Recently, I spoke to someone with anxiety disorder. He told me that anxiety was the result of cognitive distortion. Basically, the mind gets faulty messages that cause the person to overreact to a situation. According to this theory, there are eight different types of, what he called, super villains at work. The eight are the exaggerator, the control freak, the safety-first guy, the fortune teller, the name caller, the extremist, the superstition boy and the passive girl. My acquaintance explained to me what these designations meant. I found it so interesting that I even asked for a photocopy of the few pages of literature he had on him. After all, everyone lives with some degree of anxiety.
As we went through all this material together, I found a serious problem with one of his villains: the superstitious boy. According to the theory, a superstitious boy believes in magical thinking. This means that thinking about something will make it more likely to happen. This is a problem for people with anxiety because they feel anxious when they think negative thoughts. They believe that thinking awful things will make awful things happen. The literature claims that thoughts are powerless. Thoughts are just thoughts and a person can write down awful things on paper repeatedly to see that those awful things never come to pass. My acquaintance told me that his therapist even wrote down the following on the board: “I wish my husband died.” She claimed that it was a demonstration for thoughts being completely powerless. She even admitted to writing it down frequently. Basically, thoughts have no power, therefore, she could wished her husband dead all she wanted.
I was shocked listening to my acquaintance’s story of his therapist and of the theory on the superstitious boy. I did not want to negate his therapist and cause him to doubt her, but I walked away from the conversation slightly disturbed. Why? A theory behind the superstitious boy is definitely physical in nature. It is harbouring the theory of philosophical materialism that advocates a world that is strictly physical in nature. The idea is that evolution of the brain allows people to think and, therefore, thoughts are just powerless by-products in the world. They have no power. Although this is a legitimate theory, it is, nevertheless, a theory only. This is a philosophical view, not a scientific fact. It is important to note that it is not a fact because most spiritually and religiously oriented people would certainly disagree with it on at least two fronts: the metaphysical and the moral levels. These people argue that thoughts have power and this is the reason they repeat affirmations, visualizations and prayers day after day. Believing that reality is greater than the physical world, thoughts are held to be more important than the philosophical materialists attribute to it. Secondly, it is morally unacceptable to wish a person something bad. Of course, everyone gets angry and says things he or she will eventually regret. However, a woman wishing her husband dead repeatedly, even for the sake of a demonstration, may be pushing it too far. The thought that she thinks about her husband says a lot about her and has the power to, at least, shape her mental image of her husband. Thus, it is a very questionable behaviour.
Moreover, experiments have shown that thoughts do have an effect on people. For example, Richard Wiseman, explains in his book, The Luck Factor, an experiment with people based on their luck. He conducted the experiment with those who believed that they were lucky and those who believed they were not lucky. He created a newspaper with pictures in it. He asked people to count the number of pictures in a short amount of set time. He told them that if they could do it, they win money. There was catch, though. On page two, he placed a half page of advertisement that said that they could stop counting because there were 43 pictures in the newspaper. Apparently, the lucky people saw the message and stopped counting, winning the money. The unlucky people never saw the advertisement and kept going. Therefore, it seems that believing in being lucky has a definite effect on people. Of course, one has to learn to believe in being lucky. Belief is strengthened by the repeated positive thinking that one is, in fact, lucky. In short, thoughts do have power.
Maybe, I take this too seriously, but I do believe in the power of thoughts. I could never purposely repeat or write down awful things about myself or people. I do not want to negate any therapist out there, but I would not want to teach people to repeat negative thoughts to prove that they do not have power. The problem is that thoughts might just have power. I think a good compromise can be reached here, though. If someone has to write down those awful things to get rid of the anxiety, at least, I would ask them to tear the paper up at the end and ceremoniously burn it. It is a symbolic gesture that those thoughts are destroyed and gone for good. Am I crazy? Maybe. But, I tend to believe in the power of thoughts. After all, I am a hopeless optimist.
M. J. Mandoki