The Real Secret is a different kind of self help. We debunk the empty promises of so many books and DVDs and bring you a simple, sensible approach to real life fulfillment. We don't believe you can achieve happiness, or anything else, by simply wishing for, thinking about or visualising it. Our book - and this blog - takes only the best of what really works and turns it into a positive, practical 12-step programme that will enable you to take control of your life and raise your happiness levels.

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The Real Secret is simple, sensible, scientifically supported self help
by Lucy McCarraher & Annabel Shaw


The Law of Attraction Killed my Friend


I worked as a radiotherapist in the cancer centre of a large city hospital and in the years that I worked there I came across at least five cases similar to the one reported below - women who came for treatment when it was too late and after they had tried to ‘cure’ themselves using the Law of Attraction techniques.

It is this experience that motivates me now to warn as many people as I can of the dangers of the kinds of advice given in books like The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I still feel overcome with helplessness and anger when I think of the women who I saw die needlessly because of the advice given in this book.

It became the reason Lucy and I titled our book The Real Secret - we wanted to attract attention to the dangerous ideas associated with The Secret with a book of our own based on simple, sensible, scientifically supported research.

This article has been taken from the April Edition of Fair Lady Magazine.

A Deadly Secret

Every time I enter a book shop, there it is – in hardback, paperback and on DVD, millions sold, its author’s success serving as personal proof of the validity of her message. I cringe with revulsion and pain, and think of the dear friend who fatally embraced Rhonda Byrnes’ self-help missive, The Secret.

In 2004, I moved from LA to the university town of Eugene in Oregon, a state wedged between California and Washington. I am given Selena’s* phone number by a mutual friend and when I meet her for lunch I’m greeted by a petite, vivacious woman in her late 40s, her smooth brown skin laden with turquoise Native American jewellery, her laughter quick and joyous.

We quickly discover that we share a sense of adventure, a love for travel and music, and contempt for President George W. Bush, and we bond over her disintegrating relationship and my imploding marriage. Otherwise, we are an unlikely pair: I need my thoughts rooted in logic and my medicine grounded in scientific research; Selena is the new-age vegetarian with a deep distrust of Western medicine and convention, and a passionate embracer of all things alternative. Selena has lived through two of America’s major wars, Vietnam and Iraq, both based on lies. Unfortunately, her well-founded distrust of the American establishment has spilled over into a vague, intellectually careless dismissal of the media, the sciences and ‘Western medicine’ in general.

She argues that natural remedies are not advocated by pharmaceutical companies because they cannot be patented, and reminds me of the abusive treatment of the mentally ill in America and the brutal post-World War II pharmacological experiments on black Americans. I point out that times have changed, and greater regulation combined with the profit motive make it highly unlikely that medical and pharmaceutical companies are paying thousands of researchers to devise new ways of killing potential customers.

She visits me one day, excitedly clutching a copy of the DVD The Secret and starts raving about how suffering is the product of one’s own negative energy, and material success and emotional fulfillment can be realised through positive thinking. I am taken aback by her fervour and appalled that the multilayered complexity of life can be simplistically reduced to positive or negative emotional energy. Was apartheid the result of black people thinking negatively? Was the holocaust some sort of mass suicide by negative energy? How does positive thinking realise a meal when there isn’t a morsel of food in sight? Where does positive thinking end and delusion begin?

Selena drops the subject, surprised and a little embarrassed by my stream of rational objections. She is happy and madly in love with a new man. She goes travelling and meets her lover for a few idyllic weeks in Thailand before rejoining him in Eugene. He thinks it is too early in their relationship for them to live together but invites her to stay with him until she has found a new place. She slides into a depression, lying around, unable to galvanise herself into looking for her own place. Is it menopause? Is it because she doesn’t really want to move and would prefer him to ask her to stay? Both.

Beset by tears and hot flashes, Selena sticks to herbal remedies and desperately tries to be positive. As she emotionally disintegrates, so does her lover’s patience. He ends the relationship and pushes her to move in with a friend.

I urge her to visit a doctor for hormone-replacement pills or anti-depressants. She instinctively grimaces and argues that the pharmaceutical industry’s aggressive marketing has resulted in a generation of absurdly over-medicated Americans.

