The Law of Attraction and Anxiety
Can the Law of Attraction be used to heal anxiety, or does it cause more anxiety than it’s worth?
The answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no.
In this article we’re going to dissect the relationship between the Law of Attraction and anxiety, and we’re also going to talk about how to get what you really want.
The Law of Attraction has been a mainstream topic ever since the movie The Secret came out in 2006, but these ideas are not new.
The concept that your thoughts can change your reality has been around as far back as Jesus and Buddha.
“What you dwell upon you become.”
“It is done unto you as you believe.”
-Jesus, Matthew 9:29
This isn’t just woo-woo, spiritual, or new-age mumbo-jumbo, either.
There are real, observable phenomena in both neurology and quantum physics that demonstrate these ideas.
And you can easily see it operating in your everyday life, too.
For example, let’s say you decide you want a cup of coffee.
So you grind the beans and boil the water and manifest your morning brew.
Now, I know this might seem too trite to really “count” as manifestation.
But when you consider all of the factors that had to come together to enable you to make and drink that coffee, you begin to see that even the smallest of life’s banalities are actually quite miraculous.
That cup of coffee started long before you even had the thought of it in your mind.
The beans were grown by far off farmers who prepared the soil, planted the seeds, set up a shaded environment, and watered the plants for 3 to 4 years (!!!) before they were even able to harvest the fruit, which then had to be processed, dried, milled, exported, and finally roasted, packaged and sold to you.
Dozens if not hundreds of people were involved in getting those coffee beans to you.
And we haven’t even talked about your mug, the water, the roasting and grinding machine makers or the transportation operators, not to mention the big bang, the sun, the water cycle, evolution…I could go on.
Meanwhile, all you have to do is decide you want a cup of coffee, and *poof*, as if by magic, it appears.
This is how the Law of Attraction is supposed to work.
You think of something, and through your focus on that thought you become aware of the circumstances that allow you to manifest it into your physical experience.
But these concepts go deeper and are often misunderstood.
And if you’re like most people, you fall into traps when trying to apply the principles of the Law of Attraction in everyday life.
So instead of getting what you want, you end up feeling anxious, frustrated, and blame yourself for not doing “enough” to attract what you want into your life.
The aim of this article is to relieve that pressure, to bring you closer to the truth, and ultimately, to teach you how to get what you really want.
With that in mind, first we’re going to clarify the basic principles of the Law of Attraction.
Then we’ll talk about what’s true, what most people get wrong, and the 4 main misunderstandings around the Law of Attraction that increase anxiety instead of alleviating it.
We’ll also discuss how to avoid the pitfalls so many people fall into when they try to manifest what they want (hint: these keep you trapped experiencing exactly what you’re trying to escape).
And finally, the thing you most want to know: How to get what you really want.
What is the Law of Attraction?
The Law of Attraction is a theory that states that whatever you believe, conscious or unconscious, becomes your reality.
On a very basic level, proponents of the Law of Attraction will tell you to think about what you want and how you’ll feel when you have it, and when you focus in this way you’ll attract the actual physical manifestation of that wish into your lived experience.
The idea is that when you think a thought, you create a vibration that attracts similar vibrations into your experience, kind of like a magnetic radio signal.
And you can know what kind of vibration you’re emitting by the way you feel.
When you feel good, you’re attracting more good-feeling experiences into your life.
When you feel bad, you’re attracting more bad-feeling experiences into your life.
The problem with this premise is that you can spend your whole life trying to feel good so that more good things will come, but if the things you want don’t manifest (and very often they don’t,) Law of Attraction believers would say it’s because you aren’t “aligned” with what you want vibrationally.
This puts all the blame on you.
Basically, it’s a snarky way of saying that if you don’t get that red Cadillac you’re dreaming about, it means you aren’t doing enough inner work to allow it to appear in your experience.
But as you can see in the coffee example, a lot of moving pieces have to come together just so for you to experience anything you experience in life.
The truth is, the moving pieces might not move the way you expect they “should” when you believe the Law of Attraction.
And at the most basic emotional level, when you believe one thing and observe something else happening in your life, you end up feeling anxious because you’re clinging to your imagination rather than acknowledging what you’re actually experiencing.
But it’s only the truth that can set you free.
