Something that happens when you have a chronic condition is that many people want to give you ideas on possible treatments: diets is a big favourite (paleo, vegan, raw, gluten-free etc), alternative/complimentary treatments is another (reiki, homeopathy etc) and then there are types of exercise (especially yoga) and general lifestyle things (from cocoa before bed to moving to another country). Sometimes it’s a tentative suggestion, sometimes full-on old-school Jehovah’s Witness zeal that’s hard to refuse. I know you mean well, but I’m still not going to try it, and here’s why:
I want to get better more than anything, but…
There is no scientific proof that the thing works
This is usually the case, otherwise I’d have tried it already. Yes, there probably are people on the internet who think it’s a miracle, but it’s going to take more than that. People often think we should try everything that might possibly work, but that’s when these factors come into play:
I don’t have time
This may seem strange but people without a chronic illness don’t realise how much time it takes up. There’s time spent in flare-up, when you can’t do anything much productive. There’s time buying equipment or pain relief and maintaining and replacing your special products. Time attending appointments and chasing them up. Time getting your prescription each month. Often pain or lack of energy just makes everything take longer. And we need days off too! There often just isn’t space for attending regular sessions of yoga/acupuncture/homeopathy/reiki, especially when there’s no convincing proof that it will help us.
I don’t have the emotional energy to try it
Trying potential treatments can be really draining. You get your hopes up, sometimes you invest a fair bit of time and money, then it doesn’t work and you feel really disappointed. Imagine riding that emotional rollercoaster ten, twenty, thirty times. On top of which are the difficulties that chronic illness can bring to relationships, friendships and work. I don’t want anyone to think I don’t care about cures, to think I’m enjoying my situation, but please understand I can’t try every suggestion!
It’s too impractical
This is often the case with diets where you’re already on a very restricted diet (or even tube feeding) and for suggestions such as moving abroad or going abroad for treatment, or a treatment suggestion that you know will be extremely painful or exhausting for you, again without proven effects.
I can’t afford it
I already spend a fair bit on medicinal products and equipment. When I went through a more hippy phase, I spent a fortune on herbs and tinctures as well as alternative treatments. The wallet can only take so much.
I’ve tried it already
And it didn’t work. Awkward, since you’ve just told me how wonderful it is. Now I feel like a failure.
So should I just keep my suggestions to myself?
Unless I’ve expressed an interest in trying new treatments, and unless you’re my doctor, yes please. From what I gather, most of us with a chronic condition have the internet and have googled our condition or symptoms many a time. If we want to try a new treatment or diet and we have the time, money and emotional energy, we will.
I know people are being nice and trying to be helpful, but sometimes it can really take over conversations, which are already often about our health.
If you found this post interesting, check out these:
I often get “hits” on this site from people searching for information relating to Louise Hay. One of my most frequently viewed posts is about her claim that you can heal all diseases by using affirmations.
The post asks why Louise Hay — despite possessing a “miracle cure” for every known illness — chose surgery to get rid of a few wrinkles, instead of using her own teachings. If affirmations cured her cancer (where medical science failed), then surely her affirmations can also maintain the health of cells in the epidermis — far less complicated than altering the growth cycle of cancerous cells.
But it seems it’s only her customers who have the honor of testing out her miracle cures. And there’s no evidence that she even had cancer in the first place, let alone cure it.
Since I wrote that post, a slow but regular stream of Hay’s fans…
This post is a kind of short follow-on from my first post on the law of attraction, which examines what it is and whether or not it is plausible. You can find that post here. This post addresses the argument that goes along the lines of “well, even if it’s not that scientifically plausible, isn’t it a good thing to believe in?”
Apparently “Creative visualization is a cornerstone of using the Law of Attraction” . Psychologists seem to vary on whether visualisation boards are a good thing or not . They are commonly suggested by self-help books and even at school or college courses though the Law of Attraction site goes further by suggesting spending 10-15 minutes on this every day. While it can be a good thing to visualise where you want to get to, most psychologists seem to suggest that you do need to then plan concrete steps to get you to your goal such as enrolling on courses, joining a dating site, money management etc. .
Affirmations: not always a good thing
Affirmations (another major part of the Law of attraction) can also be a double-edged sword, as research has shown that uttering affirmations that we don’t truly believe can actually reduce our self-esteem . As an aside, I will add that personally I’m a fan of affirmations but it does make sense to stick to things that either are true or that we can easily believe are true.
Being in full control of life: a good thing?
The Law of attraction suggests that “your entire future is yours to create”  . Well, how lovely. But being told life is entirely in our control can be crushing if things go wrong and we feel that it is all our fault; and even minor failings to achieve our ‘dream life’ are likely to weigh on us if we feel everything is in our control, as Alain de Botton points out here .
And how realistic is it that everything is in our control? What about earthquakes and wars, trains going off the rails and terrorist attacks?
The law of attraction tells us “Be happy, for the universe is always on our side!” Maintaining law of attraction beliefs in the face of rape, loss of your home etc. is going to require quite some mental gymnastics. And is it going to encourage us to speak up in the face of injustice or to try to reduce famine, war and abuse? Probably not, if we think that these things are happening “for a reason” or because of people thinking negatively.
“Treat The Universe Like Your Personal Supermarket”
This is one of the principles stated on the law of attraction website. Hmm. Even if it were plausible that a somewhat demented Santa figure is in charge of granting our wishes if we order them correctly, how beneficial is such a belief? Isn’t it rather self-centred? And why hasn’t anyone wished for world peace? Numerous psychologists and philosophers have pointed out that actually we are often at our happiest when serving others and when we lose the heavy sense of our personal weighty existence, be it when ‘in flow’ during a hobby, immersed in a vast landscape, star-gazing or volunteering and immersed in helping others .
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.’ 
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!).
‘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. 
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.
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.’  ‘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.’
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 . 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.”’  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 .
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 . 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.
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.
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.