A 21st Century rendition of Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man
If you've never grounded yourself in your body by neutralizing painful emotions because you hung out too long on the astral plane: You Are Helpless to Help Your Self. The self that must make choices & judgments from a discerning mind. Not the ‘self’ that observes life from a nondual perspective.
Maeve wrote: “I'd love to hear what you think about the recent self-help magical thinking trend, aka The Secret. (the universe gives you what you think about: if you think about happiness and love your life will be a banquet of joy and serendipity; if you think about obesity, cancer and death you'll get fat, your moles will turn to melanoma and you'll die). It strikes me as quasi-narcissistic (how can the universe possibly care enough about what I'm thinking to mete me out my own personal thoughts in the form of concrete things?) having read your post but I'd love to read your take.” ~Self-Help Narcissists
Well, Maeve, I’m a little uncomfortable writing about new age spirituality. Guess I have chicken wings, not angel wings. Please don’t barbecue me.
I’m hesitant to discredit The Secret because I don’t want people to think me into a cornfield, or wish me back to a prior incarnation when I was a flea. People might send negative energy my direction, forcing terrible things to happen to my family and ya know, we’ve had enough misery in this lifetime.
Besides, it’s not nice to criticize people’s delusions. I learned that with narcissists. You tell ‘em they aren’t Grounded In Reality and the next thing you know: you’re the one sitting in a therapist’s office getting your feet nailed to the floor.
Narcissists are indignant when their thinkin’ is labeled stinkin’. Especially when people of lower intelligence challenge their grandiosity. But you asked, so I’ll compose my thoughts, hopefully without alienating those who find value in The Secret and other new-age ideas of such ilk. Some people read The Secret and find the ideas worth considering. They aren’t usually the ones who flame and insult and wish me into cornfields, though.
My big, fat opinion is that Secret promoters are an exclusive club of opportunists pretending to be smarter than the rest of us inferior types who live in track homes because we didn't think 'Mansion'. Maybe they honestly believe what they're promoting, but to me, this is self-deception because in reality, it’s utterly stoopid to believe thoughts create things--as if our brains are assembly lines, making us mini-gods of our own creation!
This idea appeals to narcissists since they see themselves as the center of the universe. Which makes me wonder if The Secret Elite is an exclusive group of Machiavellians, psychopaths, and grandiose narcissists; not exclusive of countless numbers of innocent people in terrible situations----innocent people who are desperate for answers, for relief, for certainty.
Those are the people who concern me. The people upon whom predators prey. We cannot stop every bad person from taking advantage of good people, that is true; but we can inform those who are vulnerable to manipulation.
Who is vulnerable to stinkin’ thinkin’?
Anyone. Everyone. It all depends on the situation. So don’t go thinking only dumb bunnies fall for flimflam artists and con games. Our vulnerability to persuasion depends on our situation: the less stable we are, the easier we are to manipulate/recruit. That means anyone suffering a crisis, loss of boundaries, loss of self, divorce, job insecurity, death, etc. can be drawn towards stinkin' thinkin' like The Secret.
Whether other people agree with me or not, I believe Secret gurus are more worried about financial actualization than they are spiritual growth—nor are they concerned about the harm they do to vulnerable people. In fact, the lack of empathy for their ‘market audience’, the certainty of their self-anointed mission, the manipulation of people’s gullibility and devotion, describes narcissists fairly well. Narcissists as in The Messianic Disordered.
For people who might not be psychologically stable because of their situation, believing every thought will come to fruition is a recipe for paranoia. I remember putting a tarp over my canopy bed just to be on the safe side. I didn't want to wake up with thousands of rat bazturds falling on my head. Rat bazturd was an obsessive loop in the early days of my husband’s infidelity. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking this thought. It was as automatic as breathing.
I remember when Rhonda Byrne’s book first appeared. As an Internet consumer, I was privy to the persuasive hoo-hah promoting her book before it was released in a viral marketing campaign that is sure to be a case study in MBA textbooks. Many people on NPD message boards were persuaded to purchase her book because it promised to restore personal power. They also believed (as traumatized people do), that they had been cut off from the Secret of life…that they were isolated and alone. When someone promised to share an ancient secret from which they had been excluded, they were eager to put hard-earned cash on the counter and join the elite. Desperation is the fodder for manipulation. Never forget it. Self-promoters are banking on it.