The beliefs built around the Law of Attraction can cause anxiety in 3 additional ways:
1. You imagine that you are fully responsible for everything that happens to you, which makes you feel guilty and anxious when things turn out in ways you judge to be “bad”.
2. You start to fear your thoughts because you believe they will manifest in your physical reality.
3. When you try to control your thoughts and adopt a “good vibes only” attitude you actually create more negativity in your experience because you are judging painful emotions as bad.
Let’s talk about each of these individually, because they’re all important.
1. Clinging to the idea that you are in full control of your life can lead to a whole lot of anxiety.
Here’s the truth: You are not in control of what happens to you.
You’re not even in control of your thoughts, feelings, or reactions.
These are conditioned from the past, and they come up and subside just like waves in the ocean.
The only thing you ever have any control over is whether you meet the moment you’re in with acceptance or rejection.
And it’s in the way in which you meet the present moment that you change your experience in the future.
Because every time you meet your current experience with acceptance, you’re literally rewiring your neurology.
You’re strengthening the connections between nerves that make it easier for you to think, feel, and behave in gentle, peaceful, good-feeling ways in the future.
On the other hand, if you meet this moment with rejection, you’re strengthening the connections that don’t feel as good.
Every time you tell yourself that you need to change something in order to get to a future place that you imagine will be better, all you’re doing is reinforcing a sense of “not-good-enough-ness” in the neurology that steers your current lived experience.
And this means that even if and when you do manage to get what you want, those strengthened neural connections will take over and pull you right back into feeling that you want more.
This is what the Law of Attraction is really trying to get at.
But because it’s not as sexy as telling you that you can think your way into owning a Hollywood mansion, most proponents of the Law of Attraction skip over the fact that the whole point is to embrace life while you are living it.
2. Believing in the Law of Attraction leads to anxiety because you believe that your unwanted thoughts will manifest in physical reality.
This is problematic on SO may levels.
First off, thoughts do create your lived experience.
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words;
Watch your words, they become your actions;
Watch your actions, they become your habits;
Watch your habits, they become your character;
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
-Laozi, The Dao De Jing
But that doesn’t mean that if you’re afraid that the wobbly ceiling fan is going to fall on your head that it’s actually going to happen.
What it does mean is that you bring the experience of your reaction into the present moment by imagining it.
This is because your nervous system can’t tell the difference between something you’re actually experiencing versus something you’re just imagining.
And when it comes to something you’re afraid of, this means that your sympathetic nervous system’s stress response gets turned on when you think about it.
You feel alarmed as you think about that fan falling on your head, and the pain of that thought can be as bad or even more painful than the actual physical shock and impact of the fan falling on your head would be.
So you can see why the concepts behind the Law of Attraction can be extremely detrimental for people dealing with anxiety.
Because the whole reason you’re anxious at all is that you believe your thoughts are telling you the whole truth.
And if you believe your thoughts are creating your physical reality, and you can’t stop thinking them, you’re going to drive yourself mad.
Thoughts can never tell you the whole truth, because, as we’ve already talked about, they’re entirely conditioned from past experience.
And when you believe your anxious thoughts are going to come true, you end up feeling anxious not just about the contents of your thoughts, but about the fact that you can’t control your thoughts when you think you “should” be able to.
The truth is, unwanted things happen in life.
You will experience pain.
And you might not end up reaching all your goals in the way you imagined you would.
But when you meet your current experience with acceptance, which can be done by tapping into the dimension of the observer rather than the doer —the realm beyond thought— then everything softens.
Everything becomes easier.
And you realize that this moment is not just okay, it’s actually quite beautiful and miraculous, even if it’s not what your Ego has dictated that it’s “supposed” to look like.
3. Taking a “Good Vibes Only” attitude actually causes bad vibes.
When you learn about the Law of Attraction you’re told to focus all of your attention on positive feeling thoughts, and when you notice negative feeling thoughts come up you’re supposed to shift your focus back to thoughts that feel better.
The problem here is that you end up judging your negative thoughts and feelings as bad, and thereby add more force to their negativity rather than alleviating it as you’re intending to.
This counter-force of you pushing against the thoughts and feelings that you judge to be bad doesn’t make those thoughts and feelings go away.
Instead, you just end up suppressing them and thereby make the pressure inside of you even stronger.
A much more effective approach is to observe and soften the ways in which you judge your experiences.
