The Law of Attracting Nonsense

posted in: chronic illness | 9

I’m taking part in WEGO Health’s Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge

Day 7 #HAWMC – Say WHAT!? What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve heard about health or your condition? Where did you hear it and what did you think?

Balance © 2012 Jane Waterman
A human transmission tower?
Balance © 2012 Jane Waterman

I’ve heard a lot of ridiculous things over my 24 year ‘career’ with depression. “Buck up”, “chin up”, “smile and the world smiles with you – cry and you cry alone”, “snap out of it”, “if you get a job you’ll feel better”, “you think you have problems”, “what have you got to be sad about”, “don’t be depressed”, etc. I thought I’d heard it all, but then the Law of Attraction popped into existence.

The Law of Attraction has its genesis in a bunch of similar theories. One of the more recent forerunners was the book/movie phenomenon, “What the BLEEP Do We Know?” I never saw the movie, but I heard many earnest and spiritually minded folk talking about it. The fact that it incorporated – drumroll – quantum physics, lent it scientific respectability. In my former life, I was a scientist. My background was in physics. I’d studied quantum physics a lot. Heisenberg was an old friend (or nemesis around exam time). I thought, what can it hurt to read it and see what the fuss is about? The truth was, the book was boring. Not to mention, I’d never heard of most of the scientists quoted in it. I tried to read it earnestly – with highlighter – as Sjogren’s brain fog doesn’t have much respect for physics degrees or anything else. I couldn’t get into it. I decided, never mind, if it speaks to other people and inspires them, then that’s all that matters.

There were other theories that I found a little more interesting such as Dr Masaru Emoto’s work with water crystals and the impact of the environment on their formation. I didn’t care whether the science was valid as I have an artistic leaning that doesn’t care about logic when the practical expression of a theory is – in a word – beautiful.

Then along came the Law of Attraction/The Secret, or as the realists call it, ‘Magical Thinking’. I listened with moderate interest as it started doing the rounds, and as some of its proponents began talking about ‘manifesting’. I didn’t have to read the book. The language of the law of attraction was everywhere. It began to spread like a virus across the Internet. I avoided it as much as I could, which was difficult when people started manifesting on their Facebook feeds. It was impossible to escape.

The law of attraction uses some kind of theory of “human transmission towers” emitting “frequencies”. Considering that it has become popular knowledge that the brain emits a small electric field, I guess it had to happen. The bottom line of the law of the attraction, which is not a new idea, is that you attract what you think. In other words, what you think becomes your reality. Now, as a long-time student of cognitive therapy, there is an element of truth in this. If you spend years thinking you have no worth, you will believe you have no worth. It is only after redefining your inner dialogue and language that you realize it’s more productive to be kind to yourself – you will find more satisfaction and less suffering in life if you think you’re a person of worth with something useful to contribute. This is a process that usually takes a lot of time and work and self-compassion, but it’s obviously worth it.

Apparently the law of attraction extends to material things like money, houses, cars and (for some reason) parking spaces. By natural extension, the law of attraction extends to health. If you are sick, you attracted it. If you have cancer, you attracted it. If you are depressed, you attracted it with your negative thoughts (frequencies) – naturally. Rhonda Byrne, the author of The Secret, apparently went so far as to say that if you were involved in a natural or human disaster such as war, famine or a tsunami, you were emitting on the same frequency as the disaster and had therefore – yes – attracted it. What the BLEEP!?

Even if you were an earnest disciple and fervently thought about and visualized your desired reality (it’s not so far removed from the more modest theories of Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization), but didn’t manifest it, whether it was a diamond necklace or a $100,000 a year job or good health – it was because you had let a negative thought creep in. The universe heard – even if you had one negative voice of doubt in hundreds of positive ones – and you would fail to manifest your desire. Negative thinking was your downfall!

As the law of attraction swept through popular culture and some of the language into everyday usage, it ended up that even a stranger could accost you for not thinking positively enough. You no longer need to worry about Orwellian Thought Police. The Positive Thinking Police are here! When I got sick, I fervently hoped and wished and prayed for years that I would get well, as backed that up with all kinds of therapies, exercises and treatments designed to make me well. Who wanted to be sick with an illness such as depression, which was reviled as moral or spiritual weakness, or worse, laziness? Apparently all that hoping and wishing and praying didn’t manifest because all the universe heard was that I wanted to be ill. I enjoyed being depressed. I enjoyed being alienated from family. I enjoyed being a social pariah.

Oops, I did it again! What nonsense. At least with 19 million sales of The Secret book to date, you can be sure there’s at least one person out there who’s manifesting her desired reality!

Blessings,
Jane

9 Responses

  1. Carmen Waterman (@Ca
    | Reply

    Bravo! I call bullsh*t on those who believe that people that are sick have attracted it, that people who have suffered from abuse – attracted it? I think more needs to be done to undo the harm some of these philosophies have created. No one, wants to be sick, no one wants to be depressed, no one wants to suffer. Throw away comments from those who have never walked in the shoes of the chronically ill do more harm than good. Yes, it is important to be hopeful, to keep trying to find the joy in life when everything seems so hard, but not at the expense of self blame when things continue to be difficult.

    Thanks for always sharing the things so many of us need to understand and challenge when they are just wrong.

    • Jane Waterman
      | Reply

      Thanks, Sweetie. I agree – I don't think philosophies like the Secret or the whole positive thinking movement in general are benevolent when it leads people to doubt their own experiences and their own suffering. Creative visualization as propounded by Shakti Gawain was about visualizing good things for oneself, but not with the expectation that they be delivered "to order", or that those who suffer bring about their own misfortune.

