My mom recently attended a conference on emotional manipulators that addressed how to recognize them and how to help their victims recover. Knowing that the topic hit close to home for me, she shared some of the conference literature. As with everything I read about pathological characteristics, some of the points fit my ex like a glove whereas other descriptions fit him as well as two-year-old’s shoe.
But there was one section in particular that resonated, igniting understanding in the dark recesses of my mind – the role of magical thinking in emotional manipulators and in their partners.
I immediately identified several shamanistic thoughts that we both possessed in the latter years of the marriage. I only learned of his magical thoughts in the texts and email he exchanged with my mother after he left. I only became aware of my own thoughts after I obtained some distance and perspective from the end of the marriage.
Because that’s the thing about magical thinking – you don’t realize it’s an illusion until you’ve left the theater.
His Magical Thinking
I’ll Pay It Off
Although he never shed light on what caused the financial problems, he did reveal what his thoughts were about it over the years. Even as the debts continued to grow, he remained convinced that a bonus or a raise or some other financial windfall was just around the corner. And that if he only waited patiently enough, he would be able to pay it all off without my ever learning of the debt. Perhaps this was a rational thought in the beginning. But by the end? It would have required a winning lottery ticket.
This Is the Last Time
Accompanying the thought that a single check would put us back in the black was his belief that he had control of his behavior and that each time would be the last. He only admitted to this thought in regards to spending, but I would wager that it extended to his drinking, his affairs and possibly even the numerous lies and deceptions. This conviction that he could stop at any time (along with the evidence to the contrary) put him on a runaway train towards self-destruction.
The Impact Is Limited
His magical thoughts completely insulated him from the impact of his actions. He typed that I would “bounce back” in the letter he used to exit stage left. He announced in an email to my mom that he hoped she could meet his new wife and that she would just love his new bride. He seemed unaware of the fact that leaving me with no funds left me with no ability to care for our dogs. In his thoughts, he was throwing feathers rather than stones, leaving no ripples.
My Magical Thinking
I Can’t Live Without Him
He came into my life at a time when I felt alone. My relationship with my father, who lived across the country, was strained. I had lost a few friends to death and others to teenage transitions. He stepped in and propped me up in those moments when I wasn’t able to do it alone. At least I thought I couldn’t do it alone. And as the years went by and our connection grew, I could not imagine life without him.
There Is Safety in Years
I believed that because I knew his high school friends, stood by as he put on his last few inches of height and layered pounds on his scrawny boy-body and explored his childhood mementos with his mother, that I knew him. That there was no part of his personality or character that I was unaware of. I saw the years as a type of insurance. As though years in the past guaranteed years in the future.
If I Give Everything, I Will Not Be Left
This is another one anchored in childhood. I developed a fear of abandonment and somehow nurtured the thinking that if I gave everything, was the “perfect” wife, that I was safe from being discarded. As a result, I avoided conflict and refrained from pushing too hard or questioning too much. I gave, often not out of love, but out of fear. And martyrdom isn’t good for anybody involved.
Magical thinking is a form of self deception, stories we tell ourselves to avoid truths we would rather avoid and to create a sense of control in a life rife with insecurity. And once you understand that it is illusion, you can start see the mirrors unclouded by the smoke.
5 thoughts on “The Perils of Magical Thinking”
I can certainly relate to all of your examples. I finally learned that giving everything meant that I was left with nothing. I also learned that when I do give, it should be to someone who will cherish the gift rather than toss it away as if it is of no importance. I have been divorced for decades but reading this list was a great reminder to be ever vigilant to listen to what my heart speaks rather then be swept up in a fantasy my ear’s are believing.
I could relate completely to your last point. My story is different & does not include debt & infidelity. So the rest were not applicable. But it did give me an idea & yes helped me in some way. Thank you for this lovely eye opener!
What strikes me is the degree to which fear contributes to this phenomenon. Acceptance of the delusion that personifies magical thinking forces us to wonder if we will suffer the worst consequence of our resultant reality. Could we be propelled into a false hope in order to keep from having to face what manifests as a loss of innocence? I believe that when we defeat such fears we find the valid hope based on the recognition that there is an attainable solution that is more beneficial than the fantasy we have created.
Fear is at the root of so much that we think/do. And we’re so good at pretending that we’re not afraid that we don’t see it.