The Dark Side of Manifesting!

What I’m writing about today is controversial, I know. Some people won’t want to hear it, but I can’t stay silent on this issue any longer. I’m here today to talk about the dark side of manifesting.

If you read my most recent article on this site, you know that I’m a believer in the notion that our thoughts create our reality. I am utterly convinced that we can create the life of our dreams if we believe first that it’s possible. I hold no contention there, but I get concerned sometimes – when we talk about things like manifesting or the tools of positive psychology – that people can get confused or take things too far. I worry for the people who beat themselves up for not feeling positive all the time.

What I’m primarily talking about here is the distinction between believing that the future you desire is possible, versus telling yourself that reality as it currently stands is different than what it truly is. What I’m talking about is the notion that if you feel depressed, and you say out loud that you’re depressed, that it’s an “affirmation” and that you’re “manifesting more depression.”

I’m going to cut it straight here: That kind of messaging is dangerous.

For those of you who you have been on the path of personal growth for a while, you may have perceived a tension between the type of thinking that I just described above, and a Buddhist or a mindfulness-based approach that is more oriented towards present moment awareness and an acknowledgment of what is. Perhaps you’ve you even wondered how to reconcile these two contradictory teachings, and the answer is in the balance. It’s one thing to acknowledge our current circumstances for what they really are and to believe that we can change them, and it’s entirely another to tell ourselves that our present-day reality is different than what it really is. The first is defined by practical optimism, the latter by an espousal of delusion.

More than once I’ve had people describe to me very difficult circumstances that they’ve gone through, and the sadness or anger that they’ve felt has only been compounded by the belief that it’s their fault that they have those feelings – that they’re weak or a failure for experiencing the logical products of trauma or heart break. To be frank, the worst kind of baggage that we can give ourselves is the added layer of bullshit that comes with the thought, “I know I should stay positive, but…”

Because here’s the catch: Feelings, when they’re denied, have an uncanny way of coming out the back door. When we feel hurt, or angry, and refuse to acknowledge it because we should “always be positive,” we’re just stuffing our feelings, and that only gives them power. Hell hath no fury like a feeling denied.

But change can be made, and peace can be achieved, the moment we lay that burden down by acknowledging the heaviness that we carry, by letting go of the belief that we’re somehow deficient for experiencing the full range of human emotion.

Telling ourselves that we feel something other than what we truly feel is never a good idea, because it’s a denial of reality. Furthermore, we can’t fix a problem that we don’t even acknowledge exists. If we can sit with our truth, however, and acknowledge our life for what it is, then we can use our emotions as information. It is then that we possess the power to be fully authentic human beings, and to create what it is that we really want with our lives.

From that place, just imagine the power of what you could manifest.

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Dr. Leslie Carr is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice (PSY 25306).  She works in San Francisco and via Skype.

  • Jolanda

    This is a good post! However, when I think about Buddhism, I think about: acceptance of suffering, not denial of suffering. To me, a Buddhist would never deny the pain, but accept it, deal with it and then (when the time is right) move on. Its more about not identifying yourself with the past or with a trauma for the rest of your life, instead of pretending it was never there. 

    • DrLeslieCarr

      Hi Jolanda,

      Yes – my sentiments exactly.  We see eye to eye on that one.  Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂


  • Love this!  It really is a tricky thing, manifesting.  I can honestly say I agree with both sides of the coin.  I DO believe your thoughts become reality and you CAN think your way to better (or worse) feelings and emotions.  In fact, I talked about that in my own blog post today (  I’ve seen it work with me time and time again.  Wayne Dyer, who’s a huge teacher of mine, professes it in his many books. 

    But then comes, as you said, the flip side.  When is “thinking positive thoughts” ignoring your current feelings?  How do you know when to let something go, or just let it be, and choose to think happy thoughts, and therefore BE happy in the face of whatever it is.  As in, not let it get you down.  OR when do you face something, walk up to it, point it out, talk about it, and “work through it?”  I don’t know. 

