What is ‘Manifesting’ and The Law of Attraction?
Recently a client, somewhat younger than me, described a phenomenon they called “Manifesting”. They felt excited and disappointed in themselves in equal measure that they seemed to be failing in using this ‘secret’ method of working with ‘the universe’ to bring them whatever their heart desired.
Curious, I investigated.
Manifesting is a verb used to describe the active process of using positive thoughts, and a degree of self-hypnosis, to draw ‘good things’ to oneself. Based on the many Youtube videos on this topic, these good things seem to be consumer products or monetary wealth, rather than contentment and tolerance, but then the latter two are really not as enticing as ones own private island.
Manifesting is not new and nor is the concept original. It seems to have been re-hashed in a 2006 ‘documentary’ and book entitled ‘The Secret’ which explains the mystical process of using the ‘Law of Attraction’ to get what you want in life. What a great concept – if only it were true.
Fate and Destiny
I have previously written about the concepts of fate and destiny and how I do not believe that any idea of fate has a place in psychotherapy – or indeed in the outcome of psychotherapy, which is in essentially becoming an adult who can tolerate reality.
To recap, the concept of fate posits that there is some sort of external force, entity or deity that decides what happens to us. This can be very unhelpful in the therapeutic process as clients can often use the idea of fate to reinforce that what is happening (or not) to them is simply how things are supposed to be.
Destiny, though not a word I personally favour, can be translated to being thought of as taking some degree of ownership of one’s life whilst remaining firmly rooted in reality. Therefore it is possible for most free people to experience a change in their lives, or perception of their lives, whist acknowledging their reality.
Destiny and death
Some years back I spent four years working on the front lines of death – as a psychotherapist in the field of palliative care. Whilst the usual issues around meaning, relationships and mental health problems presented themselves, they were all within the context of death and dying: I worked with patients who had terminal illnesses, were actively dying or with their bereaved relatives. It certainly redefines the concept of ‘psychotherapy’ when sitting beside the bedside of a patient who has hours to live and is engaging with you through a cocktail of opiates!
Despite the confronting nature of death and dying – the patients’ ‘fate’ was sealed – nonetheless, many of the people I worked with were able to find purpose and meaning in their predicament and to mourn losses not previously addressed. They were engaged in changing their destiny.
We can all, at times, make use of magical thinking. It can be a way of assuaging anxiety and giving us the illusion of being in control. The practice is as old as human beings and embedded in a language such as in the saying ‘touch wood’ or in the belief that walking under ladders brings bad luck. Human beings are symbolic creatures who make the unreal real. This is perhaps how we cope with our knowledge of finitude – death. However, we also confuse the symbolic with the real.
Whilst touching wood and avoiding ladders is relatively harmless, subscribing wholeheartedly to fantasies that there is some ‘secret’ method or means of ‘manifesting’ objects into ones life is dangerous and deluded. In psychological terms, it is a way of avoiding growing up and being born. A way of believing that the world can be just how we want it if only we imagine it hard enough – a sort of womb, in essence.
The power of magic
The reality of being in weekly or more frequent psychotherapy is that it is not very magical at all. In fact, it is the opposite. Psychotherapy generally takes place in a fairly ordinary consulting room (or online), you see the same face week after week and often find yourself going over the same ground. Clearly, promises of Ferraris and private islands are far more enticing. However, the consistency and regularity, along with having someone there who holds us in mind and helps us think can be life-changing. If we are thought about, just perhaps we can learn to think our own
thoughts about ourselves rather than follow a script on who we are. If we are not alone then we can learn to bear reality, however hard that may seem.
Psychotherapy does not promise magic. It is, in fact, the opposite in that often our job as psychotherapists is to help clients and patients lift the veils of illusion and see life and their history for what it was – only then can the mourning begin. And it is only through mourning that eventually, desire can emerge – a sense of self and a sense of what that self wants.
When desire emerges it is rarely if ever about Ferraris or private islands. It is not about consumer products period. It is about a deeper recognition of what will bring contentment and peace in the context of the realities in which that person lives. And that can be achieved even on a death-bed.
Of course, as a final blow, unlike manifesting, psychotherapy also has science on its side. And a long studied evidence base. It may not get the Youtube hits but then real life was never to be found in movies.
Mark Vahrmeyer, UKCP Registered, BHP Co-founder is an integrative psychotherapist with a wide range of clinical experience from both the public and private sectors. He currently sees both individuals and couples, primarily for ongoing psychotherapy. Mark is available at the Lewes and Brighton & Hove Practices.
Further reading by Mark Vahrmeyer
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