Hello my fellow spoonie stargazers. There’s something I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time now. I’ve written it several times, but it’s not an easy subject, and I’ve deleted several drafts. I don’t want to shy away from it, but it might take more than one blog post to fully cover. As someone living with chronic pain and several autoimmune diseases, some of the most frustrating (and even harmful) messages I see and hear are, “just think positive!” and “you can manifest healing!” and “your negative thoughts are keeping you sick.” As a tarot reader and astrologer, I think the whole “positivity movement” and “abundance” movement is important to address. I see the words “manifest” and “abundance” thrown around heavily in tarot and astrology circles, and I’ll be quite frank: I think most of it is privileged nonsense, and I will attempt to explain why I steer clear of all of that in my practice and spirituality.
Let’s start with the whole positivity movement. I think that positive thinking does help some people deal with their illness, depression, pain, etc. But for as many people as it helps, just as many people find it useless. Here’s the thing: life has light and darkness, positivity and negativity–we live on a literally polarized planet. There is nothing any of us can do to rid our lives of negativity or darkness. It’s there, we are going to experience it, and I don’t think it’s helpful to try to banish negative thoughts from our minds. It is perfectly natural for negative thoughts to occur, and learning to observe them, let them pass, and not let them take over is much more helpful than trying to squish them down or ignore them.
When we are living with chronic pain, illness, depression, anxiety, we are going to be encountering more than average “negative” thoughts. Learning mindfulness and cognitive behavioral methods are much more effective and useful than trying (and inevitably failing) to banish negative thoughts altogether. What’s harmful about “toxic positivity?” It often leaves people dealing with these very real conditions even more isolated. When someone tells a person with Crohn’s disease to “just think positive,” it can do several things. It is a way of silencing someone when they are talking about an unpleasant reality, and it leaves the person feeling like their condition is their fault. If we could simply “think positive,” there wouldn’t be a whole self-help industry, would there? It’s fine if positive thinking works for you, but imposing it on others is silly. What works for some will not work for all.
The positivity stuff irritates me sometimes, but I can at least recognize that it helps some people cope. The abundance and manifestation movement, on the other hand, I have trouble finding anything nice to say about. Because so many astrologers, tarot readers, and healers subscribe to this philosophy, I think it’s important for me to address. These ideas have been around for a long, long time, but became more mainstream and popular around the time that book The Secret came out. The ideas in that book are complete trash, and here’s why:The notion that to lead an abundant and prosperous life, you must avoid any contact with negativity or people worse off than you is an actual concept The Secret tries to teach. The authors of that book actually encourage you not to engage in charity, not to help the houseless, etc. because doing so will attract poverty into your life. I won’t go into all of it, but I mainly want to emphasize why this philosophy is harmful to the spoonie community.
We cannot think ourselves healthy, we cannot manifest our way out of our autoimmune diseases, and we DID NOT manifest our illnesses. I cannot stress this enough: YOU DID NOT CAUSE YOUR ILLNESS, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. And this philosophy only serves to leave us feeling like it is our fault, that we somehow brought this illness upon ourselves, and we are somehow responsible for not getting better.
Try to look at it this way: do you honestly think it’s possible that a child with cancer somehow manifested it? Do you think it’s possible that starving people are just not manifesting abundance? Do you think that people with terminal illnesses somehow manifested their illness with negative thoughts? I hope most of us can agree that those are ridiculous questions. Yet there are many who would answer yes to this, ignoring the systemic and structural inequalities and injustices that exist for marginalized people.
I think a lot of well-meaning people end up saying and believing some really harmful and ridiculous shit. Perhaps for some it is because they don’t want to face certain things themselves. For some it’s a matter of privilege (of course you can manifest a successful business, for example, if you have access to things like loans and startup money that many do not). If it’s possible that I got sick just by random chance and genetics, that means it could happen to anyone. People want to believe there is something they can DO, and ultimately they want to believe that if it happened to them they could heal themselves.
The next time someone tells you to manifest healing, or manifest the funds to pay your medical bills, remember that they are probably people who are doing everything they can to escape experiencing pain and negativity (a concept called “spiritual bypassing” that is well worth looking up). Negativity, pain, and suffering are all parts of life, part of the human experience–just as much as love, joy, and pleasure are.
I’ll leave you with something I read on Brené Brown’s instagram:
My mom taught us to never look away from people’s pain.
The lesson was simple:
Don’t look away. Don’t look down.
Don’t pretend not to see hurt.
Look people in the eye.
Even when their pain is overwhelming.
And, when you’re in pain, find the people who can look you in the eye.
We need to know we’re not alone—especially when we’re hurting.
This lesson is one of the greatest gifts of my life. —Brené Brown
The next time someone makes you feel like crap with their bad advice, remember that they are shying away from pain, and you deserve to be around people who can “look you in the eye.”
Solidarity and love, love, love,
Leah R. Chatterjee