    When do you say, “I know this situation/person causes me stress and anxiety, therefore I’m going to CHOOSE to let it be what it is, and live my life focusing on the good stuff, and stay as far away from this person/situation as I can” versus putting yourself IN the trenches over and over, in an attempt to “work through” what’s causing you pain and stress?

    That’s a life question I’m still wondering and dealing with myself.  Any thoughts?   

    • Drlesliecarr

      Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for your comment.  Yes – I do agree that when we feel good we appear to attract more stuff that feels good, but I have a sneaking suspicion that part of how that works is actually like this:

      Life is highly subjective and open to interpretation:  When we feel genuine gratitude for what we have (despite what we “don’t) we tend to feel joy regarding what we’re grateful for.  When we make that a practice, we cultivate more gratitude, and more joy.  The glass is half full as it were.

      This, however, is VERY different from denying or repressing that which is challenging, difficult, or sad in our lives.

      I believe that we can do both of these things, at the same time even, but only if we have the courage to look at our situations honestly and embrace both the good and the bad, the light and the dark, etc.

      I hope that helps 🙂

    • Liabaldasano

      Hi Sarah,
      I have struggled with this also.  I think the idea is that when a person/situation causes the stress and anxiety, rather than choosing to turn away from it and focus on the good stuff, to examine what it is about that person or situation that triggers you, and why.  In exploring that, and potentially freeing yourself through understanding, compassion and non-judgment for yourself, you heal. Therefore you will no longer have to choose to focus elsewhere, because  you have released the power it has over you.  Staying away from someone may be a valid response, but if you carry the feelings associated, you will only sunconsciously seek/attract another similar situation until you conquer those feelings.  The positive thought/choice can be that you have the power to heal it, not succumb to being a victim of it.  Hope this helps!

      • Hi Lia! (not sure if that’s your actual first name, sorry if it’s not)
        Thanks so much for the comment reply!  I really like how you explained it.  For me it’s a specific person that seems to be the root of my anxiety and struggle.  I know *really* I’m the root of my anxiety and it’s in my power to change it.  But it’s so hard when I see this person (which fortunately isn’t often) or even think about past experiences with her.  I probably do need to examine why I react the way I do.  It just feels better to avoid interactions with this person (which is highly doable).  In the past I’ve stayed, when she’s come around.  I’ve “put on a good face” and acted like it/she didn’t bother me.  Sometimes I’ve been successful in talking myself through it through positive affirmations and left feeling good about the situation and my response to this person.  But other times I’ve had complete melt downs that caused mental anguish for days or weeks after!  That’s why lately I’ve determined that I don’t have to choose to be around this person.  I know I can talk myself through it and come out ok on the other end, but then I wonder, why?  Why put myself through it?  I’ve wondered if, perhaps, my staying put is in fact me not standing up for myself and giving myself what I need.  Separation from this person. 

        Thanks again for your thoughtful response!  It’s certainly given me something to think about!  🙂  And that’s always good. 

  • AZ

    Amen sister!

  • Christina Masterman

    Thank you, Dr Leslie!  I love the fact that you are highlighting and making that powerful distinction …the balance between acknowledging that we are NOT our feelings – (we are all so much greater than the sum of our parts) and being real and authentic with ourselves when we do, as we all as humans inevitably do, face painful situations in our lives.   Our emotions ARE not something to bypass – they give us an opportunity to be kind and gentle with ourselves and compassionate with others.  Our vulnerability is our greatest strength.  From that place of acknowledgement we have much stronger foundations on which to rebuild from.  

  • Phan

    Dr Carr
    I am very grateful to your courage and wisdom.

  • michelemarie

    My extended family believes only in speaking of life in a positive light. While I have understood as I grew up, the strength that brought and attraction for good things to happen (winning a track meet, football game, etc.) it made me feel like an alien when the reality of life hit hard and I needed time to say “this hurts.”  My son died. They fled. Depression equaled defeat and it was negative. It’s not that I sat inside with black shades on the windows.  I became a facilitator for a bereavement group at a local hospital for parents that had lost a child.  But I did have many, many days of excruciating pain. Either way, that was many years ago and I’ve learned that being authentic is the only way to achieve peace.  My own relationship with God is the primary place that I have that opportunity.  I have learned to give others grace in that they do not know what they do…however, I chose to seek out friends that have their hearts as open. But, just as important, I’ve learned that my life story does not have to be about that loss or have it only represented by losses.  Sometimes when we feel we have to defy those that push us into only being accepted if we are cheerful, nice or inhuman…we hang on to our identity as a person that is “real” by living in the pain and not letting it go.  Create a life story that gives God glory.  

