Manifesting: What's the Big Deal? An OCD Perspective
Written by: Jess Ellum, MA
Manifesting, also known as the Law of Attraction, has become a popular point of view that suggests that we can attract what we focus on…to turn something we are thinking into a reality. There are a lot of self-help books that have made it into the mainstream promoting this perspective, inspiring a movement to think about and envision positive outcomes (e.g., wealth, health, career goals, etc.) as a means to achieve them. Sounds relatively harmless. What could be so bad about positive thinking?
Nothing. Think all the positive thoughts you want!
But what about negative thinking?
While manifesting is meant to be used in positive ways, it has a lot of similarities with similar concepts that can wreak havoc for people with anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) called Thought-Action Fusion and Magical Thinking. Thought-action fusion refers to the belief that our thoughts are very powerful and are linked to our behavior; that thinking is the same as doing or makes the feared outcome more likely (either via direct consequences or morally). This belief is often associated with OCD, a disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, intrusive, and distressing thoughts (obsessions), and feels the urge to repeat certain behaviors (compulsions) as a result. Individuals with OCD may believe that simply having a negative thought means a bad thing may happen, and therefore they try to cancel it out/neutralize, undo the thought through a compulsion or ritual.
It’s important that individuals with OCD understand that EVERYONE has negative thoughts. Our brain has over 4000 thoughts a day! Some are bound to be negative. (or even weird/bizarre/senseless/disturbing/etc.) Just because you think something doesn’t mean there's a direct correlation with what will come to pass.
So what’s a healthy view of manifesting that doesn’t cross the line into Thought Action Fusion?
The premise of manifesting is that, if we think positively, we are bound to feel more pleasant emotions and have more confidence in ourselves. But, the relationship between the positive thoughts and the positive outcomes in this case is based on the assumption that our positive “mindset” will impact the way we behave and the way we interact with the world around us. For example, if we engage in a positive mindset and believe in our ability to accomplish our dreams, we may be more likely to seek out opportunities that lead to the outcomes we want (what we do have control over). If I really want to accumulate more wealth, money won’t magically fall into my bank account just by wishing it or thinking it (trust me, I’ve tried). Instead, I have to do an action like apply for different job opportunities, speak to a financial advisor, make investments, or even buy a lottery ticket. The same goes for negative thoughts. Thinking negative thoughts will not directly make negative outcomes happen. There’s stuff that has to happen in the middle, like behaviors and actions towards those outcomes. And in the case of OCD, those individuals don’t want the bad things to happen and won’t behave in ways to make those outcomes come true. And sometimes, the unpleasant events that happen in our lives are just out of our control.
Unfortunately, manifesting can easily turn into “evidence” for individuals with OCD that Thought Action Fusion and Magical Thinking are real things and that their thoughts are indeed dangerous, powerful, and capable of causing harm to themselves or those they love.
If you find yourself struggling with this concept at times, remind yourself of the times when you thought something bad was going to happen, and it didn’t. And make certain to remember the distinction