Why the Self-Help “Law of Attraction” is Dangerous for Our Mental Health

A few months ago I wrote about the upside to realistic positive thinking and how it can help us to combat the negative spiral that maylead to depression and anxiety, and even potentially help us as we recover from physical ailments. But what happens when we take that positivity to unrealistic lengths and it gets clouded with so-called spiritual ideas?

The Internet is awash with positivity gurus, and one idea I hear a lot is the talk of “how to manifest your ideal life.” Even Oprah subscribes to the notion of “Law of Attraction” and has givena massive platform to the mega-fad, “The Secret.” But what is it?

To boil it down to its essence (and I’m aware I am simplifying), the Law of Attraction, which underpins a great deal of this kind ofthinking is the suggestion that emotional outlook and thoughts are matched by the universe which then sends us corresponding physical reality. Thoughts, the ideas claims, are things. There’s no scientific evidence for the universe having this kind of mechanism, nor is there support for the idea that the human mind can at will bend physical reality in this way. These are topics for another time, but what I am interested in is how this notion treats mental health.

If we create our reality, we are therefore responsible for everything in it. That means all the good that we have enjoyed is a result of our positive thinking. Similarly, all the negative that has blighted our lives arises from our negative mind-space. So what happens when someone is clinically depressed? How did that come about? Well, then you have to involve past lives and things like karma in order to account for a genetic predisposition and faulty brain chemistry that likely activated when during my teenage years I suffered an extended and quite severe emotional trauma. Yet at its heart, if I am to believe the Law of Attraction, I am to blame. What’s more, not only am I to blame for my past strife but I’m to blame for my current mental health issues because I could simply choose to feel good and move away from these mental health issues.

Let that sit for a moment. Now let’s extend that into a real life situation. Imagine someone is desperate to change their life because they are not happy with their current state of affairs. In fact, they are feeling hopeless to the point that this is their last-ditch attempt. They turn to self-help books which stress things like theLaw of Attraction as a way to attain better mental and physical well being. Because they are desperate, they begin religiously practicing thetenets, and particularly that they must keep a positive outlookandreign in their negative thoughts. This vulnerable person begins to feel slightly better about themselves, after all they are now in control of their destiny. In fact, they feel empowered. They develop a sense of freedom and euphoria.

Then something goes wrong. Quite by chance, they receive an unexpected bill through the mail. Or they have a bad day at work. But it isn’t just chance, is it? This Law of Attraction tells us that we create our reality. Therefore, the person concludes, he’s to blame. He did this. He attracted that bad day, that bill, that negativity. Despite all his best efforts, he still attracted bad outcomes. Well, he’ll have to try harder, so he begins to become obsessive about his thoughts, he can’t sleep because he’s constantly repeating positive mantras in his head, and because he can’t sleep, he begins to feel physically unwell. His work begins to deteriorate. His depression deepens, his anxiety too. And it’s all his fault. That’s what the Law of Attraction tells him. It’s his fault that he can’t be positive and have a good life.

What position does that leave him in? Well, I can tell you because that person was me. For a brief period during a particularly difficult time in my early 20s, I became so desperate to try to alleviate my suffering that I turned to self-improvement books which also included thesekinds of ideas. You should also know during my teenage years, I experienced a bout of psychosis where I also believed I had supernatural abilities — or more precisely, that spirits and demonic entities were whispering to me. I am not embarrassed about this. I was mentally unwell, but I highlight this because when I am compromised in this way,I and others like me aresusceptible to this kind of thinking.

So what does it feel like to have the Law of Attraction fail you? To be frank, it felt like mental torture because it sets up a system of expectation, failure and then self-punishment. If you create your reality and your reality is consistently bad, frustrating, negative and altogether not what you want, it doesn’t take you long to conclude thatyou are bad; that it is an inherent flaw within you that is poisoning everything. I simply couldn’t be positive when my brain chemistry wouldn’t allow it, and that is the fact of the matter.

Now some may defend the Law of Attraction saying that it is to be taken with other so-called laws of the universe, or that it didn’t work for me because I was mentally unwell. What I know is this: that the books, the DVDs, the online courses and retreats are all geared at people who are desperate to change their lives. These people may not be mentally unwell going into programs like this, but they certainly are vulnerable and when they do not see the results that they want, they may become mentally unwell coming out of it.

