Telling Folks to ‘Manifest’ Their Way Out of Suffering is Harmful:
Though often well-intended, the idea that you can manifest, or think your way out of suffering, is toxic to many sufferers of mental health conditions.
Manifesting is symbolic of a cognitive distortion (thinking error) called thought-action fusion. This is where a person believes their thoughts will always translate into actions. This cognitive distortion increases suffering for people with anxiety and OCD who often have unwanted, repetitive, scary intrusive thoughts.
The truth is, the thoughts that pop into our brain are out of our control. We don't get to decide which thoughts pop into our head; and people with OCD have distressing thoughts that fire over and over again. Telling someone to just 'think positively' when they are struggling with this increases shame and sends the message that we are in control of what we think- and we are not.
Though we are not in control of what thoughts come to mind; we can learn how to manage ruminating about thoughts.
‘Manifesting’ is Oppressive
Imagine telling a person with a marginalized identity to think their way out of poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia or fatphobia.
Someone living in poverty comes to you and confides in you about their struggles with finances; and you tell them "Just manifest your wealth! Tell yourself every morning that you will be rich."
Or, telling someone with cancer, to manifest their health to be cancer free!
If this worked, no one would be suffering.
This doesn't work and only minimizes the person's experience. It also puts personal responsibility on the person suffering versus looking at larger systems of oppression that are creating and maintaining their suffering. Sounds like a recipe for shame and self loathing, right?
So WHY is it so popular if it doesn’t work?
There are many reasons but one that I think attracts people the most is that we all want to be in control of the issues in our lives. We all want to avoid harm, distress and negative experiences.
The idea that we can have this much power by thinking and repeating phrases is very seductive to the person that feels very out of control. Who wouldn't want this ability?
So, if you have found yourself falling into the manifesting trap, it's not your fault. This isn't to shame you. Of course we all want to be able to do this.
It is your responsibility to understand how this can be harmful though. Keep reading to hear what you can do instead of telling people to 'manifest.’
Encourage Value Directed Living Instead.
Instead of telling people to manifest in order to seek more happiness, peace and certainty, encourage 'value directed living.'
Value directed living is from Acceptance & Commitment Therapy; it is an evidence based treatment for a variety of life struggles.
Basically, you identify your top values (i.e. safety, family, love, creativity, etc.). Then you take an inventory of your current behaviors. If your behaviors are not reflective of your values; start working on changing your behaviors to reflect your values. Research shows when our behaviors are congruent with our values, we have less psychological distress and more psychological flexibility.
This practice focuses on what we CAN control: behaviors.
The goal here isn't to be free of suffering (which is impossible) but rather, it's to have a meaningful life despite suffering.
I commonly use ACT in my therapy work with clients and would be happy to help you live a more value driven life. Reach out today for a consult if this sounds like a fit for you!