Mental health, emotional wellbeing & personal development

Do you hold dysfunctional attitudes?

Do you hold dysfunctional attitudes?



Do you hold dysfunctional attitudes?

It’s safe to say that we probably all hold some type of dysfunctional attitude at some time in our lives. Dysfunctional attitudes are also called “rules for living” by therapists and usually take the form of “if this…then that”.  Many of us hold rules for living that we don’t consciously acknowledge, yet these ‘rules’ impact upon what we do immensely.

  1. Dysfunctional attitudes lack flexibility

Dysfunctional attitudes are often rigid and generalised and involve concepts like “always, never, must, should, have to, need to…”.

2. Dysfunctional attitudes are self limiting

When you ‘buy into’ dysfunctional thinking, it becomes harder to reach your goals. For example: thinking along the lines of: “I believe that I must never fail so I withdraw and don’t try at all” will ultimately allow self limiting thoughts to override potential opportunities.

3. Often focused on approval

Dysfunctional attitudes often focus on approval from others, achievement or/and control. Many of the situations we cannot control in life lead us to developing dysfunctional attitudes when we would be far better off accepting the status quo. For example – we may have romantic feelings for someone and feel insecure about how they feel about us. Instead of dealing with the situation and asking the person directly, which takes bravery, we tell ourselves they don’t care and we pull away or we tell ourselves they do care and behave inappropriately.

4. Often related to various roles

Eg: I must be perfect, I must get it right every time, I must be loved, I must be accepted, I must gain respect.  Ask yourself WHY you “must”?? Who says? Where’s the rule book stating this? Challenge this type of attitude as it only serves to create personal pressure and stress. Replace must and should with “could”.

5. Dysfunctional attitudes are linked to self experience

Sometimes we have a rule for living such as: I feel bad if a rule is broken but good if successful. This rule for living ensures that our pleasure comes from an external source and this is a precarious way for us to feel good about ourselves. When we receive approval from others, it feels good and makes us feel successful but the best strategy to use is to find ways to feel good about yourself without approval from others. Approval from others should be a bonus, not a necessity. Dysfunctional attitudes begin to form when we are very young and become reinforced over time due to our childhood experiences and subsequent life experience.

6. They are linked to basic hopes in the future

Example: If I am loved then I will be happy; If I am successful then I will be worthy – a somebody rather than a nobody.

7. Often culturally reinforced

Example: We should be individualistic and achieve; women should always be loving and caring.

Further common examples of dysfunctional attitudes:

People will probably think less of me if I make a mistake (mind reading – there is no evidence for this thought)

If a person asks for help, it’s a sign of weakness (this is not a fact)

If other people know what you are really like they will think less of you. (there is no concrete evidence for this and no doubt there will be at least one example in your life of someone knowing you well who still loves and cares for you).

I cannot trust other people because they might be cruel to me (over generalised).

To be happy I must be admired, respected. I must show others that I am competent.

I must always try hard. I must avoid making mistakes and never be seen to fail.

I have to achieve things to maintain my sense of self worth.

To feel good about myself I have to have others’ admiring attention.

You are more likely to have dysfunctional attitudes if you have not received recognition from your parents, have been made to feel less than or not good enough in some way ( a common cause is from parents who offer conditional love to children – eg. only when they gt good grades at school, uni etc)

How to challenge dysfunctional attitudes:

Remember that thoughts aren’t facts – learn to challenge your thinking and look for the evidence.

Look for other ways to view a situation. What would a friend say?

Look at the advantages and disadvantages of possessing a dysfunctional attitude.

Work on loving and accepting yourself. You are worthy just being you, you don’t need to DO anything to be valuable.

Mandy X