“If something is irrational, that means it won’t work. It’s usually unrealistic.” – Albert Ellis
What are the Five Irrational Beliefs in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy?
Compared to other forms of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), REBT (rational emotive behavior therapy) uniquely emphasizes the role that irrational beliefs play in contributing to our emotional and behavioral disturbance. As a REBT-based counselor, whenever I identify irrational beliefs, I look for thoughts that sound like:
2. Awfulizing or Catastrophizing
3. Frustration Intolerance
4. Global Evaluations of Self-Worth (self-condemnation)
5. Global Evaluations of Others’-Worth and Life-Worth (condemnation of others/life in general)
As a true REBT devotee, I practice REBT the way Albert Ellis (the founder of REBT) intended for it to be utilized; therefore, I believe that demands are at the core of all psychological disturbance, and that the other four irrational believes are always derivatives of existing demands. Sometimes demandingness is the only irrational belief present, but often it exists with one or more additional irrational beliefs, and it is quite possible that all five irrational beliefs can coexist at once.
Irrational beliefs are rigid and absolutistic, which makes them inconsistent with reality. Irrational beliefs impede our ability to reach our goals, and ultimately, they generate unhealthy and dysfunctional emotions. By contrast, rational beliefs are flexible, logical, and consistent with reality. Rational beliefs help us to achieve our goals, as well as to better cope with our defeats. Despite profound adversity, thinking rationally leads to healthy emotions, as it helps us to accept what we cannot control, and to focus our energy on that which is within our power.
According to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), demandingness is the first of five irrational beliefs and all humans have the psychological capacity to experience these beliefs at some point in our lives. Demandingness is identified as rigid and dogmatic adherence to an idea, and demands are at the core of all emotional disturbances.
For example, the notion that we need to achieve perfection is inflexible, illogical, and unrealistic and consequently when we demand perfection, we are exhibiting an irrational belief. The idea that we must perform perfectly, or that our romantic partner should be our perfect match, and that our job ought to be the perfect career are all examples of demandingness. Demands are unrealistic expectations that we place on ourselves, others, and the world. Demands generally manifest themselves into language that includes absolutistic words such as musts, should, oughts, have to, and need. Examples: “I must get that promotion at work”, my boyfriend should have known this would upset me”, I need the world to be a fair place”.
When we demand that our desires become our reality, it causes us emotional distress. REBT does not aspire to eliminate our desires, but rather it helps us to distinguish our preferences from our demands. When we relinquish our demands, we allow ourselves to accept reality and rationally resolve problems. Acceptance in REBT does not equate to approval; rather, it allows us to acknowledge the reality of a circumstance from a logical perspective, which leaves us in a more empowered position to resolve the parts of the situation that we have the ability to change.
Awfulizing & Catastrophizing
Sometimes the most profound challenges we face are the ones we attempt to forecast within our minds. Awfulizing and catastrophizing are irrational beliefs that manifest themselves in expressions such as: “it’s awful, terrible, horrible, a disaster or a catastrophe”. These beliefs are defined as exaggerated negative thoughts and assessments about ourselves, others, and the world. REBT teaches us that when we learn to think rationally, we will be better equipped to cope with adversity, because we will inherently believe that our negative circumstances are bearable and survivable.
Even for those of us who have truly endured traumatic events or are experiencing life-threatening circumstances, REBT acknowledges genuine hardships, while helping us to understand how awfulizing and catastrophizing only further contributes to our emotional distress and therefore inhibits us from experiencing psychological relief. As a counselor, my mission is to help my clients understand and believe that despite our pain, we are stronger than we realize; and by seeking the support of a counselor, we are already showing that we are willing to learn how to better tolerate that which we cannot control, as well as focus on all that we can control in order to improve our lives.
Awfulizing and catastrophizing is an irrational belief often associated with anxiety: learn more about REBT and anxiety by reading my blog post: Why REBT is the Most Effective Approach for Anxiety Counseling!
Frustration intolerance pertains to how much emotional frustration we are able and willing to withstand. Frustration Intolerance is an irrational belief because it is an exaggeration of the actual consequences that may occur as a result of not being able to tolerate that which causes frustration and discomfort.
