A new religion is growing: belief in the law of attraction and human ‘energies’

For me, whenever I consider any religion, two big questions arise: 1. Is it plausible? and 2. Is it helpful? I think the law of attraction is a new religion that is steadily growing, largely unnoticed, and it’s about time we all had a good look at it. This post will cover ‘Is it plausible?’ and in a future post I will look at the second question.

What is the law of attraction?

The basic principle of the law of attraction is that you tell ‘the universe’ what you want in a specific way, and it will be delivered to you. In their words:

‘Visualize your message as a letter with ‘The Universe‘ printed on its envelope as an address… If you were waiting for new shoes, perhaps you would make space in your shoe rack. Likewise, make space in your life for the order that you have placed with the universe….Speak, walk, talk and breathe as if your reality has already changed for the better, and your original message will be delivered.’ [1]

It falls in a category involving a host of other beliefs such as belief in chakras and ‘energy therapies’.

A new religion

The United Kingdom has, of late, very much become the land of atheists or, at least, those who identify as having no religion (48.5% in 2014, outnumbering the 43.8% who define themselves as Christian). And yet I have become increasingly aware of a new religion, one that many might not call a religion but which I suggest should be seen as one: the law of attraction. It requires faith and something similar to prayer. It offers to its followers rich rewards. And it has a community of followers with their own online and real-life groups where they meet up and talk about using the principles of this ‘law’ in their lives (at the time of writing, on Meetup alone, law of attraction groups have over 1 million members!).

papaioannou-kostas-silhouette-group
There are over 1 million people in law of attraction groups on Meetup. Photo by Papaioannou Kostas on Unsplash.

 

‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne is a book on the Law of attraction that is, according to the book’s website, a worldwide best seller available in 50 languages with over 20 million copies in print. [2]

Its followers may well disagree with me and say ‘a religion? Oh no, it’s just another law of the universe like gravity’. But this is not very different to how followers of other religions will also tell you that God is real, a fact. The only difference is that churches don’t necessarily try to convince you God is real by reference to quantum physics (though a few probably do).

I had a message once from someone renting out rooms who thought I might like to live there. Based on me having said meditation is one of my interests, this home-owner told me that he and other persons in the house were law of attraction believers and another person there was a ‘heretic’. A jokey remark, of course, but, I think, hinting at a deeper, and more disturbing, reality.

While most religious people nowadays are aware that others may not believe in God and are usually quite discreet about their beliefs, the same can’t always be said about law of attraction followers. Those who believe that the law of attraction is a real phenomenon can say things such as “I know a great person who can really help with blocked energies”. They don’t realise that the existence of personal energies has not been proven or they assume that for some reason you will share their beliefs (e.g. because you both like meditation). I am constantly coming across law of attraction believers, and it’s time to speak out.

joel-filipe-radiating
People often assume that there is evidence that people can send out energies. Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash.

 

Scientific?

The essence of the law of attraction is as follows: ‘Whether we are doing it knowingly or unknowingly, every second of our existence, we are acting as human magnets sending out our thoughts and emotions and attracting back more of what we have put out.’ [3] ‘When we fill ourselves with negative energies and emotions such as fear, anger, sadness or general pessimism, our frequency is lowered and the universe can only expand on this, promoting greater negativity in our lives.’[4]

As with all religions, no hint of doubt in the phrasing there. But is this real science?

I have been unable to find any genuine, qualified scientist supporting the proposition that we send out different vibrations according to how we feel. And, even were that the case, it would need to be proven that such vibrations attract things to us such as new jobs, new partners, money, illness, etc.

Some refer to experiments on water: however, these are by no means accepted by the scientific community, may not have followed scientific methods, and the ‘scientist’ who carried them out is not well qualified or widely respected [5]. It is also unclear how these ‘experiments’ (where people acted in various ways towards water: really!) could prove the idea that we can send out ‘positive vibrations’ to bring us what we want.

While most of us rely on Google as our main signpost to sources of knowledge, this is not necessarily wise. The top links resulting from a Google search are, presumably, usually companies who have hired a search engine optimisation firm to get them there. Life coaches and energy medicine practitioners need you to find them in a Google search and, as a result, if you search for ‘human energies’ or such, you will find material from those who rely on such pseudoscience to make money.

Really the only major balance to all of them is https://sciencebasedmedicine.org, which clearly states ‘Scientists can detect and measure minute energies down to the subatomic level, but they have never detected a “human energy field.”’ [6] This website contains articles written by qualified scientists who expose the pseudoscience so commonly used by practitioners of ‘energy medicine’ such as reiki. While believers of the law of attraction may not also believe in energy medicine and vice versa, there is often an overlap and ultimately both rely on similar claims (e.g. that energy can be purposely sent out from our body to do things like order us new shoes or heal someone’s bad back).