I was concerned because it wasn’t a far leap of my imagination to see myself in their shoes: vulnerable, broken, powerless, overwhelmed with emotions and loss, confused about my identity, hoping for answers, or temporary relief. Even the Law of Attraction restored a semblance of order, albeit masochistic. At least there was an explanation for my situation---although it required blaming myself and thinking magically.
Quite honestly, magical thinking was a part of my grief journey. That same magical thinking inspired me to buy Relationship Matters by Dr. Phil, but that’s getting off-topic.
Thankfully, Dr. Phil didn’t encourage thinking a loving husband into being and denying the fact that my husband was stomping on my heart. Dr. Phil veered into the self-blaming aspect of taking responsibility that wasn’t mine to take, just like The Secret does. The idea being that if you aren't getting the love you want, or your house catches on fire, or you break out in zits before a leadership conference, well, “Ya did it to yourself. You got nobody to blame but your own thoughts.”
You can make yourself mentally ill wondering if you had a random thought about zits and that’s why you have a volcano protruding from your chin. Your task is to wish that zit away. If it’s still there during your presentation and the audience can’t take their eyes off your repugnancy, (or protect their faces with Kleenex in case it ‘blows’), you have nobody to blame but your thoughts. And: Thoughts=Self.
Blaming the Victim
Blaming the victim is a disturbing thing, a misfortunate result of the assumption that people reap the rewards (consequences) of their choices. If you were abused, well, you must have done something to cause him/her to abuse you. Maybe in the crevices of your mind, you had the dastardly thought, “I sure hope my beloved hurts me!”
What people need in a healing process is to accurately place responsibility for the crimes committed, not prolong an illegitimate self-blame process. I can see how narcissists would find this philosophy very useful, though: “You thought it, so I’m gonna manifest your destiny!”
A Just World Hypothesis
We are addicted to the hypothesis of a Just World. We rationalize incomprehensible ‘injustice’ to protect ourselves from a similar fate by assuming the victim did something (or thought something) that lead to injustice. Perhaps most people never question the assumption that people get what they deserve.
The assumption that just consequences rule our lives is engrained in our minds. It’s how we socialize our children to be good people. You do good, you get good. You do bad, you get bad.
Now, let’s say we’re victimized. It’s difficult accepting that people are conned, duped, manipulated, taken advantage of, and betrayed. Instead of tolerating the truth that life is unfair and anyone can be victimized at any time, we blame the victim. If we can attribute bad consequences to bad thoughts, then all we have to do is think positively and we’re safe.
There’s an added plus to The Secret, too: people aren’t obligated to empathize with anyone threatening their ‘false’ reality. That would be anyone reminding them that life is unfair; that justice is a never-ending battle; that people don’t get what they deserved.
Anyone who is suffering, hurt, wounded, or depressed, threatens positivity with negativity. Those folks are royally dismissed instead of the egotist dismissing their egotism. That way, they remain warm and cozy and self-righteous in their non-judgmental judgments.
If you wanna make a buck, appeal to people’s narcissism.
Telling people, “You aren’t smart, and you are limited, and there’s nothing special about you!” won’t finance an empire or buy a mansion in Beverly Hills. So the way to manipulate people’s insecurity is to tell them they’re SMART. Elite. Beautiful. That their brains have unlimited powers, yet to be realized. Tell people they are Unique and Special and they’ll fork over every cent they have---especially when we’re reminded of our insignificance everyday.
If we have forsaken intimate relationships for a materialistic lifestyle, our insignificance will not be remedied by accumulating more possessions. Relationships give meaning and purpose to life, satisfying our need to be special…to someone. Accumulating friends is a far better way to counter narcissism than accumulating riches, or followers.
In our Self-oriented society today however, relationships have become disposable. No wonder we are on a never-ending quest to satisfy emotional needs with material accumulation! We don’t even know how to search for happiness.
How Do We Spell Success in the 21st century? $$, $$, And more $$$$$
We want to believe that good is rewarded and evil is punished. In a less materialistic world, financial statements don’t measure success nor are they rewards for ‘right’ behavior. We seem to be confused about what brings satisfaction in our mediated culture. Relationships have become less about personal commitment and more about making us feel good about ourselves. The more expendable relationships become, (people are mere stepping stones to the narcissist’s self-actualization), the less meaning human virtues have, as rewards.
