. You should not let it. These people do care about you just as deeply, however they sometimes have more difficulty in showing it."

"Unfortunately, not everyone has your STRONG COMMUNICATION SKILLS. You stand above those around you in that respect. In many ways, you are a NATURAL LEADER. Someone who is very BRIGHT AND CAPABLE and others find it FUN TO BE AROUND. You have EXCELLENT PEOPLE SKILLS, in this respect."

"My sense is also that people in your personal life and at work look to you as a PROBLEM SOLVER -someone who is adept at finding the happy medium, or balance, in almost any situation. This is not to say that you are quick to compromise. Rather, you look for a 'win-win' situation, where all of the parties involved are happy in the end and feel as if they have gotten what they wanted. That is a very special and rare ability."

Remember, people see themselves as exclusively good, so even a much-generalized warm reading such as this one will find remarkable resonance.


While most married women define themselves by their husband and family, most men, single or married - identify themselves by what they do for a living. It is an integral part of the male psyche, much more so than that of the female - who even today, frequently puts off or suppresses her own career goals in marriage.

For cold reading purposes, we can divide male vocations into either physical (a.k.a. blue-collar) work or non-physical (a.k.a. white-collar) work. Perhaps better defined, the former applies to men who work with their hands and/or perform jobs that require physical strength or agility, and the latter, refers to men whose jobs are primarily of an administrative, management, professional, technical or sales nature - brawn versus brains, if you will. While these vocational choices are sometimes imposed on men by their early life choices (family commitments), or a lack of opportunity or financial resources, there are some very distinct personality traits and abilities which make men suitable for one type of work or the other.

Most physical vocation males feel stifled or bored in regimented, structured office settings.


• Action-oriented "doers"

• Usually laid-back and easy-going with people

• Results-oriented; they like to see immediate results for their efforts

• Risk-takers who thrive on action

• Independent and determined - usually dislike committing themselves

• Focused on living in the present, rather than the future

• Love variety and new experiences

• Highly practical and realistic

• Excellent "trouble-shooters," able to quickly find solutions to a wide variety of practical problems

• Interested in how and why things work

• Usually able to master theory and abstract thinking, but don't particularly like dealing with it unless they see a practical application

• Good with tools and machines

Most non-physical vocation males* prefer order, structure and routine in their daily lives.


• High achievers

• Capable of seeing the big picture

• More interested in the outcome than the means

• As impatient with incompetence or inefficiency

• Excellent communicators and organizers

• Skillful managers and people motivators

• Efficient and thorough

• As focused on the future

*The major exception to this white collar model is the introverted male who may have stronger written than oral communication skills, dislike an imposed work structure, lack organizational abilities and have trouble keeping deadlines. An introverted male usually prefers a more solitary work setting or one where contact with other people is limited. He is also likely to be more sympathetic to the feelings of others and less materialistic in his goals.

Determining which type of work, and hence, which personality characteristics are most likely to apply to a male subject is less difficult than you might imagine. Here are a few clues in spotting a man who does physical work: Look at the hands, clothes and shoes, body and the skin. The hands will probably be calloused and rough. A handshake like a vise is also a good indicator. Is there dirt under his fingernails? Are the clothes of a more casual nature and well broken in or more obvious, work related? Does he look fit? A middle-aged man who works construction is usually in better shape than his office dwelling counterpart is.

Most men who perform white-collar work are relatively articulate, have smooth, un-calloused hands, are well groomed and either clean-shaven or have a trimmed mustache and/or beard. They may wear nice dress or casual slacks or blue jeans, and newer or well-kept running, casual or dress shoes. Their skin coloring may betray more contact with artificial than natural light and they may not be in top physical shape, especially as they age - unless they work out regularly or participate in outdoor sporting activities, such as golf or tennis. In addition to heredity, there is some correlation between people who do a lot of detail work (causing eyestrain) and the need for corrective lenses (glasses or contacts) - so this can be another indicator.

Even though 80% of cold reading subjects are female, understanding what drives the men in their lives becomes extremely important, especially when you suspect a relationship conflict. In that case, if the man is not present, you can compare the various traits listed to those uncovered through feedback from the subject. This will give you a fuller picture of what makes her partner tick and enable you to zero in on some additional characteristics that are likely to ring true.


Just as people have different personality types, they also make different choices. Most of us go through life believing our experiences are exclusive to us. As young adults, we begin by striving to set ourselves apart from our parents and siblings. We often go on to make different educational or other early adult life choices than our friends - one goes away to a university, another stays at home to work and attend a local community college or vocational school, another goes into the military or Peace Corps, and yet another takes to the open road in search of romance and adventure.

As we progress through life, our choices in relationships, careers, and life in general, continue to deviate from those around us. Some friends get married straight out of college, others wait until their 30s, and still others just never seem to connect with the "right" person. Some couples get divorced, some stay together. Some have children and others do not. Some move far away, while others end up building their lives a stone's throw away from where they grew up. Our jobs and careers are equally as diverse.

As we mature, we become increasingly aware that for every door our decisions in life have opened for us, another one has closed. The early married and the never married alike wonder what might have been? So surely, the paths people choose are as individual as they are - or are they. For all of the striking contrasts in the decisions people make, their journeys through life also share many remarkable similarities. In her landmark best-seller, "Passages" (E.P. Dutton, 1976), developmental psychologist and author Gail Sheehy used a series of case studies to document the common transition or "crisis" points people pass through in their lives. What's more, she discovered that these life stages are common to both men and women -though the ages at which each gender experiences them tend to be slightly different.