  • SueB

    Thank you so much for posting this, Dr. Carr!!  I experience occasional bouts of depression and feel very lucky that I do not experience them more frequently than that.  However, when I am feeling depressed, it does not help in the least to force myself to think positively in the moment or to try spiritual practice.  When I am feeling good, spiritual practice is so very helpful.  But it is more helpful for me in a depressive state to let go of requirements that I place on myself, such as meditation, because I come away from the meditation cushion beating myself up about not being a better person.  Meditation increases obsessive thoughts, in my experience.  I am a work in progress, but I have discovered that the best way to handle a depressive state is to be kind to myself and to read literature that tells me that it is okay not to be perfect.  Other people catch colds easily or have stomach issues on occasion and must step back from this constantly moving society to take care of themselves.  My occasional illness is a little different, but I must still step back and take time to care for myself in the same manner.  I thank you very much for being a voice for those among us who are imperfect in our thought processes!!

    • Jenapher

      Hi Sue,

      Your story sounds very much like my own, and I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone. One thing that has been helpful to me in meditation is to listen to guided meditations on Youtube on my iphone when I meditate, because I know that it’s almost impossible for me to stop the obsessive thoughts in my mind otherwise. There are thousands available, and many of them are geared towards depression, and/or use Theta Healing tones.  <3

    • Lisa

       Thank you for that WONDERFUL, eloquent, clear message! From one work in progress to another…..thank you!
      Dr. Carr’s post had such an impact on me that I had to read the replies. You really describe the daily struggle I go through as I try to release past beliefs and replace them with what I know now to be meaningful and healing. It’s NOT easy, but healing is the only choice.

  • Beth

    Ignoring it gave my depression more power.  Recognizing that I was depressed and then acknowledging it was the first most important step.  My ‘oh! I’m depressed’ step.  Why I would always be a little surprised by this, I don’t know, but just putting a name to that vague level of uneasiness was huge.  And freeing.  Then I would treat myself like someone I loved and wanted to take care of and make feel better.  I would eliminate the ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ and expectations’ list, and just focus on being in the here and now.  It works wonders every time.

    • SueB

      Wow, Beth, your experience is so much like mine!  I have learned that the most effective way to handle depression is to let go of musts and shoulds and be nice to myself.  Thanks for your comment here!

  • Matt

    “letting go of the belief that we’re somehow deficient for experiencing the full range of human emotion.” 

    This is a great observation and eye opening. I reminds me of  Abraham Hicks – Emotional Guidance Scale. Every feeling has its place. Thank you for helping me remember to be ok with where I’m at.

  • Erika

    “Hell hath no fury like a feeling denied.” Wow. Thank you for that! It’s going to be hung up somewhere over here!

    So true. I have thought in the past that I should just look on the bright side and think of the good that’s coming out of the bad. But your human’s real pain and disappointment needs to fully be expressed sometimes.
    Thank you!

  • Thank you for this perspective and for writing on this topic. It needs to be discussed!

  • guest

    Thank you.  I understand this but it easy to focus on using the excuse of “If I was better I would feel happier and be moving along faster (going through a heartbreak right now) in the process of moving on” rather than sit with the pain that is the reality of what I am going through.  This was a timely reminder that the feelings must be felt, sat with, faced…before the true transition into a further joy can begin.

  • Drlesliecarr

    Thank you, Erika 🙂  I’m glad that line resonated.

  • Drlesliecarr

    Thank you all so much for these incredible comments!  I can’t respond to each one individually but I am so touched by how this seems to have hit a nerve.  Yes: Ignoring depression, or denying it, only gives it power.  This is the same for all challenging feelings.  

