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Is Manifestation Bad for Mental Health?

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Positive manifestation techniques like “Lucky Girl Syndrome” have become increasingly popular among young people. The idea of manifesting change is that we can control what happens and make our dreams come true by putting good thoughts and energy out into the world. In a nutshell, manifestation is the belief that we can change and shape our lives just by the way we think.

Whether you’re trying to manifest your dream job, a soulmate, or just a really good parking spot, manifesting (also known as the law of attraction) gives us the sense that we can create order in a world that feels chaotic and unpredictable. But is manifestation bad for mental health when wishful thinking does’t work?


Key Takeaways

  • Lucky Girl Syndrome and other forms of manifestation that are popular on social media give young people the idea that they have the power to shape events in their life.
  • While having a positive attitude and mindset can help us realize our dreams, it can be dangerous to believe that we are able to influence events that are actually outside our control.
  • Experts believe that trying to manifest change can have a significant negative impact on mental health—particularly for individuals who tend to have more negative thoughts.
  • Young adults can use optimism and intention-setting in healthy ways, while recognizing that negative feelings are natural and unavoidable.

What Is ‘Lucky Girl Syndrome’?

So-called “Lucky Girl Syndrome” is a form of manifesting that started trending around the new year in 2023 and has had millions of views on TikTok. It has been credited to 22-year-old TikTok creator Laura Galebe, who posted a TikTok about her charmed life in December, with the caption “Let’s talk about the ‘Lucky girl’ Syndrome.” Since then, thousands of young women have posted using the hashtag #luckygirlsyndrome, sharing videos and affirmations about how fortunate they are.

So what is Lucky Girl Syndrome? The idea is that by repeatedly talking about their good luck, these young women will manifest what they’re seeking, whether that’s manifesting money, a promotion, or a new relationship. They might repeat affirmations like “I am so lucky, and everything works out for me,” “The universe loves me,” or “I get everything I want.” They believe that these mantras, along with a positive mindset, can make all their desires and dreams come true for their entire life.

“Lucky Girl Syndrome appears to promote that just believing good things will happen will actually make them happen,” explains Don Grant, MA, SUDCC IV, PhD, Newport’s National Advisor of Healthy Device Management.

Does ‘Lucky Girl Syndrome’ Work?

In a word, the answer to whether “Lucky Girl Syndrome” works to control what happens around us is, unfortunately, no. Despite what Lucky Girls believe, we cannot manifest green traffic lights when we’re late to work, or make a sick relative better by doing positive affirmations. The truth is that we don’t always get everything we want, and bad things do happen to good people sometimes.

In terms of how it affects mental health, just like other forms of manifestation, Lucky Girl Syndrome has pros and cons. Trying to move away from limiting beliefs about yourself and your life is generally a good thing. But ignoring reality isn’t helpful for mental wellness. Dr. Grant explains that those who believe it does work and then find that it doesn’t deliver the outcome they desired could angry, upset, emotionally dysregulated, or self-doubting.

It’s also important for young people to remember that we don’t all share the same privileges and good fortune. Manifestation implies that everyone has the same opportunities to be “lucky.” However, that’s not the case. For example, young Black women face barriers related to systemic racism and bias that young white women do not. To suggest that we can all get where we want to go by simply using affirmations is not just wishful thinking. It also glosses over the different obstacles and inequalities we face from birth, which are not within our control.

The hard truth is that some individuals just start with stronger tools, resources, family systems, privileges, opportunities, and abilities than others. That certainly doesn’t mean that people can't overcome obstacles, but the reality is that it can be harder for them to do so without the same baseline assets. It also could be argued that believing in luck is an entitled luxury for the privileged.

Don Grant, MA, SUDCC IV, PhD
Newport's National Advisor of Healthy Device Management

Is Manifestation Bad or Good?

There’s nothing wrong with having a positive attitude and strong personal beliefs about what you want in life. But social media has taken the concept of positive manifestation to extremes, from the general to the super specific. In addition to Lucky Girl Syndrome, you can find hundreds of videos on other manifesting techniques, as well as particular affirmations that will supposedly make your dreams come true. Fans of a particular music artist may work to try to manifest a new album from their fave. On TikTok, teen girls practice a kind of manifestation called “scripting,” which involves writing down a wish again and again—for example, for a crush to finally text them back.

But is manifestation helping or hurting young people? It’s true that positive thinking can help young adults feel more empowered and optimistic. However, the concept of manifesting change through positive thoughts also has a troubling side. If good things don’t happen to us despite our attempts to manifest them, does that mean our thoughts are “wrong”? What if we have scary thoughts and sometimes focus on the worst possible outcome? Does that mean we’re making bad stuff come true?