“Virtues? What’s a virtue? Give me a Mercedes!”
This is the opposite of self-actualization. Let’s call it what it is and stop pretending it’s spiritual development. This is a crash course for egotism.
The Secret de-politicizes social inequities: disenfranchising the many while favoring the few.
In an attempt to restore power and control in our lives (and therefore, stability and predictability), we turn to The Self as the answer for problems that are socially generated. You cannot cure social ills by isolating in your head. You cannot eradicate social injustice by wishing it away. Or turning your eyes from the suffering and poor because they make you feel guilty or bad about your self!
What concerns me about thought systems like The Secret, is that they erode social cohesion. Anyone who is troubled or suffering is dismissed as ‘negative’. Instead of looking externally, we are focused on our own thoughts, implicitly blaming people for social ills and protecting ourselves behind a wall of unhealthy psychological defenses.
You wanna make yourself really sick in the head? Only be friends with people who make you feel good.
“The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure,”
Erich Fromm writes, “but to be able to tolerate insecurity.”
The Situation of Insecurity
During times of social change, financial stress, global wars, global warming, global inequities, erosion of traditional institutions providing continuity in our lives, volcanoes, hurricanes, earthquakes……human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria; well, people seek answers. We attempt to restore a sense of power and control in our lives because we feel insecure and powerless as individuals. The bigger the world gets, the smaller we become. And that feels lousy. Terrifying, even.
During vulnerable situations, we are susceptible to manipulation by those who appear to have answers to our uncertainty. Especially self-anointed gurus who benefit financially by claiming their successes are the result of ‘positive thoughts’. You can’t challenge their assertions unless you were a little genie sitting inside their heads, recording their thoughts before and after achieving success. They persuade us to trust that their mental prowess as the magnet attracting money and fame, though if we forced a lobotomy on some of those folks, we’d likely find a skull filled with metal; but that’s only a hypothesis.
One thing that can be said about narcissists, though: they diminish other people’s contributions and attribute success to themselves. What we don’t hear from these highly successful people is gracious credit to the little people supporting their rise in the pecking order. The opportunities they had (and other people didn't) remain unacknowledged privileges. On a NPI scale, I’d say these folks were off the scale for self-sufficiency.
This is the narcissist’s self-centeredness in action.
PLUS: Attributing success to our thoughts is much more palatable to a struggling citizenry that wants to believe they live in a meritocracy. That even though they don’t have a pot to piss in, if they keep thinking positive thoughts, the dollars will come and they too can run a multi-million dollar industry and drive fancy cars. However, people who make it to the top of the pecking order were probably willing to do things other people wouldn’t.
Now maybe you’ve been told that successful people do what other people won’t. In my definition, that means they are willing to use other people as means to their own ends. Narcissistic gurus are ego-syntonic with exploitation, objectification, and manipulation strategies: using people to serve themselves. When a guru attributes financial success to their ‘thoughts’, they are arrogantly discounting other people’s contributions. They are also blaming people for their own tragedies. Ask yourself, “Would I be willing to tell a dying cancer patient that her thoughts had caused her disease?” If not, don’t set your sights on being a new-wage guru.
Eight uncomfortable truths about The Healing Situation
“The vulnerability to influence varies,” writes Margaret Singer, “the ability to fend off persuaders is reduced when one is rushed, stressed, uncertain, lonely, indifferent, uninformed, distracted, or fatigued… Also affecting vulnerability are the status and power of the persuader…promises of unconditional love, new mental powers, and social utopia.” (Page 27, Captive Hearts, Captive Minds)
The reason I’ve been concerned about the impact of The Secret on people in crisis is because we are sitting ducks for persuasive manipulators. (Please see Resource section about the following list)
1-Overwhelming emotions diminish critical thinking. This means our gullibility and manipulability increases. We have a hard time making decisions and thinking clearly.
2-Emotional trauma isolates. Makes us feel cut off; we look for a place where we belong. The Secret pretends to be a group of intelligent people. Now there’s an elite group to pledge allegiance to! Self-deception however, is not self-actualization. Assuming we are self-sufficient leads to further isolation and mental health problems.
3-Our tolerance for ambiguity decreases. We want answers and good or right answers are preferred. We no longer trust our ability to figure life out ourselves.