    As we allow ourselves to feel our feelings we also experience how they move through us – they ebb, and flow, and dissipate.  This is the ultimate lesson that nothing is permanent 🙂

    Thanks again for all of your beautiful comments,

    • Joy

      I just want to add that EFT or tapping is a way to release those negative emotions for good!! We can then REALLY be positive and happily creating our futures..I am an EFT coach and I see that every day:).   

  • Joanne

    I’ve experienced this dilemma and as a result have abandoned the whole manifesting thing. In my opinion, The Secret and the manifesting type of thinking are in opposition to my Buddhist beliefs and  the twelve step modality I subscribe to. I’ve been dealing with a lot of pain and when I didn’t get what I wanted ( but instead more pain) after having spent years visualizing, praying, meditating, doing affirmations and believing, it is very difficult to not feel like I am:  deeply flawed, or like I’m doing it wrong, or God thinks I don’t deserve this. 

    After so much prayer and hearing all the stuff about how things will just align for you when you get into the flow, etc. and hearing about how this happens all the time for others while I still kept getting the shit piled on, I got tired of the pain being compounded – doubled even –  by my disappointment in the Universe and my feelings of being so flawed and unworthy of good and light and happiness. To abandon that was the best thing I ever did. I’ve had several therapists tell me about this “dark side of manifesting” too because they  see so many people who end up feeling worse about themselves. Most therapists I know DO NOT believe in any of that and indeed see it as terribly detrimental.

    • Drlesliecarr

      This comment is for @3d788dff278d2bbd12cb818306118516:disqus as well:  I hear you in your frustration, but believe it or not I don’t think that the baby needs to be totally thrown out with the bathwater, so to speak.
      There’s something to be said for the fact that a positive outlook can sometimes engender more positivity, but as I said to another commenter up top – the reason why this happens may be different than what people commonly believe.  

      I think that genuine gratitude for the good in our lives, as a focal point and as a practice, can help us to see the glass as half full.  Because so much of life is open to interpretation, the more we see the positive, the more positive things seem to appear..  But it’s all about BALANCE, and not beating ourselves up for having a bad day, or struggling because we’re going through something that genuinely challenging.  

      I hope that helps 🙂

  • JP

    I think this needs to be talked about a LOT more. For a long time I believed in that bullshit too, until I realized how much it was hurting me, and I can see it hurting so many others too, in an attempt to not “screw up our Karma” or “manifest something bad” we deny our “bad” feelings.

    In many ways I’m still dismantling these beliefs, and I believe it is probably the most dangerous trap one can fall into on the Spiritual path. I for one, know my ego LOVED to take advantage of these tenets and beat me over the head with it. If you wrote a book on this, I would buy a thousand copies and give it to everyone I know!

  • Yes indeed… finally it’s discussed. It feels so much better to have the freedom to be honest with ourselves about our feelings at each moment. Thank you.

  • Sara

    “But change can be made, and peace can be achieved, the moment we lay
    that burden down by acknowledging the heaviness that we carry, by
    letting go of the belief that we’re somehow deficient for experiencing
    the full range of human emotion.” WELL.SAID.

  • Kate

    Thank you for this post, from the bottom of my heart. It’s exactly how I’ve felt and exactly what I needed to read. I’ve always felt bad for, well, feeling bad. The way of behaving you suggest feels so freeing, and not at all defeatist. Thank you again. 

  • Ellen

    I am one of those people who “have perceived a tension between the type of thinking that I just described above and a Buddhist or a mindfulness-based approach that is more oriented towards present moment awareness and an acknowledgment of what is.”
    So I appreciated this post. Thank you! 

  • I really appreciate this post. Too often I’m told by well-meaning friends to stay positive while I suffer through depression and anxiety. I’m told that I bring all my pain on myself, and it’s my fault that I’m suffering. I’m not sure what they expect that to mean for me. That I can just snap my fingers and make all the pain disappear? That’s not how it actually works. Not in my life, and I doubt it works that way in theirs. I do believe in and am working towards my dreams, but that doesn’t stop me from having doubts and feelings and emotions.

  • Lindiwe Dlamini

    This is devine intervention for me especially, thank you.