“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
- Marcus Aurelius
Do you believe that people and things have the power to push your buttons? Thanks to REBT, I have learned that people and things can only push our buttons if we allow them to do so. In other words, people and things are not directly responsible for causing our emotional disturbances (they can contribute to our healthy negative emotions, but not directly cause our unhealthy negative emotions); rather, the way we think about specific people, things, and adversities within our lives is what actually causes us to become emotionally disturbed (i.e. plagued with unhealthy negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, hurt, anger, shame, embarrassment, guilt, problematic jealousy and envy).
This is the essence of REBT: we focus on identifying, disputing, and replacing our irrational beliefs or attitudes that often prevent us from reaching our goals and fully enjoying our lives. We can broadly categorize our irrational thought patterns into four types of thinking:
· Frustration Intolerance
· Global Evaluations of Self, Other, & Life-Worth
In addition to these four unhelpful attitudes or ways of thinking, we can break them down further into specific irrational beliefs that generally inhibit our ability to function effectively within our day-to-day lives and often lead to self-sabotage by undermining our personal, professional, and relational goals.
Here are the 10 most common attitudes responsible for perpetuating our individual irrational beliefs, as well as examples of how to dispute and replace specific irrational beliefs with rational and effective new beliefs!
1. Attitude: worrying too much about what other people think
Irrational Belief: People must approve of everything that I do (demand). My family and friends should always think highly of my decisions (demand). My boss should not criticize my work (demand). My spouse absolutely needs to appreciate when I cook (demand).
Dispute: Where is it written that people must approve of everything that I do (empirical dispute)? What is the evidence to prove that my family and friends should always think highly of my decisions (logical dispute)? How is demanding that my boss must never criticize me helping me to function effectively at work and helping me to learn a different way of accomplishing my goals in life and in my career (practical dispute)? What is the logic behind my absolutistic expectations that my spouse absolutely must appreciate my cooking at all times (logical dispute)?
Rational Effective New Belief: Though I would prefer that people approve of everything that I do, that my family and friends agree with all of my decisions, that my boss does not criticize me, and that my partner always appreciates my cooking, there is no reason why any of these things absolutely have to happen. I am a human being with free will, and the only realistic expectation I can have is that I will not always have people’s approval, and I will sometimes make mistakes, and demanding perfection will not put me in a position to have more control over these inevitable instances. I will accept that criticism, mistakes, disapproval, and lack of appreciation are all a part of life, and by accepting this reality, I will put myself in a stronger position to live in peace.
2. Attitude: Excessive fear of failure
Irrational Belief: I must not fail this important exam (demand), and if I do, it would be awful (awfulizing/catastrophizing), and it would prove that I am not smart enough to be successful in my field (global evaluation of self-worth).
Dispute: How is demanding that I must not fail this exam helping me to properly prepare for this test or rationally cultivate a back-up plan if I do not pass (practical dispute)?
Rational Effective New Belief: I strongly prefer not to fail my exam, but I acknowledge the reality that failure is a possible outcome in life, and if I do fail, it would be unfortunate and likely prolong being successful within my field, but I could study harder and take the exam a second time. Ultimately, while failing is not ideal, it would not be entirely awful or the end of the world. Furthermore, one failure does not equate to me not being smart or successful in my career down the road.
3. Attitude: People, specific circumstances, and life events should always turn out the way that I want them to, and if they do not, I could not stand it
Irrational Belief: I need my wedding to be perfect (demand): the flowers must be gigantic and impressive (demand), and if we cannot afford my vision, I could not stand it (frustration intolerance)! I will not be able to tolerate anything less than my dream wedding flowers (frustration intolerance)!
Dispute: If I did not hold this stubborn belief, how would I feel and act differently (emotional and behavioral dispute)? How is treating my preferences, as though they are absolute needs, helping me to accomplish my goal of enjoying the wedding planning process and not depleting my savings on wedding expenses (practical dispute)?
Rational Effective New Belief: I would prefer that my wedding is perfect, but there is no reason that it must be perfect. It can be beautiful without being perfect, and even though I want to have the budget I desire for flowers, I can withstand my frustration and disappointment if I cannot afford everything I envisioned. Demanding that my wedding is perfect and that the flowers are exactly as I want them to be will not help me to enjoy the wedding planning process, nor will it help me to preserve some of my savings.
4. Attitude: Blaming others for my disappointments or frustrations
Irrational Belief: It is my parents’ fault that I am not financially independent yet, and because of that, they are selfish (global evaluations of others’-worth). They should have supported me with what I wanted to study (demand), but instead they discouraged me from doing what I really wanted to do with my college major, and now I am not where I want to be in life, and they are responsible for it.
Dispute: Does my belief, that my parents are entirely responsible for my career dissatisfaction and financial dependence on them, make sense (logical dispute)? Is it actually true that my parents made me dependent on them because they did not agree with my choice of college major (empirical dispute)? Furthermore, where is it written that my parents must support every decision I make (empirical dispute)? If I did not entirely blame my parents for where I am in my life, how would I feel and act differently in order to improve my circumstances (emotional and behavioral dispute)?
