Karishma Suresh believes she manifested her now-husband. After a string of bad relationships over her twenties, she was looking forward to settling down, but online dating wasn’t yielding the results she was seeking. So she picked up her journal and began writing down the qualities she sought in a partner. From general qualities like kindness and empathy to specifics like being a feminist, sharing domestic labour and liking books, she put it all down. Over time, she gave him a vivid persona and even a nickname: Bookman. Any time she felt lonely or disheartened, she consoled herself by saying Bookman was waiting for her and would find her soon. Truly coming to believe in this vision is what turned things around for her, says the 31-year-old.
By the end of the year, Suresh had met the man she was looking for, and even though there were twists and turns on the path, she got her heart’s desire: a safe, loving, equal relationship with a book-loving feminist man. The couple is planning to have children soon.
The concept of manifestation is hardly new: it was all the rage during the New Age movement in the 1970s and then it made a comeback into the collective consciousness with the success of books such as The Secret in the 2000s. Now, in the post-pandemic world, manifestation has re-emerged as a social media buzzword and has now become common parlance, especially among millennials and Gen-Z.
Simply put, to manifest means to turn an idea into reality with the power of focused intention. Viewed through a spiritual lens, this means connecting to a higher power or a larger consciousness, while a more scientific explanation calls it reprogramming the subconscious mind.
Currently, manifesting love and relationships is especially big. The isolation of the pandemic years did a number on the generations that were already found to be the loneliest yet. Those who are unpartnered seem to want to attract a partner and those that find themselves unhappy within relationships seem to want to turn things around. Therefore, workshops are being conducted, one-on-one coaching is being offered, techniques are being taught, and crystals and scented candles are being sold to help people manifest their dream relationship/s. Those with means pay for these products and services, and for those who can’t or don’t wish to commit like that, there is a world of content available for free on the Internet.
On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with this trend. In fact, given the bleakness of the times we live in, it seems to give people the tools to gain some amount of control over their lives. Many find an uplifting community and an empowering routine in the process, which are crucial for one’s sense of wellness. The problem arises when the need for control, change, or even just relief leads one to dissociate from reality by obsessing over one’s vision board.
Meera Nair, a Kochi-based content writer, has been in a relationship with her partner for two years and has been practising several manifestation techniques daily during this time. “I really feel he is the one for me, so I want to do whatever I can to make this work,” she says. “I do the 3-6-9 technique [writing down an intention thrice in the morning, six times at midday and nine times before bed], and use switch words [words that allegedly carry powerful vibrations that can aid manifestation]. I also write down affirmations like ‘I am married to him’ and ‘We are happy together’. I believe it has already happened and give thanks to the universe.”
Nair claims to have learnt these techniques by watching YouTube videos and following a number of manifestation-centred accounts on Instagram. “We have faced a lot of problems in our relationship, but still, we are together. And I think it is because of the power of my intentions and the techniques that I practise every day,” she says.
There are innumerable coaches and teachers on the internet who argue that “we are masters of our reality” and therefore “we can have anything we want”, provided we focus on it enough and “keep our vibration high.” This ends up paving the way for toxic positivity and emotional bypassing. People may feel the need to wish away any negative feelings that may arise—because they need to be positive—and end up repressing them instead. When these repressed feelings end up manifesting a reality that is opposite of the joy and peace that they are seeking, they may blame themselves or lose hope that things could ever change.
"A lot of manifestation coaching today goes wrong when it completely overlooks trauma,” says Masiha Shabeer, psychologist and founder of Kalika Mindspace, a psychological counselling service based in Chennai. “A person might want something, but why? Where is this desire or need coming from, and what is it doing to them to constantly seek this? Blindly focusing on manifesting without addressing these questions can lead to severe self-worth issues, depression, even obsession and psychosis,” she says.
In the context of intimate relationships, this breeds grandiosity, isolation and heightened conflict between partners, Shabeer adds.
It then becomes imperative to approach manifestation with both feet on the ground. The expert says, “The term has become too glamorised in our culture. The truth is, we manifest all sorts of things all the time. Our body ‘manifests’ symptoms when we are sick, and we respond by taking care of our body, don’t we? Likewise, when uncomfortable emotions come up, it is important that we pay attention to them and take care of ourselves in our moment of need.”
Turns out it isn’t just houses and cars that we manifest. We also manifest patterns and behaviours that need to be addressed so that we can grow. So it may seem like we’re seeking a relationship with a specific person, but it may be that a longstanding pattern of chasing an unavailable partner is coming up to be healed.
“We don’t always know what we want. We can tune into what we need, though,” Shabeer says, “by paying attention to our mental and emotional health. We can get help if that’s what we need, and that’s where therapists come in.”
If you're still considering a manifestation class, it is recommended that you do some research and find out if the specific coach and class address trauma, mental health and emotional regulation. “And if you are emotionally aware and wishing to manifest from a healthy place," Shabeer says, “a disciplined practice involving meditation, breathwork and even things like art, music and dance can be great.”
Indumathy Sukanya is an artist and independent journalist based in Bengaluru