Perspectives: ‘Superstition is magical thinking’

Although the prevalence of social media may lead us to think there is not much left in life that is private, psychologists and counsellors know that we all have secrets and schemas to which we alone are privy.

Although the prevalence of social media may lead us to think there is not much left in life that is private, psychologists and counsellors know that we all have secrets and schemas to which we alone are privy.

In fact, we know that much of our inner life may be outside of even our own awareness. With these thoughts in mind I invite you to consider the second of the cognitive distortions my colleagues and I will be reviewing in this column over the summer – “superstitious thinking”. This follows on Eryn Wicker’s column about the cognitive distortion named “fortune telling”. Remember that cognitive distortions are like a set of lenses through which we filter events.

Here is a common example of superstitious thinking at work. A client who has suffered many set- backs and adversities starts having things go right for a change. People congratulate her. Rather than bask in success this praise feels uncomfortable. Why? Because her superstitious thinking tells her “if things go too good, I just know something awful will follow.” This is akin to thinking that bad things come in threes.

I remember a client telling me that he asked his dad a question: “When are we going to Disneyland?” In response his dad became sombre, took him aside and said “son, your mom and I are getting a divorce. There won’t be any Disneyland.” For years this client thought, “if only I hadn’t asked about Disneyland.” To his child’s mind, asking  jinxed the family.

Superstition is essentially magical thinking. The young men in my family were telling me about all the hockey stars that have unusual rituals, essentially superstitions. Don’t shave during playoffs is an example. Is there some real evidence that not shaving contributes to success? Do the Stanley Cup winners have more fulsome beards? Not that I know of. These ideas though, are deeply ingrained in our culture. Certain numbers are bad luck, yes? Certain numbers are lucky numbers.

It is no surprise that so many of us have superstitions. Perhaps most of them are harmless. As children we draw conclusions on limited evidence and these habits of mind follow us into adulthood. These are abetted by a culture that supports the notion of “luck” without helping us to understand chance, probability and the concept of randomness.

Our adult brains know that things happen for a reason. Sometimes we can’t understand but most mysteries have explanations.  We know that life guided by superstitions is a hallmark of less developed and less well educated cultures. So what are we to do?

First, screen your own attributions. An easy test is to ask yourself, when things go wrong do you look for rational reasons or do you think “I just knew this would happen”. If you really knew it was going to happen, why didn’t you do something about it? Superstition presents the luxury of not taking responsibility.

Second, we need to look at how we talk to children about adversity and good fortune. Most of us will, over a lifetime have some adversity and unfairness.  Some will have more than others. It doesn’t mean one is jinxed and another is destined to privilege. Starting from a young age children can be taught to look for rational explanations and to understand cause and effect. This leaves them less prone to “make up” reasons, which is essentially the province of superstition.

 

Dr. Rob Lees, R.Psych is the Community Psychologist for the Ministry for Children and Family Development in Chilliwack.

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack

Family Day weekend powwow a colourful, vivid celebration of Indigenous culture

How much does your city spend per person on snow removal?

Black Press Media compares 2018 ice and snow removal budgets of various Lower Mainland communities

Lucas Mannes and Calgary Dinos through to Canada West basketball semi-finals

The GW Graham grad helped his Dinos drop the Winnipeg Wesmen in a playoff series last weekend.

B.C. BUDGET: Surplus $374 million after bailouts of BC Hydro, ICBC

Growth projected stronger in 2020, Finance Minister Carole James says

Chilliwack Chiefs end BCHL regular season with meaningless road trip

The regular season champs travel to Prince George this weekend with nothing on the line.

VIDEO: 8 things you need to know about the 2019 B.C. budget

Surplus of $247 million with spending on children, affordability and infrastructure

‘Bullet missed me by an inch’: Man recounts friend’s killing at Kamloops hotel

Penticton man witnessed Summerland resident Rex Gill’s murder in Kamloops

B.C. BUDGET: Income assistance raise still leaves many below poverty line

$50 per month increase included in funding for poverty and homelessness reduction

B.C. BUDGET: Indigenous communities promised billions from gambling

Extended family caregiver pay up 75 per cent to keep kids with relatives

B.C. BUDGET: New benefit increases family tax credits up to 96 per cent

BC Child Opportunity Benefit part of province’s efforts to reduce child poverty

B.C. BUDGET: Carbon tax boosts low-income credits, electric vehicle subsidies

Homeowners can get up to $14,000 for heating, insulation upgrades

B.C. man survives heart attack thanks to Facebook

A Princeton man suffered a heart attack while at an isolated property with no cell service

Abbotsford man sues Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party over trademark

Satinder Dhillon filed application for trademark same day Maxime Bernier announced the new party

New trial ordered over banning whales, dolphins at Vancouver aquarium

Park board’s appeal reverses previous decision that found it had no right to implement a ban

Most Read