Is Manifesting Real?

Is manifestation real? Does manifestation work, and if so, how does manifesting work? People who believe in manifestation, also referred to as the law of attraction, say that it is supported by principles from quantum physics about energy and vibration. They maintain that manifestation works because our thoughts and feelings have a particular vibration. Hence, when we send them into the universe, the same vibrations come back to us—making our desires into reality. The idea is sometimes summed up as “Like attracts like.” However, there is no scientific research validating manifestation techniques.

While theories of positive manifestation have been around since the 19th century, the best-selling 2006 book The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne, was one of the first publications to bring this theory into the modern mainstream. Byrne’s foundational principle was “All thoughts turn into things eventually.”

From there, the law of attraction has taken many different forms. Some methods for manifesting change involve a set of specific directions, such as repeating something 33 times. Others focus on visualization, sound frequency, or sets of numbers that supposedly have special power.

But is manifesting real? The answer, according to scientists and mental health experts, is no. Positive manifestation is what’s known as pseudoscience—it sounds a little like science, but it’s not. Yes, our thoughts can change how we feel and how we behave, but they can’t control what happens outside of us.

It’s not hard to see why people like the idea of positive manifestation. As Rebecca Jennings writes in her Vox article on understanding the law of attraction, authors like Byrne “offer a portrait of the world that is extraordinarily alluring, one where the only obstacle to achieving every dream we might have is to focus very hard on it, as though pretending like we’re already gorgeous, successful, deliriously happy human beings will make it real.”

The ability to take control of our lives through learning how to manifest positive outcomes can be particularly appealing during difficult times. So it’s not surprising that in hard moments, when we don’t know what to do, we turn to magical thinking. For example, between April and July of 2020, a period when people were feeling particularly powerless and helpless, Google searches for the word “manifesting” increased by 669 percent.

Is Manifesting Dangerous for Your Mental Health?

So, overall, is manifestation good for us, or is manifestation bad for us? Experts believe that focusing on manifesting may actually harm us more than it helps. Believing we have control over things we don’t can shift our way of seeing ourselves and the world in unhealthy ways. Trying to manifest change—and failing—can make people feel worse. That’s particularly true of people who tend to have more negative feelings and thoughts, including those who struggle with anxiety, depression, or OCD.

The psychological term “thought-action fusion” is very similar to the concept of manifesting change. It refers to the belief that thoughts and actions are linked, and that thoughts can cause things to happen. Research shows that thought-action fusion is a risk factor for anxiety as well as other issues, including OCD, depression, eating disorders, and psychotic disorders. In fact, some experts believe that manifestation behaviors and thoughts can trigger mental health conditions even in people with no previous diagnosis.

The more positively people dream about the future, the better they feel at the moment. People relax and their blood pressure goes down. But you need the energy to implement your wishes, and over time, they actually get more depressed, partly because they’re putting in less effort and have less success.

Gabriele Oettingen
author of Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation

The Link Between Manifesting and Mental Health Issues

Below are some of the associations between the law of attraction and mental health conditions that can make manifestation bad for well-being.

Toxic positivity

Attempting to stay positive all the time and focus only on positive thoughts can invalidate your true feelings, which usually include negative emotions and thoughts as well as positive thinking. Suppressing painful or difficult feelings and thoughts actually leads to an increase in negative thinking, which in turn can exacerbate or catalyze mental health issues.

Self-blame

Positive manifestation teaches us that we are entirely in control of what happens in our lives. Therefore, if something bad happens, it must be our fault. This just isn’t true. While personal responsibility is real, we cannot control everything that happens to us. And blaming ourselves for things that don’t work out the way we wanted them to just makes us feel worse. A lack of self-compassion is correlated with poor mental health.

Aggravated OCD symptoms

Manifestation and OCD are a particularly bad combination. Studies show that people with OCD are more likely to believe that having negative emotions and negative thoughts will make something negative happen. As a result, they use rituals and compulsive behaviors as ways to ward off these bad things.

Believing that our thoughts are truth

If we think that we’re being judged by others, that no one loves us, or that bad things will always happen to us, the law of attraction tells us that these things are true. This belief can make social anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues worse.

A set-up for failure

The law of attraction teaches that we can achieve our desires and dreams without taking concrete and practical steps to get there. This magical thinking sets us up for failure and disappointment, and can contribute to poor self-esteem, which is an underlying cause of mental health conditions.

