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Who's to blame? `The Secret' says you are

You're fat because you think `fat thoughts.' Book's positive thinking is praised. Others say it's downright dangerous.

June 25, 2007|Tara Burghart | Associated Press

CHICAGO — Want to know a secret? Thoughts of fear and powerlessness among the people who died in Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks attracted them "to being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

That's probably the most eye-popping claim associated with "The Secret," a book that tells us that the "law of attraction" -- basically "like attracts like" -- governs our universe.

"If people believe they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they have no control over outside circumstances," the book says, "those thoughts of fear, separation and powerlessness, if persistent, can attract them to being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"The Secret" is the work of Rhonda Byrne, an Australian television and film producer.

The book, which advocates the power of positive thinking, has more than 5.2 million copies in print.

A pop-culture phenomenon, it's also attracted critics who are particularly bothered by what they see as a philosophy that could dissolve into a blame-the-victim mentality, and suggest it could sway those suffering from serious illness away from medical treatment.

Others find the movement materialistic and the latest example of a propensity of wanting something for nothing.

"The condition of being overweight," the book says, for example, "was created through your thought to it. To put it in the most basic terms, if someone is overweight, it came from thinking 'fat thoughts,' whether that person was aware of it or not." The positive spin the book places on that assertion is that believers will no longer be worried of being victims of the "luck of the draw." Instead, "whatever you choose to think will become your life experience."

That whole concept is troubling, according to John Norcross, a psychologist and professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania who researches self-help books.

"Cancer victims, sexual-assault victims, holocaust victims -- they're responsible? The book is riddled with these destructive falsehoods," he said.

Such concerns seemingly have not dimmed sales. And "The Secret" has been featured on the TV shows of Larry King, Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey.

Dr. Maria Padro, a psychiatrist at St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan in New York City, believes that Americans turn to self-help books because contemporary society is stressful and there is still sometimes a stigma connected to visiting a therapist.

"I think 'The Secret' is that everyone has their own secret, and everyone has their own dream," she said. "And the book is one of the tools we can use to get it, but I don't think that it's a little magic wand."

Psychotherapist and lifestyle coach Stacy Kaiser also praised the positive thinking espoused in "The Secret" but questioned its failure to discuss action.

"People start to think that they don't have to use their free will, that they don't have to have power anymore, that they don't have to make choices," Kaiser said. "They don't realize they have to do the work."

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