Interview with Clint Sabom and My Thoughts on Magical Thinking

So I just had an interesting interview with Clint Sabom for his podcast Sanity Sessions. And it kind of rekindled my passion for this blog. I’d lost some interest after I was introduced to r/schizotypal, since I could connect with other schizotypals more directly and there are so many amazing threads to read and discussions to join too! And since I landed a full-time job in November, I’ve also been too busy getting into that to really just sit down and write. I think I’ll try to actively make time for it now though. Because my talk with Clint reminded me that I have so much more about STPD that I want to share and talk about. More than what I’ve covered so far in this blog and even more than we managed to cover in that one interview. And well, I think text really is more my medium, which I’m sure you’ll be able to hear if you listen to the podcast.

So one thing we talked a bit about, and I’m not sure if it made it into the interview because we did talk quite a bit before and especially after, was Magical Thinking. I did talk some about Odd Thinking, which I might revisit because it feels a bit messy and rambling, to be honest. But I never quite touched on actual Magical Thinking. I guess I’ve been kind of ignoring that one a bit because to be frank, I find it kind of insulting that’s somehow a criteria for STPD.

My thoughts are entirely rational to me regardless of how they sound to you. I tend to arrive at my conclusions after careful consideration and the very idea that someone can just dismiss those out of hand as hocus pocus is genuinely upsetting to me. And here’s the thing about magical thinking: It’s extremely common and for the most part harmless or even beneficial. An example of culturally accepted magical thinking would be religion. And if you’re a religious person, I’m quite certain you’d be quite offended by my assertion and that’s kind of my point.

For the most part, magical thinking is little more than minor idiosyncrasies. Just take a look around a casino and look at all the little things gamblers do to “improve” their luck. They rub or blow on the dice, make sure to wear their lucky shoes and the list goes on.

We tend to do these things, I think, because the brain loves patterns. It’s constantly looking for cause and effect: which kind of behavior is rewarded and which is punished. When we get a reward, we immediately look at our behavior leading up to getting the reward and naturally conclude that it was that behavior that triggered the reward. Even if the reward was given by pure chance. It can take quite a while to unlearn this notion even after we discover that doing the behavior again doesn’t produce the outcome we want. It’s even worse if the reward is given sporadically, so we pay more attention to the times our behavior worked than when it failed.

People aren’t really equipped to fully understand random chance and maybe that’s just as well. It’s actually a terrifying thought. Things happen to you that are entirely out of your control. Both good and bad. We like control, because it makes us feel safe. Lack of control is incredibly scary. Anything could happen and you’d be helpless. If I focused entirely on all the terrible things that could potentially happen to me every time I step out of my door, I’d never make it over the threshold. The good news is we can generally influence our chances of getting one outcome over another. We lock our doors to deter break-ins. It doesn’t completely prevent break-ins, but it does reduce the chance. And someone buying a lottery ticket has a much higher chance of winning the big bucks than someone who didn’t purchase a lottery ticket.

In some way, the function of magical thinking can help us determine what behavior is more likely to get us the good stuff and avoid the bad stuff. And coming back to religion, the idea that no matter how bad things get in this life that as long as you live your life well, you’ll for sure be rewarded in the next life is a great comfort, an excellent motivator and helps us keep a positive attitude even when facing adversity.

The point where magical thinking becomes an actual problem is when it starts to take over your life. Perhaps you get so obsessed over finding the one lucky whatever that you end up with a gambling addiction for example. Or another example I know for sure I never got around to mention in the interview was OCD. Obsessive compulsions typically come from some form of magical thinking paired with fear or anxiety. “I HAVE to do this thing in this specific manner, otherwise something terrible is going to happen”. And this is an incredibly painful trap to be caught in. You’re compelled to do something out of fear and the only way to break out of the circle of compulsive behavior that I know of, is to challenge it. You have to face your fear and not give in to the compulsion in order to prove to yourself that your fear is unfounded. This runs the risk of proving your fear correct, because there’s always a chance something terrible can happen even when we take all the right precautions. Facing that fear and not letting it take over your life is an amazing feat. Maybe you should feel just a little bit proud of yourself every time you step out of your door to face the world. Because anything could happen.

Update: I neglected to share the link to the podcast episode, since it wasn’t published at the time of posting this blog post and then I completely forgot about it. Here’s the link to the podcast: The Sanity Sessions: Exploring Mental Illness And Maladaptations Episode 10: Living With Schizotypal Personality Disorder