Dispelling the negative beliefs for individuals
Over the years as a clinician, I have heard many irrational beliefs of clients that keep them sick and in addiction. Ellis in his writings, compiled a list of 13 Irrational Beliefs (IBs). It is ironic that his list and the list in chemical dependency treatment are similar. To those of you who called and dropped notes to repeat the list, these are for you. I will do seven this month and the next six, next month. For those of you who have never seen these, I hope they help you in your continuing recovery, so here goes.
“I must be loved and approved of by every significant person in my life, and if I’m not, it’s awful, terrible and horrible.” This IB is the most troublesome in therapy. Words like must are demands, not preferences. Also many words like awful, terrible, horrible lead to anxiety and depression. This IB represents fear of rejection and disapproval by others. Ellis often refers to this as “love slobbism,” whereby both male and females without partners may see themselves as unfinished products or incomplete entities. Men and women holding such ideas often engage in many self-defeating behaviors like abuse mentally and physically and they don’t speak up for fear of being inadequate and then being rejected. Staying in an abusive relationship without telling what you need and want from someone over time destroys one’s self-worth. Rationally speaking, I have told both sexes, “it would be desirable and productive to concentrate on self-respect and loving instead of having to be loved.”
“When other people behave badly, or unfairly, they should be blamed, reprimanded or punished. They are bad or rotten individuals.”
Self-talk could be: “you male chauvinist pig;” “he’s stupid;” “it’s your fault and you’re no good.”
The elements of irrationality of this belief are the concepts that (A.) The person is to be condemned and (B.) The person should be punished and (C.) The person is totally bad. In REBT therapy, we look at the behaviors, not people being rated. Also, punishment is effective in changing behaviors, not in condemning people. REBT believes certain acts are inappropriate or antisocial and those who do these behaviors are acting stupidly or being neurotic and better helped to change.
“It’s awful when things are not the way I’d like them to be.”
Self-talk could be: “I can’t stand being fat;” I won’t be treated unfairly, because I can’t stand it;” “If I don’t get into grad school, my life is over;” “If she does that one more time, I’ll scream.”
It’s too bad things are often not the way we would like them to be and it would be advisable to change or control conditions so they can become more satisfactory. If change is impossible, say the Serenity Prayer over and over.
“I should be very anxious about events that are uncertain or dangerous.”
Self-talk could be: “What do you mean, relax?” “Oh my God, no;” “Nobody seems to understand how serious this is.”
This belief is based on the demand for certainty in our lives and results in anxiety and depression when we do not receive guarantees. Patients who hold this IB will upset themselves not only when the unfortunate occurs, but also well before it happens.
“I am not worthwhile unless I am thoroughly competent, adequate and achieving at all times, or at least most of the time in at least one major area.”
Self-talk could be: “What an idiot I am;” ” I’m not smart enough to apply to grad school;” “I can’t face myself;” “How could I only get a ‘C’ – shows me how dumb I am.”
This IB is one of the most commonly heard by counselors. It is perhaps the most prevalent among males in our competitive, achievement-oriented society. It is usually connected with a strong fear of failure. The person believes that if he doesn’t succeed, he is a failure, not simply that he failed at a task. This form of self-denigration leads to low self-worth and anxiety and feelings of depression. Athletes using chemicals to cope or achieve, eventually self-destruct when failure to someone better shatters their thinking. I have told clients, “It’s better to do, than need to do well and accepting oneself as an imperfect creature with human limitations and fallibilities. This does not mean that one does not try, but if it doesn’t work out, then acceptance trumps beating the hell out of yourself.
“There has to be a perfect solution to this problem. I must be certain and have perfect control over things.”
Self-talk could be: “There’s got to be a better way;” “How can I be sure?” “If I stay I’ll be miserable and if I go, I’ll be miserable;” “Doctor, do you mean you can’t tell me what to do?” There are two parts to this IB:
1. First, there is an ideal or perfect solution to the problem and one must be able to find it and if they don’t, it’s awful.
2. The second element is whether or not there is a perfect solution, the client believes he or she must have perfect control over the problem.
This IB can be directed at other people, especially counselors who don’t provide solutions to or control over difficult conditions when they aren’t resolved easily or quickly. Our world is one of probability and chance, and life can still be enjoyable despite this.
“The world should be fair and just.”
Self-talk could be: “How could she do this to me?” Why does this always happen to me?” “I don’t deserve this;” “They had no right to fire me;” “How dare you?”
This belief is irrational because of entitlement and demandingness. Clients who have this belief are unwilling to accept things as they are and feel they must be better constructors of the world than whoever created it. This is one of the key elements of cognitive thinking of adolescents.
Adolescents can be very idealistic and tend to have fixed notions of how the world should be ( … their way!)
Thinking the idea that the world should and must be fair is a good idea, now prove it. The world is often unfair and good guys and gals do die young. It’s better to accept this fact and concentrate on enjoying oneself despite it.
As you can see in the first seven IBs, words like must, should, awful, terrible bring up many demands and negative feelings. In recovery, we are looking to manage these better. Thus the basic tenets of REBT are
C. Low frustration tolerance
D. Rating of self-worth
If you want to get better, stop drinking and drugging, change your thinking about these seven IBs. If you have difficulty, call me. Next month, the last six IBs.
Mike Tramuta has been a counselor for more than 30 years. Call 983-1592 for more information.