Irrational Beliefs

GlassesThe first school of psychotherapy, and currently the only widely-supported psychological therapy in some mental health systems, is the cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. Nowadays it acts as an umbrella for several schools that emerged from early theories, but we often refer to the entire cluster as CBT. It is the main training each psychologist receives in faculty and the most accessible specialization after graduation. It is often criticized by the psychodynamic schools and newer approaches, but it has developed some important aspects and one of them is the ABC model.

The ABC model says that activating triggers (A) around us generate consequences (C) only if we have certain beliefs (B) about those triggering events. The consequences can be either emotions, thoughts, body sensations or certain behaviors, and these consequences may act as triggers themselves, creating additional consequences and vicious circles. If we have irrational beliefs, we almost surely get nasty consequences, so a certain discipline and competence at this level is essential.

Note that when CBT says “beliefs”, it actually says “thoughts”. The therapist offers alternative thoughts to the client/patient, and then they re-live again, using imagery, the triggering event. If they get better consequences, the therapy is OK. If not, they try a different alternative thought, until they find something that works. Changing beliefs is something only the clients/patients themselves can do, often after lengthy periods of time, and involves acceptance and choice. This is what the psychodynamic psychotherapies deal with and usually involves the process of accessing the unconscious mind.

Here are ones of the most importants irrational beliefs we encounter and some aspects we often cover when they arise. They act like colored (often dark-colored or dirty) glasses through which we see reality, hence the image above.

“I need to be loved!”

– Being loved or unloved has nothing to do with your value.
– It’s normal and desirable to wish to be loved, but it’s not vital. You don’t need love so as to survive.
– Love is something you give to yourself. We often mistake attention or approval for love; we may need attention or approval from others, not love. If you need attention/approval from someone else, your value increases or decreases according to the amount of attention/approval you receive. Since your value is intrinsic, the fact that it could go up or down is an illusion.
– Love is an emotion. Emotions can’t be exchanged. They are only resented by the person who experiences them.

“I must succeed!”

– I feel great when I am successful, but this does not increase my intrinsic value and does not make me a better person. Similarly, if I fail, I might be sad, but failing does not decrease my essential personal value. However, if there is confusion between being a person and your actions – that is, you believe that you are defined by what you’re doing or you confuse a person with her actions – you are likely to live by the motto above.
– We are all humans, but some of us are more useful to the society and their actions are more adequate compared to others’ actions. However, this does not alter in any way their value as human beings.
– It’s important to act, but it is not important to perfectly act; being obsessed with success if often an issue with excessive perfectionism.
– Success is desirable, but not indispensable. “You don’t have to do anything!” “It would be nice if…”

“You are such an idiot!” “I am such an idiot!”

– A person is not the same thing as her actions.
– A person is never an idiot. She has the behavior of an idiot, she behaves in an inappropriate manner, but she’s never an idiot.
– A person always does her best, in the given circumstances and using her resources.
– The others don’t owe you anything.

“It’s a disaster!” “This situation is a catastrophe!”

– Is it really so? It could certainly be a very disagreeable situation, but is it necessarily a tragedy?
– The way we see a situation depends a lot on the personal history. Some people believe that a situation is a disaster only when they lose their good health or, even worse, when they lose in death their loved ones.
– It helps to be grateful because something happened, even if after a while we lost it. It could have not happened at all…
– It also helps to count one’s blessings…

“It’s your fault!”

– Often, when we say “it’s your fault” we actually say “it’s your responsibility”. Be aware that the two words are different in meaning and are used one instead of the other.
– Sometimes it’s other’s fault. Sometime it’s not. But you are always responsible. You are responsible for the situation, regardless of the other’s guilt or not. You are responsible if you do or if you don’t do anything about that situation.
– You have always the power over your response to a given circumstance. Therefore, you are responsible. In extremis, you have always the free-will to choose your attitude versus a certain situation; also, you can always choose your actions or non-actions. There are very rare extreme cases when you can’t.

“It’s too difficult!” “Life must be easy!”

– The fact that I want something and I say it doesn’t mean I will get it. I have to act on my desires.
– In this life there isn’t anything free. You either pay it with your effort or with your time, but there is always a price and you will pay it if you want to get what you want.


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