Frustration intolerance generally manifests itself in expressions such as, “I can’t stand it” or “I can’t handle this”. The above statements are dramatic, and the literal meaning of them indicates that our frustration will result in severe outcomes, such as loss of happiness, deterioration of physical and emotional health, and even death. Low frustration beliefs are comprised of two elements: the first is a non-extreme belief, such as “this is difficult to endure”, and then it is followed by a second extreme belief, such as “as a result I cannot tolerate it”. This example exemplifies why frustration intolerance is irrational, because the second extreme belief is not the logical result of the first non-extreme belief.
There are four different types of frustration intolerance: emotional, entitlement, discomfort, and achievement, and it is beneficial to distinguish the type, as each pertains to different emotional challenges. REBT helps us to develop rational tolerance (higher frustration tolerance) by accepting that our long-term goals often require us to endure frustration, and it teaches us to more successfully tolerate the reality that our life circumstances do not always go as planned.
Global Evaluations/Ratings of Self-Worth
Self-worth ratings are irrational beliefs that pertain to global evaluations about our own human value. REBT helps us to understand that we cannot truly label ourselves as good or bad. Instead, we can evaluate our behavior, which leads to rating actions, as opposed to our entire self; and this generally results in healthier negative emotions.
Remember, REBT makes a distinction between unhealthy negative emotions (anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, shame, problematic jealousy and envy), and healthy negative emotions (concern, sadness, annoyance, regret, remorse, healthy jealousy and envy). This is important, because REBT does not advocate feeling positively about unfortunate events; rather, it encourages us to experience negative emotions from a constructive and rational perspective.
Most significantly, REBT stresses that all human beings are fallible; therefore, it encourages unconditional self-acceptance. Through unconditional self-acceptance we acknowledge our imperfections and errors without rating or labeling our entire self. REBT draws a clear contrast between self-efficacy and self-worth. This is a defining concept, which emphasizes that our ability or inability to perform a task has nothing to do with our intrinsic value. In other words, REBT teaches us to believe, “Even if I cannot do (and may never be able to do) what I once did and what others can do, I am still an okay and worthwhile person.” Unlike self-esteem, which is typically conditional, unconditional self-acceptance is a rational belief that will facilitate us in virtually all scenarios.
Global Evaluations/Ratings of Others’-Worth and Life-Worth
When we rate the worth of others, as well as the value of life in general, we set ourselves up to experience unhealthy negative emotions. REBT helps us to understand that all human beings are imperfect, and that people cannot be broadly labeled as good or bad. Just as REBT encourages unconditional self-acceptance, it also encourages unconditional other-acceptance. Through unconditional other-acceptance we learn that we can condemn a person’s behavior without labeling them as worthless, which generally results in healthier more functional emotions.
Unconditional acceptance can also be applied to our life perspective, as we recognize that while bad events occur in the world, the world in its entirety is not a bad or worthless place. This is an abstract concept, and for those who have endured a traumatic experience, it can be challenging to apply unconditional life-acceptance to their personal philosophy on life. That being said, I encourage all of us to practice unconditional-other acceptance, because when we begin seeing ourselves, others, and the world as containing both positive and negative attributes, we are better equipped to approach our challenges rationally, as well as take responsibility for that which is within our control.
When we negatively evaluate ourselves, others, or life in general, we set ourselves up to experience unhealthy negative emotions such as depression, contempt, and rage. REBT helps us to understand that human beings cannot be broadly labeled as good or bad. Instead, we can positively and negatively rate human behavior, as well as specific circumstances: evaluating actions and events, as opposed to an entire person or life purpose, which generally results in healthier more functional negative emotions, such as disappointment, annoyance, and remorse.
Through REBT, we learn how to dispute and replace our stubbornly-held irrational beliefs with rational alternatives, which results in the experience of much healthier emotions, behaviors, and relationships. Through disputing our irrational beliefs and replacing them with effective new beliefs, we will release our rigid demands and expectations for how we believe we, others, and the world must be. Once we believe that all human beings are fallible, that life can simultaneously be imperfect yet worthwhile, and that we are responsible for our own emotional and behavioral reactions to the adversities we face, we will begin to achieve psychological, emotional, and behavioral freedom!
To better understand the significance of irrational beliefs in REBT, learn more by reading my blog post: The ABC’s of REBT: Short-Term Counseling with Lasting Results!