The point here is that we do not need unproven and often pseudo-scientific “laws” to make positive changes in our lives: the tools like goal setting, planning and taking action are all within our reach. Not only that, but these so-called spiritual ideascan be incredibly damaging for those who are vulnerable, and in particular, people who have mental health issues. For their sake, andfor my sake, we need clear thinking and properly funded medical mental health care so that people aren’t in a situation where they feel driven toward this kind of bad medicine.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

104 comments

Beba B.
Beba B.about a year ago

Also you re a fucking libreal faggot bitch so fuck off tard

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Beba B.
Beba B.about a year ago

Lol its no pseudoscience u have no fucking clue what you re talking about

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Kitty K.
deanna K1 years ago

Very interesting read! Never been a fan of LOA in the way that most people see it. I do like the idea that thinking about what you want helps drive you towards it. But not a fan of the idea that all you have to do is think about something and not work for it. It's always interesting to see everyones views on it though!

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Isiah T.
Isiah T1 years ago

I believe in the law of attraction but I also believe in other things also. The negativity is apparent in your speech as you talk about what you don't understand. I'm not here to condemn you though, because I can relate. Once you become aware of your true self and your desires you too can and will see everything in relation, I call it being plugged in. I work on everyday being in a non judgmental state of mind and I know it works. You will be tested but that's the start of joy, in-joy, enjoy the journey to your higher self and everything that comes with that. One of the steps to truly walking in this walk called faith is knowing the power of forgiveness. Forgiving yourself for your mistakes, for being human, whatever the case may be. You will then find it is easier to forgive others and to do more diligent work were it really counts, within yourself. As I spill my soul for you through my words hoping that if it reaches one person and helps them out or gives them some jolt of positivity to spread to the next person then I have succeeded. This is apart of my therapy also, apart of my walk. I usually don't blog or leave comments but today I decided to do something different and maybe eliminate one of those things I call hiccups or blocks within our comfort zones. Unlike some of the self-help books and the gurus that I have heard my writings and concepts are for helping humanity to heal and prosper. I've dealt with depression myself for many years and it was the main reason why I

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Bo P.
Bo P.2 years ago

Thank you so much for writing this article, Steve! =3
When I saw it on Google search, I was like " An article written on how dangerous LOA is was written this year? Wow! Lol

I had seen older topics on this topic on Google and wondered if anyone else cared about how this affected sufferers of mental health issues...

I think I speak for 95% of the commenters here when I say that the so-called "Law of attraction" is pure 100% GARBAGE...

I honestly wish the concept would disappear from existence.

It ultimately did NOT help my already low self-esteem.
And the guy I fell for and called myself using the concept for, turned out to be a manipulative a-hole (towards others) who emotionally hurt girls, etc.

Who wants to feel like an ugly burden, annoying and not worthy of love? Noone.
F*ck LOA...>=[

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Mary B.
Mary B2 years ago

Whew! After reading the comments I'm amazed at how LOA is STILL so misunderstood, twisted and abused. I've studied this kind of stuff for about 40 years and never heard of most of the nonsense and people mentioned. You're all talking about the EXISTING beliefs your living and NO, you did not create those.Law of Attraction is like Google. It organizes things of a like nature. So if you want to know about something, you ask by typing in a few words and up comes a bunch of related topics. With LOA, you ask by wondering about something and focusing your attention on that subject. Pretty soon you will start to see info about it filter into your awareness. You will get the awful side of it, or the solutions to it depending on which direction you point your focus. You will feel better when you are focused on solutions rather than the problem. You don't try to make yourself feel positive about the awful stuff or deny it. Your natural state would leap towards the desire to help, and that sets in motion the incoming solutions but you've got to release your attention to the awful before you'll see it. I hope this helps.

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Kathryn M.
Kathryn M2 years ago

Very good article! I agree!

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Marje Szelmeczka

Thank you

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Julia R.
Julia R2 years ago

The Law of Attraction basically reduces the complexity of life to a very shallow ideology which was probably intended to bring about a desire to manifest money for its founders and hook the gullible or naive on a quick solution to life's problems. In fact, this "law of attraction" is a rehashing of some ideas that had been written in a book around the 1940's and because it didn't have a movie to popularize it like the very insipid movie that was made somewhat recently based on the even more trite and insubstantial book, it never became popularized. Then, the book and the movie finally garnered much attention when Oprah Winfrey had the author and the "teachers" of this supposedly life changing ideology on her TV show. But, the problem is that there is no real self-enlightenment or change that comes with this way of thinking! It is nothing but pseudo-science and a type of magical thinking that appeals to some people because of its claims to riches and fame just by thinking about them. The "law of attraction" isn't positive thinking it is more about delusional and false thinking. It has no more merit and credibility than rubbing a lantern and thinking that a genie is going to appear. I do agree with this article, it can in fact cause more emotional and psychological problems with people who start to blame themselves many unpredictable events in their lives! Don't confuse positive thinking and a more optimistic orientation to life with this B.S.!

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