Magical Thinking


Looking for supernatural connections between external events and one’s own thoughts, words and actions.

Not-So-Super Superstitions

Magical thinking is common among all kinds of people, from those with religious beliefs through to those who look for ‘omens’ in common events.

Children commonly go through a magical thinking stage from toddlerhood through to young adulthood, where they observe a coincidence between their own actions and events around them, and make-believe that a supernatural connection exists.

Adults often do the same thing, forming correlations in their mind between things they may say, wear, eat, or do and external events, and these may eventually become superstitions, such as ‘my lucky T-shirt’, ‘my lucky numbers’, or ‘black cats are always a bad sign’.

Magical Thinking is not just a behavior confined to people with Personality Disorders. It is also common for loved ones of those who suffer from Personality Disorders to turn to magical thinking as a way to convince themselves they have some control over a situation which, in reality, they have little or no control over.

Magical thinking is quite common in situations where people have little real control over their circumstances, as it can seem to reduce feelings of fear, helplessness and powerlessness.

Because people with Personality Disorders often experience little control over their own internal feelings and moods, and are often willing to compromise their own knowledge of objective facts in an attempt to soothe or reconcile these feelings, magical thinking, superstition and extreme religious fundamentalism can sometimes become a strong influence in how they understand and interact with the world.

What it Looks Like

  • An athlete thinks wearing a certain piece of clothing will ensure victory.
  • A woman believes walking on a certain side of the street will bring personal misfortune.
  • A man believes his dreams predict the future or give him insight into the intentions of others.
  • A person believes their personal wellbeing or fortune is attributed to a religious observance.
  • A mother believes their child will get sick if they do not perform a specific bath time ritual.

How it Feels

Unless you share their superstitions or beliefs, living with someone who engages in magical thinking can leave you feeling frustrated and powerless. It’s almost impossible to compete with an invisible force or deity who is unaccountable yet leaves you to deal with the consequences of their ‘actions’.

Learning to Cope

It’s OK to compromise in order to live in harmony with someone who shares a slightly different set of beliefs than you do. We all have to live and let live.

However, it is also important to keep in mind the 51% Rule and make sure your own physical, emotional and spiritual needs are going to be met and not be sacrificed on someone else’s altar.

What NOT to Do

  • Don’t argue or try to use logical arguments.
  • Don’t neglect your own needs and beliefs or compromise your own principles.
  • Don’t stay in an unsafe situation.
  • Don’t try to control the other person’s beliefs.

What TO Do

  • Be honest with yourself and honor your own beliefs.
  • Take an inventory of your own core physical, emotional and spiritual needs and develop a concrete plan to see that they are going to be met.
  • Take stock of the other person’s wants and needs and decide in advance what you are willing to compromise and what you are not.
  • Spend time with wise and kind people who encourage and nurture you.
  • Learn what you can about personality disorders and discover which coping strategies work and which don’t.

Related Personality Disorders: