“Magical thinking” is one type of cognitive distortion. It identifies causal relationships between two unrelated occurrences, such as stepping on a sidewalk crack, breaking someone’s back. Except you really believe it!
Two subsets of magical thinking (some say they are two separate types of cognitive distortion) are “mind reading” and “fortune telling”.
I’m going to give two real life examples of these:
Paul has been diagnosed, at various times with some overlap, with schizoaffective disorder, OCD personality disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, and generalized anxiety disorder. With medication, he is able to maintain somewhat stable, though shallow, relationships with his roommate and his therapist, although he isn’t able to work or have an intimate relationship.
Unsurprisingly, relationships are a hot-button issue for him. He longs for closeness, but doesn’t know how to achieve it. He is in a program where once a week he joins a family for dinner. During the past ten years, he’s “gone through” over twenty families.
Here’s the pattern:
First, he is excited and happy to meet his hosts, although if pressed he will admit that he believes the situation will not work out for him. Then, after three or four visits, he becomes convinced that the female partner or wife of the family secretly dislikes him. Then he engages in disruptive behavior trying to incite the male partner against his spouse. Finally, shares a variety of suspicions with the male partner or spouse. Then, he announces he always knew that the friendship was going to turn out badly.
He is “mind-reading”, where he assumes the woman doesn’t like him. He is also “fortune-telling” where he assumes the situation won’t work out. In fact, he sets up the discord in part in order to prove himself right. It is a “self-fulfilling prophecy”, another variant of magical thinking.
Whether we have a mental illness or not, we all do some of the above to at least small extent. It’s a good idea to watch out for this.
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Last reviewed: 6 Oct 2013