Writers at the New York Times, Psychology Today and some other sources have also refuted the law of attraction [7].

sidney-perry-einstein-street-art
No qualified scientists support the existence of the law of attraction. Photo by Sidney Perry on Unsplash. 

 

But what about anecdotes where it has ‘worked’?

The law of attraction and the philosophy around it share some similarities with common sense psychology, and so may sometimes appear to work. Psychological studies have long acknowledged the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ whereby, for example, someone who is always told they are bad at maths may indeed do badly in maths exams due to their poor self-confidence [8]. Likewise those with good self-confidence will probably achieve most in life due to their willingness to try new things and their belief that their endeavours are worthwhile and will pay off. There is nothing radical about this. Believing goals are attainable is crucial to keep us motivated and determined, and believers of the law of attraction are likely to have such a belief.

Elements of the law of attraction are backed up by fact or simply obvious, such as this statement taken from thelawofattraction.com home page:

A key part of the Law of Attraction is understanding that where you place your focus can have an intense impact on what happens to you. If you spend your days wallowing in regrets about the past or fears of the future, you’ll likely see more negativity appearing, but if you look for the silver lining in every experience then you’ll soon start to see positivity surrounding you every day.

People who want to see positive change in their lives don’t need to consult the law of attraction website, books or groups. There are plenty of other sources that can help people and which don’t rely on fake science. Not only that, but there are sources of help that have been tested by eminent psychologists (such as Martin Seligman, Rick Hanson and others), unlike the law of attraction. The law of attraction can actually lead people to worse mental health, as will be discussed in my next post.

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It is useful to be confident of our abilities but we don’t need the law of attraction for that. Photo by Clarisse Meyer on Unsplash.

 

As for ‘energy medicine’, it can work by causing relaxation and stress relief and due to the placebo effect. So, yes, it may help but it may also cost people a lot of money and cause them to fail to pursue more useful (and more scientific) remedies.

What next?

Left unchallenged, these beliefs will spread. After centuries of truth-seeking and moving away from believing the earth is flat and lightning is God’s wrath, we are at risk of slipping back into superstition and investing great time and money in such beliefs. Google isn’t helping. The internet is awash with support for this theory and proper analysis is hard to find. The same is true for energy medicine. Next time you meet someone who assumes you are a believer, please show you aren’t. Please share this post, or one in the related links below, and help us keep on the path of truth and wisdom.

References

[1] http://www.thelawofattraction.com

[2] http://www.thesecret.tv/about/rhonda-byrnes-biography

[3] http://www.thelawofattraction.com/what-is-the-law-of-attraction

[4] http://www.thelawofattraction.com/how-to-raise-your-law-of-attraction-frequency/

[5] https://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/a_grain_of_truth_recreating_dr._emotos_rice_experiment (an amusing read)

[6] https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/therapeutic-touch-pseudoscience-the-tooth-fairy-strikes-again

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/26/books/review/Chabris-t.html?_r=0

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-blame-game/201609/the-truth-about-the-law-attraction

http://guardianlv.com/2014/02/the-secret-law-of-attraction-doesnt-work-heres-proof

[8]  http://users.ox.ac.uk/~sfos0060/prophecies.shtml

Related links

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/energy-medicine-noise-based-pseudoscience/

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/therapeutic-touch-pseudoscience-the-tooth-fairy-strikes-again/

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/full-of-energy/

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/complementary-alternative-medicine/Pages/complementary-alternative-medicines.aspx

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/complementary-alternative-medicine/Pages/placebo-effect.aspx

http://www.nhs.uk/news/Pages/Howtoreadarticlesabouthealthandhealthcare.aspx

 

Friendship is undervalued

We are obsessed with romantic relationships

As a society, we seem to be obsessed with romance. The majority of songs seem to be about romantic relationships or sex. A whole genre of books, Chick Lit, is devoted to romance, and romance often features as a life-enhancing situation in many other novels. And then there’s the Romcoms. Dating sites abound. And if all that weren’t enough, there’s that much-dreaded day for many singletons: Valentine’s day. No friends’ day, at least not here in the UK.

Where’s the celebration of friendship?

Where are all the homages to friendship? There’s a saying that lovers come and go, while friends remain, but there’s really little celebration of friendship in popular media. Everyone knows that friends are the ones you go when you have a broken heart; no matter how sure you are that your relationship will last forever, 42% of marriages end in divorce [1]. Who will be there for you then? Unless you’ve made the effort to nourish friendships even while juggling work and family responsibilities, the answer could be that no-one will. Even for those fortunate couples whose relationship remains strong, one day one of them will die and the other will be in certain need of supportive friends. I remember being very struck by that common regret of the dying (observed by a palliative nurse): I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends [2].

