When we feel unhappy, our emotional disturbances come from our thoughts. Dr Albert Ellis identified 11 irrational beliefs that cause us to feel emotions such as anger, hate, worry, panic, insecurity, jealousy, passivity, procrastination, and other forms of escape. To reduce these unwelcome emotions involves training yourself to reject irrational ideas, to question their soundness so completely that you no longer think they make sense.
Eleven Irrational ideas:
1) Being unloved or disapproved of proves you are bad and worthless
Rejection hurts. Do you feel you only have value if people important to you regard your highly? If they do not respect or love you, then you are an unacceptable human being. This belief is nonsense. Who are other people to pass judgement anyway? Are they perfect? It’s not great when other people disapprove but it’s hardly the end of the world.
2) Behaving badly, stupidly, or amorally makes you a bad worthless person
Believing that you can only think well of yourself if you are outstanding, a high achiever, and nearly perfect will create distress. The reality is-the only way any of us can ever be free of errors is when we are dead. All living people will make mistakes, millions of them, as long as they live. If imperfect people are no good, then every person who ever lived, who is presently alive, or who will ever live is bad, rotten, evil and worthless…really?!
3) Bad and wicked people need punishing to cure them
People and their behaviour are not the same. It is irrational to conclude that bad behaviour makes a bad person because those same people probably perform many behaviours-some bad and cruel but some wonderful and kind. Instead of putting people down or abusing them physically, it might be worth recognising that punishment is not that effective.
If we punish an unruly teenager and lock them away in solitary confinement, what kind of person would that produce? Success lies in understanding what created the unruly behaviour in the first place. Consequences for antisocial behaviour are important but these consequences are not as black and white as we’d like them to be.
4) It is awful and catastrophic when you don’t get your way. Life should be fair
Wrong again? You never need to have your way. Not getting your way is irritating, annoying and sad but not horrible, terrible or so awful you can’t tolerate it. What do you plan to do instead? Not tolerate it? Learn to tolerate your frustrations and you can reduce or remove them, or put up with them until they pass.
5) Unhappiness is caused by external events in our lives and this leaves us with little or no control over our emotions
Is it really true that other people make us depressed, angry, jealous? If we want to get rid of these emotional pains must we get others to stop treating us so badly? The truth is-no one upsets you but yourself. People frustrate you but you disturb yourself. By believing that our unhappiness comes from outside of ourselves makes it easier for us to blame everyone else for our problems. We are in charge of our emotions. If we are rational with ourselves we are in good shape. If we are irrational, we are in trouble.
6) We should be concerned about danger and threats and we should worry and focus endlessly upon them
Many of us mistakenly believe that worrying guards us against surprises and guarantees that problems will not get worse. We experience a false sense of security. In fact, the more you worry and go over a thought the more nervous you’ll feel. Challenge the idea that dwelling on problems is helpful. Of course, it makes sense to pay attention to your problems but it is never a good idea to obsess over things you cannot control. Problem solve and then let it go.
7) It is easier to avoid difficult situations than it is to face them
A ‘head in the sand’ approach does not make the problem go away. Being passive rarely solves the problem. The only way to grow is to regularly step out of your comfort zone. Facing problems is hard at first but after a while, you will reap enormous rewards.
8) It is better to rely on people who are stronger or more powerful than you if you want to feel secure
The belief that others know how to make smart decisions, that they have abilities that you do not is extremely self-limiting. The more you rely on others the less you will rely on yourself. Depending on others means you will remain frightened of making mistakes. Ask yourself how the person you lean on became so skilled and reliable in the first place. It is mostly because that person has done it over and over again and has learned from the ‘school of hard knocks’. If you want the same skills, stick your neck out, take responsibility and risk being wrong. That’s how you too can learn to be capable, competent and strong psychologically.
9) Your past is to blame for the troubles you face today
Whilst this is somewhat true, it is a cop-out to blame the way life is today for the things that happened in the past. Yes, your parents may have neglected you. It may be true that you have been burnt in relationships but this does not mean that the future always equals the past. Bad experiences and lessons, and attitudes we take from them can be unlearned. If you were trained to be shy or aggressive, humble or ambitious, insecure or self-confident, you have the choice to change this. Life teaches us all, and most of the time we rethink our beliefs and change accordingly.
Deep conditioning from the past does not have to equal a lifetime of disaster. Take responsibility and realise that you do have choices.
10) We should be upset and disturbed over other people’s problems
Empathy is a wonderful thing but being completely heartbroken over another person’s heartbreak just adds more misery to the world. You will also not be in a good position to assist those that are heartbroken. We all want people who care about our suffering but not those who overcare. It is appropriate to be sad without feeling destroyed, to be annoyed rather than furious, and to be alert and careful rather than panicky.
11) All problems have one and only one perfect solution
Wouldn’t that make life easier? The truth is life is a matter of probabilities. There are many roads to Rome. Until we examine them all, we will not know which is the shortest. In any event, rather than avoid taking reasonable action until we are certain, we are likely to spend so much time looking for perfection and often the discovery comes too late. It is far more sensible to act with a reasonable expectation of success than to delay until you are certain. Don’t procrastinate when making decisions, instead do a risk assessment and go with the solution that seems the most likely to bring success.
Confronting these irrational beliefs listed above will promote peace of mind. Accepting and believing irrational beliefs can lead to low self-esteem, depression, anger or fear, procrastination as well as feelings of inadequacy. It makes sense to choose thinking that works for you rather than against you.