“Time-based prophecies that kept me from living,
in the moment I am struggling to trust the divinity … ” ~ Nahko Bear

This is a wee bit of a rant, though mild as possible rant-ampage can go.

In recent weeks, I’ve heard from several readers and clients who shared something with me that offers a good example of the Placebo or Nocebo Effect.

Each told me that they had, in the (sometimes very recent) past, experienced counsel from ‘experts’ that were (in the words of one client) “completely negative; nothing positive,” and shared in a way that was certain, authoritative, ‘right’.

Each in his or her own way told me that the effect of the dire, all-gloom-and-doom, “nothing positive,” expert-advice was deflating and discouraging at best, and depression-inducing at worst.

Why wouldn’t it be?

The Sower of the System, 1902, by George Frederic Watts.
The Sower of the System, 1902, by George Frederic Watts.

It’s an excellent example of the ‘nocebo effect’ in action, and it’s also irresponsible, for several reasons.

We’ve likely all experienced such Diminishing Mirrors (as compared to Believing Mirrors).

Diminishing Mirrors are thosenattering nabobs of negativity,’ vision-crushers, and/or joy-suffocaters that I’ve written of before.

This matters because, as it happens, such authoritatively (or otherwise potently) delivered words can be harmful in addition to just not all that helpful. The bit I shared here on some of the neuroscience research gives an idea of how.

There’s more, though.

The horizon-edge physician, Lissa Rankin, has researched and written much about the nocebo effect — the opposite of the placebo effect in which the mere thought and belief that some medication or procedure will help or cure produces effects in support of that.

On the other hand, the nocebo effect, Rankin writes, is pretty much the shadow side of that.

Rankin notes that prognoses of side effects or specific ‘time left to live’ often have the same sort of effect — to the degree that they’re delivered authoritatively and with certainty (and in the examples she shares, they are) and to the degree that the person receiving them believes it, they will experience the side effects even if they’ve been given sugar pills but think they’ve received the ‘real thing’.

Bela Lugosi as Dracula, 1933.
Bela Lugosi as Dracula, 1933.

If they’re told that something is chronic or fatal and given a specific ‘time left’, and believe it, that’ll often be the case.

So the ‘toxic expert-advice’ I mentioned above is a form of this nocebo effect — as would any other similar example be.

Various spiritual traditions include guidance (and warnings) that could easily be speaking, too, of the placebo and nocebo effects.

Rankin likens these nocebo pronouncements to being a type of curse — which is sorcery or ‘malefic magic’ (done wittingly or unwittingly).

Dr. Larry Dossey, in his work on the effects of prayer, including toxic prayer, and knowing the power of prayer in its very real effects, says the same.

For the moment, we’ll assume that those delivering the “all negative, nothing positive” nocebo curses are doing so unwittingly; that they actually mean well enough but perhaps aren’t fully aware or conscious of what they’re doing.

The Priestess of Bacchus (1889), by John Collier.
The Priestess of Bacchus (1889), by John Collier.

That leaves it to us to be more aware of this pattern and effect, and choose more consciously about what we receive (and believe) as such things as they come at us.

We see nocebo cultural norms reflected in just about every area of life where fear-based and fear-stirring is normalized ‘business as usual’. So we see it a lot.

For instance, I’ve definitely seen what I’ll call nocebo or toxic astrology, among other disciplines from which we might receive guidance or counsel.

I’ve long used astrology as one very helpful tool to gain insight into both my own cycles of experience, and for clients who are in the midst of a challenging cycle, riding the waves of transformation or change, or feeling the need for some renewed clarity and inspiration.

Hebe Giving a Drink to Jupiter, 1767, by Gavin Hamilton. Public domain image (date precedes copyright).I lean towards mythic, archetypal, and ‘shamanic’ astrology because it speaks best to these cycles and energy dynamics in a constructive, productive, fortitude and inspiration-supporting way.

I lean (decisively) away from the traditional ‘gloom and doom’ or predictive astrology for the very reasons Lissa Rankin emphasizes in her writings and research on the nocebo (and placebo) affects … that powerful mind-body-spirit interweaving.

I’m with Master Yoda on that one: “The future is not yet written.”

My own experience has shown me just how deflating and potentially harmful the dire, boulder-heavy prognostications can be when they’re uttered so authoritatively (as if they’re the only truth).

This is particularly possible if we’re already feeling a bit vulnerable, thin, shaky, discouraged, and/or challenge-fatigued so that the expert nocebo advice slides right in there under the radar like a poisonous seed cast into your garden.

Yes, there are challenging dynamics, patterns, and cycles of experience.

Sisyphys, Pushing the Boulder Up the Hill, 1548-49, by Titian.
Sisyphys, Pushing the Boulder Up the Hill, 1548-49, by Titian.

Most if not all of us knows that life will throw up challenges that sometimes bring us to our knees (or flat on our face, heaving and sobbing with fatigue and despair). Many people will likely travel those ‘rock and a hard place’ passages, too.