A few weeks later she gives me the shocking news. About eight months prior, she had noticed a lesion on her vulva. Her gynaecologist had said it was pre-cancerous and needed to be removed and biopsied. Selena had been reluctant to ‘have that done to my body’, and ignored the lesion until it morphed into a sore. Now her stunned and angry gynaecologist, who had assumed she had gone elsewhere for a second opinion and treatment, has informed her she has stage-two cancer of the vulva. Radiation is not an option; she is referred to a surgeon for removal of her clitoris and a chunk of her vulva.

Vulnerable after two intense love affairs and two rejections in a row, Selena says she cannot live with being ‘genitally disfigured’. She insists cancer is a product of ‘negative energy’ and wants to rely on alternative therapy and ‘positive energy’ to cure herself. I suggest the possibility of reconstructive surgery and point out that we probably spend less than 1% of our lives having sex and there are so many joys in life beyond sex and romantic relationships. After all, it seems contradictory to emphasise spirituality and an alternative lifestyle and yet risk her life to stay conventionally intact.

She is unmoved, and suddenly becomes a repository of passionate tales from the Internet about people who avoided invasive surgical and pharmaceutical interventions and cured their cancer with alternative therapy. She calls a mutual friend and itinerant psychic in Hawaii. The cards are thrown, the energies in Oregon are analysed in Hawaii courtesy of satellite technology, and Selena’s decision to stake her life on alternative treatment is further validated. I offer my support and tell her that I really hope I am wrong.

She retreats to Ashland, Oregon, to receive ‘light therapy’, and dutifully limits her diet to puréed organic greens and herbs recommended by her alternative practitioners.

Physically, Selena looks wonderful and her skin glows, but she quietly volunteers that the lesion is not getting smaller. Yet her chosen course of treatment places her under acute pressure to be positive no matter what. She cannot vent any understandable anxiety and fear because it is only positive energy that will cure her, so she determinedly remains upbeat and spiritual, about to follow up the Ashland experiment with another alternative treatment in Hawaii. At least she will spend time in a beautiful place. She pensively admits, however, that she cannot swim in the ocean because the salt will irritate her sore. And she cannot have sex.

I am returning to South Africa and feel desperate and helpless as we hug goodbye. I deliver some upbeat, encouraging platitudes before getting into my car and weeping uncontrollably. My emails and calls from South Africa go unanswered. On June 22, I am bursting with thoughts of Selena.

I call and leave another message on her cellphone and get no response. I call again shortly after, and a man answers. I ask for her and he bluntly announces that he is her father and that she passed away on June 22.

Selena died just nine months after receiving the cancer diagnosis. My beautiful friend with the simple dreams so many of us share – to laugh and love and be loved – spent the last nine months of her life not living it up, but frenetically disciplining herself, avoiding decadence, limiting her culinary choices to raw green mush, unable to swim, and unable to have the sex for which she was throwing her life away. In a dreadful irony, she spent the last two weeks of her life in a Eugene hospital, wracked with agony as the cancer charged through her body.

Since alternative-medicine practitioners reject pharmaceuticals and practice optimistic denial, they have little to offer those in acute pain. By the time Selena’s suffering forced her into the clutches of ‘Western medicine’, it was too late for anything but morphine and palliative care from medical doctors and nurses who couldn’t understand how she could have been so naive and irrational, while alternative-medicine acolytes quietly blamed her for not being sufficiently positive, thereby ‘surrendering’ to the ‘negative energy’ that ‘causes’ cancer.

I relay Selena’s story to a relative who is a Rhonda Byrne fan, and she, too, defensively responds that ‘deep down, she must have been negative’. Therein lies the exquisite paradox: The Secret is always ‘proven’ right, whether it works or not.

How ironic, when so many doctors and therapists have pointed out that it is the repression of one’s true feelings that generates stress. Oprah Winfrey has done many positive things for the world but helping turn The Secret into an international bestseller was not one of them.  

*Name has been changed.
Photo: amandaism/stock.xchng
This article was originally printed in the South African Fair Lady Magazine

Posted by Annabel

The Real Secret - what to do when the universe hasn't delivered everything you ever wanted is available in paperback and kindle on and

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