The self-help guru who pushed positive thinking
Louise Hay 1926–2017
When Louise Hay was diagnosed with cervical cancer at age 50, she believed it had been caused by lingering resentment she felt over sexual abuse she’d suffered as a child. Declining medical treatment, she set out to beat the disease through diet and positive thinking. Within six months, the cancer was gone—a recovery Hay drew on to become a widely read selfhelp author. Claiming “love is the most powerful stimulant to the immune system,” she built a self-improvement empire and brought hope— misguidedly, doctors said—to AIDS sufferers.
Born in Los Angeles, Hay “was abused by her stepfather and raped by a neighbor” as a young girl, said The New York Times. After dropping out of school, she moved to New York City, where she worked as a model and married an English businessman. When he left her for another woman, Hay sought solace at the First Church of Religious Science in Manhattan. “I heard somebody say there, ‘If you’re willing to change your thinking, you can change your life,’” she recalled. “My jaw dropped. I said, ‘Really?’”
Hay’s belief system—that “medical maladies are inextricably linked with negative thoughts”—remained niche until 1985, when she began running support groups for people with AIDS, said The Washington Post. Within two years she had appeared on Oprah and launched the publishing company Hay House. Despite controversy over her views—critics said she led people to believe they were responsible for their own illnesses—Hay’s books sold millions, in particular 1984’s You Can Heal Your Life. “I don’t heal anybody,” she said. “I just provide a space where we can uncover how absolutely wonderful we are, and many people find that they’re able to heal themselves.” ■