I should know … I’ve had no shortage of challenge, some of it extreme, in my life.

Those holes of muck-and-sharp-bits and rock-and-hard-place spots that you can’t at that moment see your way out of?

Yup, been there, more than once or twice, as often due to broadsiding events and external conditions as to my own misjudgments or inexperience. Seems those are some of the ‘mysteries’ I’m here to fully explore and share wisdom bits about.

But I also know this:

At the times of some of the most challenging passages or cycles, I’ve experienced some of the most amazing grace, allies, blessing, synchronicity, encouragement, and unexpected opportunities and aid, right along with the “bummer karma, dude,” “let her swing!” and flat-out diminishing mirror stuff.

Midsummer Eve, c. 1908, Edward Robert Hughes. (Image courtesy of WikiMedia)
Midsummer Eve, c. 1908, Edward Robert Hughes. (Image courtesy of WikiMedia)

I’ve even experienced what we’d call miracles — things that came up that I would have never thought possible, as they were beyond both my experience and my imaginings of what was possible. Yup, during the very same ‘horrible challenging chart’ (and experience) times.

The problem with only giving the most dire, negative, and often punitive ‘expert advice’ — whatever role we’re acting in (be it minister, astrologer, coach, physician, friend, whatever) —  is not just what Lissa Rankin shares about the very real effects of nocebo curses, or Larry Dossey shared about toxic prayer.

There can be a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ aspect to them if we really take them to heart and take them as gospel or if they slide in there under the radar when we’re feeling vulnerable, fatigued, or thin at that moment.

Also, such ‘predictions’ or ‘expert prognoses’ come through the lens and thus the limitations and biases of the person giving them.

It really does run very close to sorcery in its curse (nocebo) effect and potential, whether that’s intended or not by the probably well-enough-meaning person delivering it.

There is always constructive guidance and insight there to be seen as well, and there is always some bit of grace, inspiration, encouragement, and fortification to be seen and shared.

The Mirror, 1896. An exquisitely beautiful painting by Sir Francis Bernard Dicksee. [Image Courtesy of WikiMedia]
The Mirror, 1896. An exquisitely beautiful painting by Sir Francis Bernard Dicksee. [Image Courtesy of WikiMedia]
Similarly, we’ve likely all been on the receiving end of the Diminishing Mirrors and nattering nabobs of negativity (and perpetual catastrophe) as well. I surely have, which is likely why I write about it!

And it’s why I feel so strongly that it is absolutely essential to have Believing Mirrors in our inner circle (or who arrive by grace, just when needed).

If we don’t, we might resolve to become our own Believing Mirror (and one for others) until the Believing Mirror(s) that we need and seek arrive into our experience.

The responsibility (response-ability) and possibility ultimately rest with us, though:

• Just what are we choosing to believe is true? What do we take as gospel?

• What practices and fortifying believing mirror support do we have in place to clear that nocebo poison out and perhaps make ourselves less ‘sticky’ to it?

We always have access to other perspectives, other ways of seeing, and other possibilities — all, most likely, with anecdotal and perhaps even more stringent scientific research behind them.

In the Orchard (1912) by Franz Dvorak. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia.
In the Orchard (1912) by Franz Dvorak. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Like good journalists and writers, we do ourselves (and others) a service when we gather a variety of perspectives before settling on “what’s true.”

It’s not a matter of not seeing or acknowledging difficulty or challenge — that’d be an effort in futility and fairly delusional or ‘bypassing’, which is equally irresponsible. What’s buried just stays subterranean, haunting us.

It is a matter of looking for (or choosing to see and share) constructive guidance that will support one’s resilience, that is fortifying rather than diminishing, that helps to strengthen and shore someone up even if they’re moving through some challenging stuff.

And then looking for what inspiration, encouragement, and grace that may be present or possible as well.

They’re always there, those little flickering lights, pointers, bits of wise counsel, and notes of inspiration tucked along even the darkest passage we’re moving through.

They help. And that’s real.

The School of Athens (Detail) - Hypatia (1509-1510), by Raffaello Santi
The School of Athens (Detail) – Hypatia (1509-1510), by Raffaello Santi

As Albert Einstein allegedly said,

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

As the Persian Poet Hafiz wrote,

“What’s real? What’s not real?

That which turns up the corners of your mouth, trust that.”

Hafiz also offered up these inspirations:

“Always trust what your heart knows.”


“When all your desires are distilled; You will cast just two votes:

To love more, And be happy.”

You get the gist — there are always various perspectives to balance or inoculate against the nocebo-inducing predictions of gloom and doom and their ill-effects.

It’s important that we include such encouraging, possibility-opening perspectives in the conversation, and practical help if we have what’s needed, lest we believe the nocebo curses or even just one perspective of limiting possibilities are the whole truth.

Any helpful counsel worth its salt will include the believing mirror (or placebo effect) ‘intel’ as well.

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The Fair Face of Woman, by Sophia Gengembre Anderson (1823-1903)
The Fair Face of Woman, by Sophia Gengembre Anderson (1823-1903)

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