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  • Writer's pictureBernard Beitman, MD

How Data on Coincidences Can Help People Cope

Mind-media coincidences are more common than is generally known.

 

Key Points

  • For those people experiencing an overload of coincidences, data can help calm their anxiety.

  • Creating resources for useful information about coincidences needs to continue.

  • While some patterns of coincidences can be problematic, research is suggesting that synchronicity can aid psychotherapeutic change.

 

Mind-media coincidences—or convergences between our thoughts and some form of media—are more common than is generally realized, as suggested by data from two different sources (and reported in a previous post). However, many people do not know this. As a consequence, they may feel alone, confused, and anxious when they experience mind-media coincidences. Some may even think they are becoming psychotic. Fortunately, Psychology Today, and the internet more broadly, is providing a medium through which this information can be conveyed. The following email from a reader illustrates how information like this can quiet disturbed minds.


Perplexed George

I have had many textbook experiences of synchronicity over the past year or so. The first few I found quite interesting and intriguing. But as they continued, I started to become more uneasy. It's now become almost scary. It has happened more than a dozen times. Below are a few examples. Many are quite meaningful and acausal.

  1. When crossing the historic Mackinaw Bridge in Michigan, started thinking of a friend of mine who is a bridge aficionado. Just a few seconds later, I saw a truck with his last name on it.

  2. While driving, I had a thought about my neighbor. I then immediately crossed a road that had the same name as his dog—Luna.

  3. As soon as I started thinking about a job that I had, and a specific project, I immediately pulled behind a truck that said Velvet Ice Cream. The key woman on the project was named Velvet. Moreover, I never saw before, or after, Velvet ice cream.

  4. I was logging into, for the first time in months, my cloud storage service, called iDrive. The instant I clicked the icon, iDrive was named as a sponsor of the NPR program I was listening to. NPR was doing a story of the Mardis Gras during the pandemic. The guest stated that people should not travel to New Orleans. She gave as an example expatriates from Ohio. I am an expatriate from Ohio.

  5. I thought of a person I used to work with. Less than one minute later, I looked out my front door and saw the same make of car that she had, pass by. It was not a common car make.

  6. NPR cited a town while I was thinking about an event that took place in said town.

  7. I was thinking of a girl named Natalie. Immediately after, I opened a magazine to a random page and I saw the name Natalia.

  8. While reading a news headline, I heard on the news, virtually simultaneously, the same few words of the text of the online news headline. The speaker was not affiliated with the medium that had the headline.

  9. While I was watching a police chase video (!) on YouTube I was concurrently thinking about an incident at work. The cop, as I saw on his dashcam, crossed a street that had the same name as the key person associated with the incident.

  10. The instant that I turned on the radio, there were words about a subject that I was just thinking about.

Are the meaningfulness and frequency of my events exceptional? What causes this? Anything specific to me or others who have such experiences?

I replied with additional resources for George: The first describes how to distinguish between coincidence overload and psychosis; the second is about mind-media connections which may help him see how common some of his coincidences are.

Some of George’s coincidences can be explained by probability, hindsight bias, and by immediacy bias (the tendency to see what you are thinking about). He was not considering these potential explanations. The perceived overload was disturbing him. In a reply, George let me know that the information I sent helped relieve him anxiety.


The Princess from Princeton

On the other hand, mind-media coincidences can occasionally be therapeutic, functioning as startling mirrors of current psychological conflicts. Therapists can utilize conjunctions of intrapsychic conflict and media events to promote psychological change.

One of my psychotherapy patients is, in her own mind, a “princess from Princeton,” New Jersey. She now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. In therapy, she was describing how she had built a castle wall between her husband and her. From behind this wall, she hurled angry insults at him which effectively shut him down. She was glad to be doing to him what her own mother had done to her. After the session in which taking down this wall was discussed for the first time, she got into her car and turned on the radio. She immediately heard the song "Castle Walls" by Quinn Lewis. The lyrics include “take down your castle walls.” The pattern she needed to change had become yet clearer.

Research is increasingly suggesting that synchronicities can aid psychotherapy. We currently have no good explanation for the close timing of these parallel events. Just as we did not understand how magnetism worked until James Clerk Maxwell developed the equations to explain them. Just as magnetism was utilized before it could be explained, we can use coincidences like this for psychological change.

 
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