Can Being Positive Make You Happier?

Yes, having a positive attitude and focusing on the positive can be helpful—as long as we also recognize that having bad thoughts doesn’t mean that bad things will happen. The reality is that we all have negative thoughts and emotions sometimes. We can acknowledge and accept those thoughts without dwelling on them. In fact, when we stop pushing away “bad” thoughts, it’s actually easier to embrace the good ones.

Will focusing on the positive help you reach your goals and dreams and have a better life? Research shows that having a positive affect—in other words, frequently experiencing positive emotions—is associated with success in various aspects of life, including work, health, and relationships. In other words, happy people may experience more good things in life. But it’s also possible that happy people naturally tend to focus on the good things around them. They’re “creating” their positive experiences in the sense that they are noticing and appreciating them.

Positive psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, describes it like this: “When you think of all you can be grateful for, when you take stock, you feel better. When you feel better, you become more open to—and are more likely to notice and pursue—positive experiences. You then have more to be grateful for, which in turn improves the quality of your life, and so on. You can begin this positive spiral of happiness at any moment by choosing to reflect on the things for which you are grateful. When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.”

Using Intentions to Move Toward Positive Outcomes

Rather than using pseudoscientific methods of manifesting change, we can make positive shifts by using the power of intention. Intentions can help us focus on who we want to be (our future self), how we want to spend our time, and what we want to offer to the world. When we craft intentions, it helps us zero in on what we want more of in our life. Moreover, positive intentions can help us take action with self-compassion rather than the sense of pressure that positive manifestation creates.

“Intentions set the stage for positive growth and change, because we’re making a choice to pay attention to something we deem worthy,” says Kristin Wilson, MA, LPC, CCTP, Newport’s Chief Experience Officer.

4 Steps to Replace Manifestation with Positive Action

Here’s how you can use positive intention setting to replace dangerous manifestation techniques with positive forward movement.

1. Clarify your intentions

To be intentional, ask yourself what you want to cultivate in your life. What experiences or qualities do you want to bring into each day? What routines do you want to establish? You might use a vision board to help clarify your intentions.

2. Create simple statements

Once you’ve clarified your intentions, phrase them not as goals but as positive statements that encapsulate what you want to create. State your intentions in the present tense, and make them realistic—something you have control over and can actually achieve. For example:

Goal: To exercise more
Intention: “I intend to move my body to build strength.”

Goal: To be more optimistic
Intention: “I intend to notice more of what’s good in my life.”

Goal: To get a better job
Intention: “I intend to find work I love.”

3. Set actionable steps

Now focus on how you can incorporate your intention into your daily life. You might want to start with just one intention, so you can focus your energy in a single direction to maximize your chances of success. Think about what choices you will make to support your intention. What are the next steps that will take you closer to realizing your intention? What healthy habits and practices can you build into your days to support your intention?

For example, if your intention is to exercise more, you might recruit a friend to take hikes with, or join a gym. If your intention is to get a better job, you might set a time every week to search online for open positions in your area. If your intention is to be more optimistic, you could start a gratitude journal, which involves writing about the good things that happened to you that day.

4. Keep your intention front of mind

Write down your intention and put it where you can read it throughout the day as a reminder. Return to it regularly to reconnect with the meaning and motivation behind it. If you have a daily meditation practice, you might use some of that time to focus on your intention.

When to Seek Mental Health Treatment

In summary, is manifestation bad? For young adults who are struggling with depression, anxiety, OCD, or social phobias, positive manifestation can actually be harmful. Focusing on how to manifest positive outcomes can actually make mental health conditions worse or catalyze feelings of anxiety and depression. In these cases, it’s essential to seek treatment as soon as possible rather than allowing mental health issues to get worse.

At Newport Institute, our whole-person approach to care guides young adults to uncover and heal underlying trauma and attachment wounds. Our personalized treatment plans for each client incorporate a variety of evidence-based modalities that support young adults to enhance well-being in every area of their life. We conduct ongoing research on our outcomes, which consistently demonstrate the significant positive impact of our programming on measures of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and well-being.

Contact us today to learn more and get started on the path to healing.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is manifesting dangerous?
  • How do you attract what you want?
  • What is an example of manifesting?
Sources

Neuroimage Clin. 2014; 4: 112–121.

J Nerv Ment Dis. 2013 May; 201(5): 407–413.

Psych Bull. 2005; 131(6); 803–855.

Behav Res Ther. 2001 Jul;39(7):765–76.

Mental Health / January 27, 2023

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