      It gives me hope that people will question these damaging philosophies, although it rather scares me that 19 million have bought this book and continue to push it on others!

      Love and blessings. xxxx

  2. Michael Bentley
    | Reply

    Bravo for writing this, Jane! I couldn't believe it when I started reading 'The Secret' that had been recommended to me by a friend. In fact I struggled to understand it, unable to believe what it seemed to be saying. Surely there must be more to it than this?

    The darker side of such beliefs and how they affect the way chronic illness is viewed, is not always explicit but seems to permeate Facebook in various, sometimes quite subtle ways. I'm glad that you pointed this out, and with all you have suffered I'm not surprised you're so angry.

    Thank you so much again for writing this.

    • Jane Waterman
      | Reply

      Thanks, Michael! I believe that visualization is useful, and I don't have a problem with people visualize bringing money or cars or loving relationships or health to them, although I think the whole concept is a bit disingenuous as it encourages an entitlement culture. Where I do have a problem is when they say that say, cancer patients or the chronically ill have attracted their illnesses, or people who are abused, poor or starving, and so on. I admit feeling outrage about that. Perhaps it is the idealist in me that believes a culture should take care of its poor, weak and ill. I don't think that is going to happen any time soon, but to not only ignore that suffering and point a finger of blame is outrageous.

      I find the 'positive thinking' movement, of which the Secret is a part, is not really that subtle. as I mentioned in my post "I Don't Want to Think Positive", this movement basically deputizes strangers to challenge you for not thinking positive, with an almost religious fervour. One night as I was scrolling down my Facebook feed, I saw so many quotes about being 'positive' it just made me want to scream! Again, I don't have a problem with people having a belief, religious or otherwise, but please don't tell me I have to think the same way as them! :)

      Thanks, Michael! *hugs*

  3. LornaK
    | Reply

    Wow, what a bunch of, to put it politely *crap* Thank you for writing this! This book has been a recommended read to me as well, after 25 years of being a "professional patient" I kindly can recommend they put it, well you can figure out where, thanks to your post!

    • Jane Waterman
      | Reply

      Hi Lorna! Thanks for writing. I hear you on being a professional patient! The Secret is all about shaming and blaming the 'victim' for their own misfortune. I don't identify as a victim, but I do have a problem with people telling me I brought this on myself! Stepping outside my own experience, however, I'm outraged that proponents of this book can blame people with cancer or abuse or poverty for "attracting" it. If people want to visualize cars and money and good health, that's one thing, but to dismiss other people's suffering is another! I dislike the 'positive thinking' culture when it leads people to be cruel and dispassionate to the suffering of others!

      I read an excellent book, thanks to another commenter on my blog, called "Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America" by Barbara Ehrenreich. While Ehrenreich is certainly not free of forming her own judgements, I found myself nodding throughout the book as it echoes a lot of my experiences around being ill, dismissive attitudes to the suffering of others, and about the entitlement culture in general. You may like to recommend this book to anyone who recommends The Secret to you! :)

      Many blessings,
      Jane

  4. Lorna K
    | Reply

    Thank you for your suggestion Jane, I will look for the book. At the age of 49 I find myself starting to say "when I was a child" "in my generation." Things I swore I would never say, I don't understand the developing "trend" of blaming the sick and the constant influx of books claiming you can will yourself to get better just by thinking positive. I referenced that in one of my posts. I would be cured many times over if that were the case :)

  5. Roland Kiss
    | Reply

    The law of attraction is mostly not true, just partly. These new age thinkers are wrongfully interpreting it. It is nonsense because when they claim in the Secret that you can eat as much as you want, you will only gain weight if you believe it and think of it, then we can say that someone can drink a can of bleach if he wants and no harm will happen to him if he doesn’t believe it or he can jump in the fire and if he thinks positive, he will not get burned. It’s nonsense and can be dangerous especially for children or people with mental illness. I would still rather recommend reading the Bible, because I believe there is no other philosophical book more accurate than that. No doubt there is an intelligent creative power out there in the universe that had created everything so perfectly in harmony with logic and reason and it also must have an opposite destructive intelligent power which we call “devil” who causes so much injustice and suffering on earth, but that positive or negative thinking is the reason for someone’s fortune or misfortune is not quite true, even though self-fulfilling prophecies sometimes do come true. Things are what they are. For example many people today in society are evil and disrespectful, lacking manners and sometimes we have to deal with such difficult people in our everyday lives, but it has nothing to do with positive or negative thinking. Sometimes conflicts especially these days are unavoidable. It’s just what it is. I think prayer and hoping in the better when times get hard is more effective and being realistic rather than being pessimistic or optimistic is more reasonable.

  6. Roland Kiss
    | Reply

    I have anxiety disorder and depression and not because of negative thinking, but because I grew up in a dysfunctional family with abusive parents who had little control over their behavior. I had been bullied all my life by school mates, teachers, in the workplace and by strangers. I also suffered rejection from people most of my life. But I don’t think it was because of the law of attraction, but because we live in a corrupt, insensitive society and rather people should change their attitude in treating others. But since we cannot change people especially people that are difficult or inherently immoral, I don’t think the law of attraction or thinking positive about them will change them. People are what they are. Good people are good people, bad people are bad people. That’s all. People are responsible for their behavior and if you get accosted by a stranger it would be illogical to blame yourself for someone’s inmature behavior even if you attracted it. The person who accosted you is responsible for his choice to bully you. Blaming everything on not enough positive thinking will turn away our attention from trying to make changes in society and to work on making the world a safer place. In this physical world changes require action not just positive thinking.

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