I’ve been accused of being naïve and I’m sure it’s true. I like to believe I think the best about people and generally believe things will work out. Problems will resolve, issues will be settled, and life will return to normalcy. I dream above the current limitations of today.
This all sounds wonderful, right? It sounds like I’m an optimist and my belief system works for me and others, right? Not so fast.
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Even as we speak, I have several warning lights on the dash of my car. Why are they on and what am I doing about them? You guessed it. Nothing. Why? Magical thinking---the belief that nothing too bad is going to happen, that all things will magically work out. I can relax when using magical thinking, imagining the situation corrected. I’ll get around to getting those warning lights checked in time before any calamity arises.
While I might be right and escape any serious problems, I might also be very, very wrong. The warning lights are there for a reason—to warn me.
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While my example thinking may be fairly benign, people use this thinking error far too often to their own demise.
Consider Cassie who is married to Sam, a problem drinker. “Problem drinker,” by the way, may be a euphemism for “alcoholic.” It may be, in fact probably is, a way for Cassie to use magical thinking, avoiding the repercussions of calling the problem something more serious than it is.
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I have been talking to Cassie for weeks about the pain she was feeling about Sam’s increasing irresponsible drinking and the impact on her and their children. We had discussed at length how she was growing increasingly frightened that he might have been unfaithful to her, had been spending more money on drinking, had increased tolerance for alcohol, and had disregarded other boundaries they had established. The warning signs had grown increasingly strong, bright and loud.
Not surprisingly, however, both Cassie and Sam found ways to silence and dim those warning signs. Sam had scolded her for worrying about him. He shifted the blame to her, saying she was worrying over nothing. Perhaps what was a bit more surprising was Cassie’s defense of him when talking with me.
“Of course, I don’t like it,” she said. “But, he tells me there is nothing to worry about, claiming it’s simply a stressful time at work and there is no harm to his stopping off for a few beers.”
“What about your fears that he could have been unfaithful?” I asked.
“He tells me it’s all in my head,” she shared. “I do tend to worry needlessly.”
“He continues to violate your agreements Cassie,” I said, increasing my confrontation.
“He promises to get better,” she said, becoming increasingly defensive.
I could see that Cassie was caught up in magical thinking and wasn’t ready to see the truth. She was caught between Sam’s protests, her own anxiety, and now my strong words.
Sam, too, was using denial and magical thinking to continue his lifestyle. He was not ready to face his downward spiral and the impact his drinking had on his marriage, health, and family life. Both Sam and Cassie were headed for disaster.
Let’s consider why they use magical thinking and what they and loved ones can do about it:
First, magical thinking is just that--magical. While there are tempting bits and pieces of truth in magical thinking, and it is so tempting to embrace it, magical thinking is overly hopeful and lacks the grounding necessary to really face problems and solve them. Many problems don’t naturally resolve themselves, but in fact need solid, firm confrontation and radical change.
Second, magical thinking leaves us vulnerable to worse problems. Ignoring the warning lights on my car clearly leaves me vulnerable to worse problems. (I’m taking my car to the shop this week, by the way!) Many problems don’t automatically disappear but become worse. Doctors, dentists, psychologists, and car mechanics, to name a few, are there for our help, waiting for us to reach out for assistance. They can help keep small problems, small.
Third, magical thinking stops us from effective problem-solving. Scripture implores us to use wisdom in our lives, not magical thinking. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God.” (James 1:5) “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) We are never to ignore problems, but rather to seek the Lord, wisdom and wise instruction.
Fourth, ending magical thinking takes work. Yes, facing magical thinking and allowing reality to come crashing in, means facing difficulty. Facing the truth sets us free, after it hurts and challenges us. After the hurt and hard work become real, we have possibilities. Once Cassie faces the hard truths about Sam’s drinking, they have the possibilities of a sober, joy-filled life that is not possible now. Facing truth requires change—after change comes hope for a new, prosperous life.
Finally, embrace healthy, grounded positive magical thinking. Scripture tells us, “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) God has allowed us to dream far above our current realities, but we must be in step with His plans for us.
Are you ready face the truth and the reality of your life and make necessary changes? Are you ready to face uncertainty in exchange for a positive, joyful future? If you would like further help, we are here for you. Please send responses to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and learn about our Personal and Marriage Intensives as well as our newly formed Subscription Group, Thrive, for women struggling from emotional abuse.
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