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There is a great deal of celebration of romantic love, but when do we celebrate friendship? I’d love to see more books, songs and films about friendship. Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash.

 

The best friendships are not based on selfishness

And I don’t think we should just stay in touch with our friends for selfish reasons alone. Friendship should be about a mutual bond and the willingness to go out of our way to support the other person when they need it. I worry that we are coming to view friendship in quite a selfish light; many popular internet memes encourage us to ditch our ‘negative friends’. And yet, approximately one in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives [3]. Are we expected to be constantly positive, encouraging and in agreement with our friends? Surely the occasional argument, or grumpy mood, or patch of depression is natural and part of being a good friend is to be able to resolve conflicts, not over-react to less-than-perfect behaviour and to support our friend through a difficult time. (That said, it’s another matter if your friend is routinely putting you down or acting aggressively etc. I would not suggest anyone risk their own mental or physical health for the sake of a friendship.)

Loneliness is rife

I often come across people online who have no friends, and indeed felt like I had none at various points in my life. Some might say that these are difficult or selfish people, but I think that’s unlikely. Many are people who come across great online. Many attribute the ‘disappearance’ of their friends to a decline in health, which they assume made their friends feel uncomfortable or view them as too inconvenient. Others have moved away from their university friends and are finding it impossible to make friends in their new town, and yet others attribute their lack of friends to a disability or depression. The emergence of friend-making sites such as Girlfriend Social and Together Friends is a response to the large numbers of people struggling to make new friends.

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Photo by Nick Abrams on Unsplash.

Perhaps we should not be so quick to write off old friends

I admit I now regret writing off a couple of former friendships. I’m quite slow to do… I generally cherish every friendship and don’t turn anyone away. But after two of my best friends said hurtful things, I considered our friendships over, and wonder now if I was a little hasty to do so. I’m sure I’ve also been a bit neglectful of some friendships during very busy patches of my life. I’ve also been on the receiving end of friendship neglect, and I find it very sad that people I’d gone out of my way to support in difficult times don’t value our friendship enough to maintain contact.

Friendship is a great gift, and need not be a burden

I have always thought that the gift of friendship is an easy one to bestow. A kind word and a bit of genuine listening costs nothing and need to take up much time. Grabbing lunch with someone, or dropping someone a text or email is not a momentous task, but can do a great deal to relieve someone of loneliness, provide sympathy or advice, and make them feel cared for. I think often it’s a matter of finding what works for both people, be it periodic phone calls, Whatsapp messages, Facebook etc. Even parents busy with young children can find a way to check in with old friends from time to time. When you look out for people in this way, not only do you store up people who will support you when you need it, you also help reduce mental health problems and even suicide.

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Supportive friendships are a precious thing. Photo by Kevin Gent on Unsplash.

I think parents should also not assume that friends will want to see them without their kids or partners. Often friends will accept that it’s not easy for them to continue as they did before marriage and parenthood, and will be ready to accept – or even appreciate – different types of get-togethers.

And how about some more books, music and films celebrating great friendships? Heroic, impressive, beautiful friendships. I don’t know about you, but I’m quite bored of it all being about romance.

What do you think? Is friendship undervalued? What have your experiences of friendship been? How do you stay in touch with friends? Comment below!

References

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12011714/Divorce-rate-at-lowest-level-in-40-years-after-cohabitation-revolution.html

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/01/top-five-regrets-of-the-dying

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35322354

Related links:

https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/when-friends-disappear-during-a-health-crisis/comment-page-2/?_r=0

http://princessinthetower.org/how-chronic-pain-affects-your-friendships-and-what-to-do-about-it/

http://www.tesh.com/articles/why-is-friendship-so-undervalued/

http://www.therisingblog.com/blog/2016/6/10/why-dont-i-have-friends-anymore

https://lifeinprogress290296.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/loneliness-knows-me-by-name

 

 

 

Why we shouldn’t automatically describe low libido as a ‘problem’

Guest post

There is a lot of wisdom to be found on the internet. I’ve searched about for advice on many topics, from how to clean a toaster (there were special reasons) to how to deal with commitment phobia. Occasionally, prominent views on the net annoy me quite a lot, and that is the case with the ‘low libido problem’.

