Psychologists: Scrooge’s transformation parallels real life-changing experiences
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“Bah, humbug!” is the line most closely associated with Ebenezer Scrooge, the famous miser from “A Christmas Carol.”
But the authors of a new study on life-changing experiences give author Charles Dickens high marks for his portrayal of Scrooge’s sudden switch to saintliness.
Former grad student Jon Skalski and Brigham Young University psychology professor Sam Hardy conducted an in-depth study of 14 people who experienced profound, sudden and lasting change. They say the fictional Scrooge would fit right in.
“Like our participants, Scrooge was suffering,” Skalski said. “There was disintegration. There was a world that was ripe for change because of suffering going on.”
Though Scrooge had money, he hit rock bottom in terms of relationships. Orphaned as a child and broken-hearted from a failed engagement, Scrooge’s pains intensify each Christmas Eve, the anniversary of the death of his only friend, Jacob Marley.
In the story, Marley appears seven years after his death as a voice of warning. Though a ghost, the role he plays is true to life. Most study participants described the presence of a trusted other person during their experience.
“Just by their presence, a trusted friend can open up possibilities and a sense of faith in what’s possible that one can’t see,” Skalski said.
Skalski and Hardy’s research will appear in the January issue of The Humanistic Psychologist. Finding people that fit the criteria was no easy task. To do so, they employed ads on Craigslist in Illinois and Utah.
Notably, the experiences shared by the participants were not recent events. On average, nine years had passed between the transformation and their interview. Most of them could remember the exact time of day when the turning point occurred.
“I’ve often thought about this, whether these transformations are really sudden or gradual,” Skalski said. “It’s like water boiling – you can look at that as a discontinuous change from not boiling to boiling, but there are certain elements going on beneath the surface that allow for the dramatic change to take place.”
For an entrepreneur referred to as Kevin in the study, the preceding turmoil arose because his identity as a successful businessman crashed along with his failed ventures. Like Scrooge, he had