Magical Thinking Outside the Box
I fall into the category of a patient who holds the erroneous belief that ones thoughts, words, or actions will cause or prevent a specific outcome in some way that defies commonly understood laws of cause and effect. Magical thinking is defined as believing that one event happens as a result of another without a plausible link of causation. In clinical psychology, magical thinking is a condition that causes the patient to experience irrational fear of performing certain acts or having certain thoughts because they assume a correlation with their acts and threatening calamities.
In other words, you believe that by doing a certain thing, or by thinking certain thoughts, that you can cause bad things to happen. The outcome can also be a good one. I have had these sorts of thoughts since my childhood, and indeed magical thinking seems to be a normal part of childhood development. (Except I never outgrew it) I think that if I focus on one thought, one idea, one sentence even, and if I repeat it over and over again, many many times, then I can cause a particular event or outcome. I also believe in performing rituals, such as turning off the lights a certain way or counting the number of times I lock the door. Locking the door in and of itself is a ritual, for after it’s been locked, I must unlock the door, open it, unlock the screen door, open that then slam it shut, lock it, then close the wooden door and lock first the deadbolt and then the door lock. I will repeat this process 3 times. Later that evening, I will have to check the door locks (repeatedly, as it’s one of my compulsions), and to check the main entrance, I must repeat the ritual of unlocking everything, opening both the wooden as well as the screen door, and start over again with the shutting and locking of the doors, again 3 times. I believe that if I don’t do these things each and every time I walk past the door, something bad will happen. I’m not sure what, but something along the lines of the boogey man getting inside the house and hurting me and my family. I have to protect my family, so I perform the locking of the doors ritual every single night. As far as magical thoughts go, I can give you an example from just the other day. I had to take my mother to the hospital for pneumonia, and I believed that if I said a certain phrase over and over again, that it would cure her. Since she wasn’t cured immediately, I believed that I’d not said the phrase a sufficient number of times, so I tried harder. I repeated my magic phrase over and over as I walked through the hospital doors, walked up the hallway, and got on the elevator. When someone got on the elevator with me, I quit saying my phrase out loud, but continued repeating it to myself in my head. When that lady stepped off the elevator, I resumed my oral recitation. When I got to my mother’s room and found her to still be sick, I blamed it on my period of silence while riding in the elevator. I change my magic words to suit each situation, and while I don’t know how the rituals get started, I do know that I feel tremendously ill at ease if I don’t perform them. Most of the rituals which I do are far too personal and embarrassing to admit here in the blog. I will tell you that I have rituals for driving my car, which are designed to keep me safe on the road and accident-free, and I have rituals for when I am sick which involve lighting specific candles, candles whose flames I believe will shorten my illness and make me well again. Some of the rituals I perform are quite simple, such as writing a phrase on a sheet of paper over and over again. I believe that the more often I write the phrase, the more likely it is to work. I do believe these rituals and magic words will work if I can only do them properly. When they don’t work, I assume I must’ve screwed up the ritual or said the wrong words or said them an unlucky number of times. I have a conviction that thinking equates with doing. Magical thinking is characterized by lack of realistic relationship between cause and effect. Intellectually, I know that I can’t alter reality using only my thoughts…yet I believe that I can. Different parts of me hold different beliefs, and sometimes the various K’s contradict one another. In other words, not all of the me’s perform the rituals. The turning off of the lights. The counting.
Everything revolves around the number three, and I must perform each ritual a minimum of three times, or a number divisible by three. This does not apply to the TV-yes, I have rituals associated with watching television-whose volume must be turned to a certain number on the control, rather than based on the actual noise level. Also, I tune in to specific channels based upon their numbers rather than the programming, Some numbers are good-3, 6, 9, 13, 23, 27, 30, 33…I can go on and on. I just instinctively know which numbers are good and which ones are bad. My belief that the number 3 holds special powers is a strong one, so strong in fact that as an artist, I feel it is my responsibility to hide the number 3 within each of my paintings or pieces of art. I also have the number 3 represented in all of my tattoos, the ones I have and the ones I hope to get. Three is my own personal magic number. I suppose it’s common for people to believe they have a lucky number; well, I take it to the extreme. I do everything 3 times. If I enter a public restroom, I always enter the third stall. I always take the third item off the shelf at the grocery store. In every aspect of my life, the number three plays a role. I remember the first time one of my doctors brought up the subject of magical thinking. I got really paranoid, and assumed she was trying to trick me into giving up the secrets of my power. Years later, I understand that this is something that ALL of my doctors believe I engage in, but I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that it’s considered a symptom of my mental illness. It’s not a symptom, it’s a philosophy. It’s a lifestyle choice. I push the elevator button 3 times, I count the stairs as I walk up them, I avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks. Do these things make me more mentally ill? I think not. I consider all the little rituals I do to be a part of what makes me ME. It is just who I am, these are my personality traits, or quirks if you must.
I can’t explain it rationally, I just know that in my mind, I completely believe that by burning a light blue candle, I will cure my cold. That by flicking the light switch on and off 3 times, I will keep the negative energies from entering the room. Keeping bad spirits away is a huge part of my magical thinking, and many of my rituals are designed to keep negative energies away from me and my world. I’m not sure if this counts as magical thinking or if I’m just being superstitious, but I believe that spirits who exist on an alternate plane of reality come into our world and affect our lives, touch our souls. Whether these spirits are positive or negative depends upon what rituals I’ve performed that day, what mantras I’ve repeated, what thoughts I’ve had, even what colors I’m wearing. I guess that does sound irrational…but to me it’s completely rational. To me this is truth.