The Perils of Magical Thinking

No rational person would ever say: “I’m just so upset about the weather. I wanted it to be sunny today, and it’s raining. What can be done about this? Is it me? Am I doing something wrong? What advice can you offer me to change the weather? Somebody ought to do something about this, somehow!”

Yet, people do this all the time when it comes to the actions of other people. This is particularly common with parents of young adult kids. They believe their kids are acting in self-defeating ways. Often, they’re right, and other times they might not be. Either way: There’s nothing they can do to change it. The only rational response to concern over the actions of others is: “They are making their own choices right now. Other choices are available to them. It’s possible they will change those choices at some point. If we’re right that these choices are self-defeating, then sooner or later he or she will have to confront this fact. In all probability, he or she will make a change at that point.”

The emotional response to this rational reply is often, “That’s not enough!” If the emotional response could speak, it would say something like: “But I want more.” This is the beginning of what I call magical thinking. If your emotional response to something contains magical thinking, be aware of it — and stop it at once! Magical thinking is a waste of cognitive and mental energy. It changes nothing externally, but it does add unnecessary stress and angst to your body and mind. Magical thinking is the stuff of which dysfunctional families — indeed, entire societies  — are made.