Magical Thinking

Dichotomous thinking and addictive thinking processes play directly into the disease of addiction. Magical thinking may simply distract or confuse issues relating to recovery. Magical thinking is that style of thinking in which you believe that you or others can control reality in magic, supernatural, unrealistic, or mysterious ways.

Some of these beliefs result from childhood trauma, when they helped you make sense out of nonsense. For example, if your alcoholic parent hit you and told you they were forced to hit you because of your behavior, you may have believed you had that kind of power. These beliefs may have enabled you to survive an impossible situation. But now they’re obsolete, more hurtful than helpful.

Magical thinking includes the belief that your attitudes or even your actions can cause reactions in the real world that are far out of reasonable proportions.

Some addicts believe that everything good (or bad) that happens to them is the direct result of their behavior, beliefs, attitudes, or efforts.


Some addicts who have a strong faith may also believe that God is their supernatural servant. You may believe that God is available to cater to your whims and desires, that if somehow you are in God’s favor, you will be granted whatever you ask.

Other faithful may not believe in God as a benign servant, but that somehow God “has it in for you,” and has nothing better to do than thwart your every plan. Even if you believe that God is making bad things happen so you can learn a spiritual lesson, it is still magical thinking.

Divine cure Believing that you can pray to God to magically remove the obsession, while you’re still drinking, bingeing, or continuing addictive behavior and not doing what you can for yourself, is magical thinking.

Faith Having faith is a traditional asset in 12-Step programs, both as a key to and a gift of recovery. But presuming that faith literally gives you magical powers is magical thinking. We have all seen people who believe that God told them to do something, that intuitively you know doesn’t sound like God talking.

Program For those without a strong faith or belief in God, we have seen how the Program itself, or other supportive people, or even the still, small voice within yourself can serve as a Higher Power. Even then, magical thinking can develop, thinking that your interpretation of the Program may be a magical thing.

Visualizations and Affirmations

There is still a place for positive thinking, visualizing what you would like to happen, and making affirmations. Suppose you have a dream — of recovery or of anything else. You can do all the footwork to make it happen. You can visualize it and repeat affirmations to adjust your attitudes. These actions can remove all mental blocks that might interfere with its coming true. Ultimately the Serenity Prayer applies here: there are some things you can do, some you can’t, and the Program or a Higher Power or Program may help you know which is which.

Step Three You might need to ask your sponsor or counselor to help you differentiate between magical thinking and Step Three, which says, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Proper use of Step Three is not magical thinking.

Gurus When you begin to believe that another person — a sponsor, a therapist, or an author — can magically cure you or heal you, this is magical thinking.

Magical thinking, see also: Attitudes, Beliefs, Control, Defenses, Delusion, Dichotomous thinking, Diet mentality, Mental aspects, Obsession, Paradoxes in addiction, Program, Step Three, Stinking thinking, Visualizations.

Updated 11 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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