“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.”
Just about everyone has heard of the placebo effect.
Nocebo effect, on the other hand, is far less widely known.
Nocebo effect is the opposite of placebo effect. It’s the belief that we’re being exposed to harmful substances when in fact we are not, making medical outcomes worse. Patients who anticipate side effects from a substance will experience them even when given an inert substance. In one notable case study, a 26-year-old man went into hypotensive shock, a potentially life-threatening state, after taking 29 harmless placebos in a suicide attempt, believing it to be a lethal overdose.
I wrote recently of the dangers of zero-sum thinking, particularly as a poly person. Believing that when others gain, you are losing something… well, it’s a sure way to spiral yourself into depression and propel you into the most self-defeating socially destructive behavioral patterns imaginable.
Zero-sum thinking has so much in common with the nocebo effect. When we expect good things to be taken from us, when we interpret the fortune of others as being our own personal misfortune in contrast, we begin to see it happening. We react to phantoms, to threats that seem real to us, and before we know it, we’ve created actual demons through our frenetic fear, through our misbehaviors.
Or, to put it another way, spooked by noises in the night, we grab our gun, fire at imagined intruders, and shoot ourselves in the foot.
Just say no to nocebos.
What to say yes to:
See “No One is Stealing Your Toys” for more information, but briefly, you want to focus on becoming as secure of a person as you can as well as cultivating compersion. A few easy ways to develop feelings of compersion are gratitude journaling and practicing random acts of kindness. With these exercises, and particularly with random acts of kindness, consistency and frequency and repetition are the big keys… not the size of the gestures themselves. The brain likes patterns.
For those looking for a way to make that practice paying it forward a little more fun, Sneaky Cards makes a game out of random acts of kindness, where you become a sort of kindness ninja, creeping around, doing good deeds, passing the cards on to your next target. Pretty cool.