The various life stages are summarized as follows:


Before 18, the beginning of young adulthood - the battle cry is often, "I must get away from my parents!" However, there is seldom any real action behind the words. After that point, most people "do" begin the process of physically breaking away from the parental bonds of childhood. A person may go away to college, go into military service, take short-term trips, or lease an apartment.

During this period, young adults seek to establish a base of their own, while separating their views of the world from those of their parents. While "testing those beliefs," according to Sheehy, young adults are likely to be "drawn to fads, preferably those most mysterious and inaccessible to their parents." All the while, however, these young adults harbor a secret fear that they cannot really make it in the adult world - that they are still children. These feelings are masked by defiant behavior and acts of false bravado.

Young adults look for friends and peers whose views mesh with their own and for a time, they serve as a surrogate family. At some point, these friends may have a falling out - resulting in a return to the comfort and safety of the family home. "Rebounds are common between the ages of 18 and 22."

At the end of this "test" period of independence, the young adult is better prepared to leave home from both a physical and emotional standpoint. Again, according to Sheehy, "A stormy passage...will probably facilitate the normal progression of the adult life cycle." Conversely, those who fail to break the parental bonds during this period are destined to face an even harsher transition down the road.


From 22 to 30, most young adults shift their focus from the "interior turmoils of late adolescence" to the practical and external details of realizing their personal aspirations. It is the most exciting and energetic time of a person's life.

During this period, people try to figure out how to accomplish their goals in life. They may latch on to stereotyped roles to help define their own, ask others how they succeeded, seek out mentors, etc. People also form a "capacity for intimacy without losing their sense of self." 20-somethings also face pressure from society, their families and even their peer groups to do what they "should." This may mean marriage, a family and commitment, or just the opposite "a commitment to have no commitments" and follow one's dreams.

Sheehy tells us that, "One of the most terrifying aspects of the twenties is the inner conviction that the choices we make are irrevocable. It is largely a false fear. Change is quite possible, and some alteration of our original choices is probably inevitable."

People take two very different paths in their 20s. The first leads to "building a firm, safe structure for the future by making commitments." The other road leads in the opposite direction. People who make this choice feel free to explore and experiment with life. They do not make any permanent choices or ones that are not easily reversible. Of these two paths, neither one is the right or wrong choice -however, either, if taken to the extreme, can lead to problems down the road. In the former case, the person may feel trapped or locked into a relationship, in their 30s. In the latter instance, not committing to anything worthwhile can create a transient state and make the person prone to bouncing from one job and relationship to another.


The 30s is a decade of great turbulence for many people. It is the time when people reevaluate and often question the personal relationship and career choices they made in their 20s. Single people feel the urge to find a partner; people in committed relationships (especially those married seven years or longer) may feel discontented. According to Sheehy, "If the discontent doesn't lead to divorce, it will, or should call for a serious review of the marriage and each partner's aspirations..."

During this period, couples without children may consider having or adopting them and the stay-at-home mom who put her own career on hold for her husband and family feels the need to break out and do something on her own.

Career choices are under equally intense scrutiny. 30-somethings in the workforce, having "proved" their competency, become acutely aware of their own self-interests. They ask themselves where they will be in five, ten or fifteen years, if they stay in their present position. Are there better opportunities at another firm or should they branch out and start their own business?

Resolving all of these matters eventually leads to a more structured existence. The 30s are a time when people buy houses and become more serious about both their personal and career growth. At the same time, satisfaction with marriage is likely to decline.


According to current figures on life expectancy in the United States - 74 for men and 79 for women, the mid to late thirties represent a person's official entry into middle age. Physical prowess, once "taken for granted" in youth, now begins to diminish and people become cognizant that there is probably less time ahead for them than has already past. People must come to terms with who they really are and how they will expend their energies in the second half of life. In this quest, old stereotyped roles no longer serve any purpose. Suppressed feelings, even "bad" ones, come to the surface.

Unmarried or childless women tend to reach this point quicker than men do. There is a "last chance" sense of urgency for women, probably for biological reasons, around the age of 35. For most men, it occurs about five years later. This is the full-blown mid-life crisis of popular culture. The clichés of the husband running off with his secretary, buying a red Corvette, or both; are based upon the 40-year-old who made strong personal and career commitments early in life and failed to adequately deal with his feelings of restlessness in his early thirties.

No matter what a man has achieved in life, at 40, he is likely to feel worn-out, on edge, weighed down and unappreciated. Men deal with these feelings in different ways. Some become self-destructive, while others channel this energetic tension toward a more positive outcome, such as developing their gentler and more principled side.


During this period, life stabilizes for those who have dealt appropriately with the identity and validation issues of the mid-life crisis. With renewed vigor and self-purpose they stand on the threshold of what many describe as the best years of their lives. During this mellower time, personal happiness increases, friends become more important and people are able to let their children get on with their lives.

For those who fail to make a successful mid-life transition, age 45 means isolation and feelings of abandonment. Sheehy tells us, "Parents will become children, children will become strangers; a mate will grow away or go away; the career will become just a job..." At 50, the shock is repeated even more forcefully, which may be just what the person needs "to prod the resigned middle-ager toward seeking revitalization."


How prominently these crisis points manifest themselves varies greatly from person to person, and situation to situation. Even so, awareness of this psychological undercurrent running through people's lives is as vital to the cold reader as a familiarity with basic personality types and traits.

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The Illustrated Key To The Tarot

The Illustrated Key To The Tarot

The pathology of the poet says that the undevout astronomer is mad the pathology of the very plain man says that the genius is mad and between these extremes, which stand for ten thousand analogous excesses, the sovereign reason takes the part of a moderator and does what it can. I do not think that there is a pathology of the occult dedications, but about their extravagances no one can question, and it is not less difficult than thankless to act as a moderator regarding them.

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