You Can Heal Your Life

You Can Heal Your Life (1984) by Louise Hay

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There’s nothing more dangerous than a half truth inflated into a full-blown lie. In the simplistic approach to healing offered in You Can Heal Your Life, Louise Hay commits the cardinal sin of generalization, imagining that the emotional traumas she suffered in her youth are the norm rather than the exception. She clearly had a blighted childhood. Born in Los Angeles to an impoverished mother, she had a violent step father and a neighbour who raped her when she was five. After quitting school at fifteen, without any qualifications, she quickly became pregnant and survived only by taking a series of menial jobs. Given this harrowing background it’s not surprising that she grew up with a crippling lack of self-esteem. However, it’s sheer folly for her to suppose that all her readers experienced similar angst, and therefore carry a similar burden of guilt and sense of worthlessness. Yet this is clearly what she assumes, for in her book she states that the real problem is ‘we feel we are not good enough, and there is a lack of self love.’ To overcome this emotional stigma she carries out an

exercise of positive affirmation every day. Looking into a mirror she tells herself: ‘Louise you are wonderful, and I love you.’ This is an exercise she urges every reader to perform, even if their outstanding personality traits are overweening egoism and megalomania.

After working for a while as a model, Louise Hay suffered another blow to her pride when, without warning, her husband left her for another woman. It was then she sought the comfort of religion, a salve which was offered in large doses by the Church of Religious Science, an off-shoot of the quintessentially American New Thought movement.  The key teaching of this sect is that all diseases are the product of wrong thinking. This is the theory that Hay propounds in You Can Heal Your Life, where she writes: ‘I believe we create every so-called ‘illness’ in our body. The body, like everything else in life, is a mirror of our inner thoughts.’ By way of confirmation she cites her own ‘miracle’ cure. As a grown woman, she claims, she developed cervical cancer simply because she was still harbouring resentful feelings about the sexual abuse and rape she’d suffered as a child. Refusing all forms of conventional medical treatment, she set about curing herself with a regime of forgiveness, positive thinking, enemas and a whole food diet. She told this tale to the New York Times in May 2008, but when questioned could not say when exactly the diagnosis was made; or offer the names of any doctors who could confirm her story, claiming that all were now dead.

Soon after writing You Can Heal Your Life, she offered her treatment – nicknamed ‘Hay Rides’- to sufferers from AIDS. This brought her massive media coverage, including interviews in one week on the Oprah Winfrey show and Steve Donahue programme. This catapulted her book into the New York Times best-seller list and produced reported sales of more than thirty five million copies, printed in over thirty separate languages.  The book has now spawned a lucrative self-help industry, which offers not only Louise Hay books and videos but also a week-long course for prospective Louise Hay therapists costing a hefty $3,495. She’s also launched a flourishing publishing company – Hay House – which handles the marketing of best-selling self-help authors such as Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer.

This book has undoubtedly been a resounding success, throwing out a lifebelt to the gullible, vulnerable and disenchanted. But this influence is not wholly free of risks and side effects. For instance the text reiterates the karmic belief that what we sow, so shall we reap. As one practical application of this law it’s suggested that any reader short of cash should freely give of what little they have in the sure expectation that they will be liberally rewarded for their generosity. With this aim in mind Louise Hay offers a blessing, and plants a kiss, on every cheque she writes. She urges readers to do the same, promising them that: ‘If you pay with love and joy, you open the free-flowing channel of abundance.’  Many of the book’s other therapeutic suggestions are of equally dubious merit. Anyone experiencing pain is likely to be suffering from pent-up aggression, she argues. The answer, therefore, is not to seek a diagnosis from a doctor, or take pain killing drugs, but to get rid of the anger by shouting and screaming. The author tells how she suffered a prolonged spell of burning pain in her shoulder. Once she recognised that this was due to suppressed anger, she was able to achieve an immediate cure by bellowing and beating a pillow with her injured arm. Since a high percentage of cases of prolonged shoulder pain are caused by inflammation of the joint, this frantic arm waving can only exacerbate the underlying condition. Advice like this would be questioned by the vast majority of psychologists and doctors, so perhaps the book should carry a health warning: ‘To be taken in small doses cum grano salis.’  

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