4-We are disillusioned and dissatisfied with the status quo. We may be naively idealistic.
5-Our assumptions and beliefs have been called into question, or ‘shattered’. We look for another philosophy to fill the void. The more promises a particular philosophy makes, the more eager we are to suspend disbelief and 'follow'.
6-We pray for restoration of spiritual meaning in our lives. Sometimes, we find comfort in books or speeches using meaningful words like ‘love’ and ‘self-actualization’ and ‘spiritual development’ and ‘peace’. If we can read spiritual literature that takes us outside of our bodies, even for a little while, we feel better. What we don’t realize is that narcissists are using those words intentionally because they know these words have meaning for us.
The Secret manipulates people’s uncertainty in times of distress and for that reason alone, should never be considered a book about spiritual development or self-actualization.
7-We’re desperate for an escape from emotional pain, even a fleeting escape. We may be susceptible to ‘trancelike states’. When people are in psychologically vulnerable situations and searching for spiritual relief, we don’t transcend the mortal condition, we dissociate. Dissociation may predispose us to dependency on the guru to help us ‘escape a despairing reality” and therein avoid legitimate suffering (the only way to heal body and soul). We need to be cautious during periods of loss and grief by recognizing our vulnerability to feel-good gurus.
“False leaders keep people helpless.”
~a comment by Eyes_Up on WoN
8-The Secret encourages psychological regression during stressful times. Thought reform cultures like The Secret, encourage the inner child to silence the adult. Healing is similar to bouncing back and forth in a time warp. One day we feel like we’re six and the next day, we’re 150 years old in grown-up shoes facing a complex reality. Eventually, the Adult Self must take charge. Rewarding the inner child frequently ends up punishing the adult.
The message of The Secret is more like: Kill The Chauffeur with the License and Let the Kid Drive the Bus. That means lots of stops for candy and cookies and trips to Disneyland, without ever reaching the intended destination: REALITY.
(yea, yea, I know what you’re thinking: “Thank God!”)
One last thing I’d like to add is that when The Secret first appeared, I nearly retched watching You Tube videos of Genies in the Sky with piles of dollars raining on people’s heads. Good thing they used dollar bills and not gold bouillon, eh?
Violence is not allowed on You Tube.
I guess that means if you’re visualizing being rich, it’s best to think of paper currency, not bricks.
I hoped psychologists would respond with guidance for those who might be susceptible to delusional thinking, or escaping reality with unhealthy self-deception. Few articles appeared. In fact, some psychologists began saying similar things, even using new-wage gurus as examples of mental health! It appeared that critical thinking would have to come from people without a financial stake in The Secret’s popularity (or banking on getting their share of the pie).
Giving psychologists the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they assumed they could appropriate healthy aspects of The Secret and keep people on track before they went off the deep end and lost contact with reality. Or with themselves.
I’ve never found it useful to lay down with the dogs, though. Somewhere in the far distant recesses of my mind, I remember being a flea.
I am grateful to bloggers who refused to ignore the harmful effects of a victim-blaming, isolating, regressive, materialistic, narcissistic, and growth-stifling system of thought that deceived followers while aggrandizing the gurus’ narcissism. My Resource section includes a few links for those who’d like to dig a little deeper into the dark side of the bright side.
If you remember anything from my rambling, please remember this: Narcissistic gurus don’t empathize with your vulnerabilities; they capitalize. So ignore their tempting lies and Get Smart. Educate yourself. Recognize your limitations and be glad you’re okay admitting you aren’t perfect, or God, or responsible for Louisiana hurricanes on a convoluted-thinking day. Wouldn’t the world be a terrifying place if people’s ‘thoughts’ actually became ‘things’?
Be aware of the opportunists in our increasingly narcissistic society and protect yourself. Because they won’t.
As a very savvy blogger warns:
“most of us spend our lives as prey, economically and psychologically. Awareness is the key to understanding this; but once we understand it, we may transcend it, choosing, when we can, to be neither prey nor predator.” ~Stormchild
***I expanded on a brief list excerpted from Tobias and Lalich’s book, Captive Hearts, Captive Minds, pages 27-28
Steve Salerno, SHAMblog
Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbara’s Blog
CosmicConnie, Whirled Musings
Madeleine Landau Tobias and Janja Lalich, Captive hearts, Captive minds
Stormchild, Gale Warnings