Ironically, I first became aware of this view when searching about low libido in men and high libido in women. Instead of finding much about either of those things, I found hundreds of links about low libido in women, and how to ‘solve’ it. (Thankfully there seems to be more about high sex drive in women and low sex drive in men now than when I looked).

I wish to point out at this stage that I like bras, skirts and dresses and I don’t have a problem with anyone ogling a fit woman as long as ogling a fit man is ok too. I actually often find men easier to get on with, and think that masculinity has its perks. Let’s face it, I’m no Germaine Greer.

That said, I find it concerning that pretty much no-one seems to question whether low libido in a woman is a problem. Or whether high libido in men might actually be the problem… Surely this is an issue which can rightly be examined from either viewpoint.

alejandra-quiroz-unsplash-couple-kissing-in-dark
In a society obsessed by sex, no wonder low sex drive is often immediately labelled as abnormal. (This stunning photo of a kissing couple was taken by Alejandra Quiroz and posted on Unsplash.)

The medical profession talks of ‘female sexual arousal disorder’. According to webmd ‘loss of sexual desire is women’s biggest sexual problem’. NHS Choices describes it as a ‘common problem’.

Now, no one knows better than I do that a discrepancy in sex drive is quite a bummer in a relationship. In almost all of my relationships there was a discrepancy and it caused quite a few problems: frustration, uncomfortable pressure, sulking, thoughts of straying and feelings of abnormality. But I never thought that low libido is always the problem and high libido completely normal. And what is ‘high’ or ‘low’ anyway?

As far as I can gather, low libido is not a medical illness. It may occasionally be linked to another illness, but in itself it’s not physically harmful. Arguably, high libido is more of a problem because it could be linked to sexual harassment, viewing hard-core porn and distraction from work or studies. So where are the medicines for lowering sex drive? Or the articles about how to calm those raging hormones?

I can’t help thinking that this whole issue is mainly being viewed from a stereotypically male perspective which suggests that men are entitled to a certain amount of sex and, if they’re not getting it, there’s a problem with their partner. It’s an easy position to get into. When I was the one in the relationship with the higher sex drive, I have to admit I did sometimes feel like my partner had a problem and that it would be quite nice if some harmless food or medicine would give him a bit more drive.

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Relationships are about much more than sex, and sex drives change, unpredictably, over time. (Lovely photo of a couple looking on a hill with a mountain view by Anelise Phillips, taken from Unsplash).

According to sex therapist Graeme Orr, in most couples the sex drive is not equal in both partners [1].Having been both the more sexual and the less sexual partner in a relationship, I’m wary of saying that if you’re not perfectly matched, you shouldn’t be together. And I definitely don’t think that low libido is necessarily a problem: personally I find it quite frustrating having a high sex drive – it often comes with aggressive feelings, tension and stress – whereas with a lower sex drive I can concentrate much better and feel chilled out.

Surely the real issues are: Is your sex drive causing you a problem? And if so, why? Is there a discrepancy in your relationship and, if so, how can you both deal with it in a loving way, from a neutral perspective? Maybe there are ways the more sexual partner can get some release without upsetting the less sexual partner. Maybe there are some simple changes that would make sex more appealing to the less keen one? Or harmless ways to decrease one person’s appetite, as well as potentially harmless ways to increase that of the other?

Male and female sex drive is prone to change throughout our lives, not just in line with hormonal changes but also during periods of stress or depression. I can’t help feeling that the answer for any couple which isn’t perfectly ‘libido matched’ must be to approach the issue in that way, rather than there being the sense that the low libido partner has ‘a problem’.

maxime-lelievre-unsplash-woman-chilling-by-lake
There are benefits to a low sex drive, such as feeling more relaxed. (Great photo of a girl by a lake by Maxime Lelievre, from Unplash.)

And if you’re single with a low sex drive, so what? Plenty of ways to enjoy that.

I’d LOVE to know your views and experiences! Unless you’re a sexist pig – in which case, not so much.

Related links:

http://www.xojane.com/issues/womens-low-sex-drive-is-not-a-problem (love this one!)

http://www.yourtango.com/experts/debra-smouse/mans-low-sex-drive-isnt-always-sign-relationship-trouble

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/5174737/posts/15393 A poem on low libido! Love this.

http://www.sexscience.org/PDFs/Gender%20Differences%20and%20Similarities%20in%20Sexuality%20Final.pdf This seems like a good summary of research on sex drive differences between men and women (there is a lot of nonsense out there, so finding something on this topic that looks well-researched isn’t always easy!)

References:

[1] http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/can-a-realtionship-cope-with-a-difference-in-libido. See also: http://www.aarp.org/home-family/sex-intimacy/info-06-2012/steps-to-resolve-sexual-desire-differences.html