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

Crash in Langley slows westbound traffic on Highway 1

Lanes have recently been cleared but cars are backed up past Bradner Road

IN PHOTOS: Remembrance Day ceremonies in Chilliwack

Videos and images from both the downtown Chilliwack and Vedder cenotaphs on Remembrance Day

Vancouver tribute band honours Tom Petty in Chilliwack Cultural Centre show

Perfectly Petty, led by Canadian tribute artist Dave Danylchuk, is at the Cultural Centre Nov. 22

Chilliwack Cultural Centre show combines Star Wars with burlesque

‘Star Wars Burlesque: A Nude Hope’ shows that the fight for the galaxy has never been this fun

Chilliwack Chiefs snap losing skid with win over Prince George

The Chiefs beat the Spruce Kings 4-1 in a Saturday night BCHL battle at the Chilliwack Coliseum.

VIDEO: Don Cherry says he was fired, not sorry for ‘Coach’s Corner’ poppy rant

Cherry denies he was singling out visible minorities with his comments

Report predicts drug resistance likely to kill 400,000 Canadians by 2050

This increase is expected to cost Canada 396,000 lives, $120 billion in hospital expenses

Sportsnet fires Don Cherry after negative comments about immigrants

Don Cherry had said immigrants don’t wear poppies like other Canadians do

Trudeau’s new cabinet: Gender parity because it’s 2019? Or due to competence?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will soon appoint his new cabinet

Coquihalla drivers urged to be careful amid freezing rain alert

Special weather statement in effect for highways between Hope, Merritt, Kamloops and Kelowna

Canada among three G20 countries least likely to hit emissions targets

It says Canada, South Korea and Australia are the farthest off

Conservatives’ Scheer wants Trudeau to open Parliament Nov. 25

That’s five days after Justin Trudeau is scheduled to swear in a new cabinet

14 SeaBus cancellations, free rides for veterans from TransLink on Remembrance Day

Free rides also available for current Armed Forces members, first responders

Last remaining Centurion tank from the Korean War makes its journey ‘home’ to B.C.

Tank arrives in B.C. the day before Remembrance Day after a more than 4,500-kilometre transfer

Most Read