Because when you stop pushing against what you’re thinking and feeling, the resistance lets up.
And when the resistance lets up, your thoughts and feelings are allowed to pass through.
Counterintuitively, it’s only by allowing them to be there that you’re ever able to let go of them.
This circles back to what we talked about before, about choosing how you meet the moment you’re in, even when you notice yourself judging, rejecting, reacting in ways you want to change.
When you accept and allow things to not always be the way you imagine you want them to be, that’s how you find peace, no matter what’s happening in or around you.
But be careful, because there’s another trap here.
The idea is not to soften now in hopes that it will get to a better future.
That’s still a rejection of the present moment, a judgement of not-good-enough-yet-ness.
It’s a trick of the Ego, saying “Okay, I’ll play this game. I’ll settle down and enjoy this moment, but only because I know I’ll be rewarded with an even better moment in the future.”
That’s exactly the approach that keeps you stuck.
You can, in fact, get what you want, instantly.
To quote Abraham Hicks (the primary source on which most modern Law of Attraction work is based):
“There is no desire that anyone holds for any other reason than that they believe they will feel better in the achievement of it.”
What this is saying is that what you really want isn’t a thing at all.
What you really want is the feeling.
The only reason you want anything is because you’re currently experiencing the feeling of the absence of it.
The word “want” literally means a lack, or deficiency of something.
And when you feel this absence, you’re reinforcing the neural connections that are related to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of dissatisfaction.
So what you experience as a result is more dissatisfaction, even when you do get what you think you want.
Because in truth, those peak experiences —when we finally get what we’ve been wanting—are few and far between.
They are brief, extremely pleasurable moments in time when your body gets flooded with dopamine.
Dopamine feels really, really good.
And for that brief moment you feel the satisfaction you’ve been chasing after.
But because those neural pathways of dissatisfaction have been strengthened, once the dopamine hit subsides you’re right back to where you started, feeling bad and wanting something else to come in to take that feeling away.
The problem with chasing after these peak pleasurable moments is that they’re just moments.
We want them to last forever, but they don’t.
After a little while, your body down-regulates the dopamine to come back into a state of equilibrium.
And this is a good thing, because if dopamine stays high in your system too long it can lead to anxiety, mania, insomnia, aggression, and even hallucination.
The unfortunate flip side is that these peak experiences leave you craving more. They are literally addicting.
So you end up oscillating between a few peak experiences and a state of wanting, dissatisfied, not-good-enoughness the rest of the time.
But the good news is that you can change your neurology.
In fact, it’s changing all the time, adjusting to the feedback you get from life, to try to steer you toward pleasurable experiences and away from pain.
This gets a little bit more complicated when we talk about trauma, but the basic premise is very straight forward and related to what we’ve already discussed.
Every time you think, feel, or act your are shifting the wiring in your nervous system.
And the more you think, feel, or act in a specific way, the easier it is to think, feel, and act in a similar way in the future.
So one thing you can do is practice the thoughts, feelings, and actions that you’d like to experience more of.
Some of the techniques I suggest to my patients to rewire neurology include loving-kindness meditation, present-awareness, gratitude journaling, and the WOOP method.
And when you practice techniques like these regularly, they can have a huge noticeable impact that changes your life.
Because however you show up in life does, in fact, create a ripple effect in the world.
When you speak to or even just look at another person, for example, you alter their lived experience, whether overt or subtle.
And when you show up for your life in a more loving way it doesn’t just change other people’s experience.
They, in turn, respond to you with more love which then changes your lived experience.
This is an example of what’s called Karma.
What you put out, does, indeed, come back to you.
And when you do the kind of inner work I guide my patients through, you are doing work that enables you to experience more of the feelings you want in life.
This happens on 2 levels.
First, you do the inner work to heal the relationship you have with the parts of you imagine are separate, bad, or broken.
And secondly, you do the inner work that allows you to experience more joy.
You need both.
And this is where so many people get tripped up.
You can’t just focus on what you want and expect it to appear in the future.
Sometimes it does, sure.
And it can be magical and exciting, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with these peak experiences.
But chasing after what you want is not what life —or the Law of Attraction— is actually about.
What it’s actually about is living and loving your life while you’re living it, right here, right now.
Because now is the only moment that is actually here to live.
The rest is just imagination.