Rational Effective New Belief: It is not entirely my parents’ fault that I am not where I want to be in my career and still financially dependent on them. Even though their strong opinions may have contributed to my decisions, I am going to take emotional and behavioral responsibility for my own life and for where I am today. Though I would have preferred for them to support me in my first choice of major, there is no reason that they had to do so, and there is also no reason that I need their support in making career decisions for myself. They may also provide and show support in a different way than I would ideally want it, and that is okay. I am not going to blame them for my disappointment and frustration, and by not blaming them, and taking responsibility, I will put myself in a more empowered position to make meaningful changes within my life.
5. Attitude: Worrying/obsessing will give me more control over the outcome
Irrational Belief: My partner must not cheat on me and if he/she does (demand), I will not be able to stand it (frustration intolerance). It would be so awful if this happened (awfulizing/catastrophizing); therefore, I will never stop telling my partner that this should never happen (demand), and I will always worry about it, because the moment I stop worrying, it will be more likely to occur.
Dispute: What are the facts showing that by always worrying about something, it will be less likely to happen (logical dispute)? How would I feel and behave differently if I did not believe that worrying and obsessing will prevent something bad from happening (emotional and behavioral dispute)? How is viewing my partner’s possible infidelity as absolutely the end of the world helping me to function effectively within life and my relationship (practical dispute)?
Rational Effective New Belief: Although I would very strongly prefer that my partner not cheat on me, demanding that it must never happen, and obsessively worrying about it will not actually give me more control over the situation. Though being cheated on would be very sad and disappointing, it would not be the absolute end of the world. By no longer catastrophizing my fear of being cheated on, I can transition my unhealthy dysfunctional anxiety into healthy functional concern; therefore, I will put myself in a rational frame of mind to enjoy my relationship in the present, more effectively deal with potential adversities in the future, and make important relationship decisions, when/if necessary.
6. Attitude: Perfect solutions exist
Irrational Belief: I must make the right decision (demand), because I cannot stand making mistakes (frustration intolerance), and if I do not do the right thing and find the perfect answer, it will prove that I am a stupid person (global evaluation of self-worth).
Dispute: Where is it written that people must never make mistakes (empirical dispute)? How is it helping me to believe that there is an absolutely perfect solution and/or a 100% right decision (practical dispute)? What is the connection between making mistakes and being an entirely stupid person (logical dispute)? How would I feel and act differently if I believed that I could withstand making a mistake (emotional and behavioral dispute)?
Rational Effective New Belief: As a human being, I am prone to making mistakes from time-to-time and I can stand doing so. Also, more often than not, entirely perfect solutions generally do not exist. If I make a poor decision and seek out a bad solution, it does not mean that I am an entirely stupid person. Even if I make a stupid decision, it does not equate to me being stupid. If I truly believe that I can tolerate making a mistake and/or not making perfect decisions, I will be able to spend more of my life enjoying it, as opposed to proving myself.
7. Attitude: Avoidance is easier than acceptance and addressing
Irrational Belief: I have to avoid applying to companies that require group interviews (demand), because I feel so uncomfortable in those settings that I cannot handle them (frustration intolerance).
Dispute: How is demanding that I avoid all group interviews helping me to effectively find a job (practical dispute)? If I did not believe that avoidance is easier than accepting that group interviews are common practice when searching for a job and thereby addressing my fears, how would I feel and act differently (emotional and behavioral dispute)?
Rational Effective New Belief: Even though I prefer not to participate in group interviews, I understand that there is no reason why I must not attend them, as I am aware that many of the companies I am interested in working for often conduct group interviews. Therefore, I will accept that group interviews are a part of this process and I will address my fears by reminding myself that I can withstand feeling uncomfortable, and through facing my fear, I can learn to become comfortable with that which makes me uncomfortable.
8. Attitude: Neutrality equates to happiness
Irrational Belief: I must learn not to care about the fractured relationship I have with my family (demand), because not caring should bring me happiness and peace (demand).
Dispute: What is the correlation between not caring or neutrality and happiness (logical dispute)? How is not caring or feeling emotionally neutral helping me to face the reality of my contentious family dynamics and ultimately accept things as they are (practical dispute)?
Rational Effective New Belief: Neutrality may seem appealing, but emotionally withdrawing from my life is not only unrealistic, but it is also not helpful in addressing the unpleasant parts of my life that are important for me to accept. Experiencing strong emotions is a part of life, and a more realistic and helpful goal for myself is to transition any unhealthy negative emotions that I am experiencing into healthy and functional negative emotions that allow me to accept adversities that are outside of my control and enjoy my life in spite of them.
9. Attitude: My past is responsible for my present and future circumstances
Irrational Belief: As a consequence of my parents always arguing throughout my childhood, I am an angry person. I will not be able to change who I am (frustration intolerance), and my partner should accept me as I am (demand), because my anger is outside of my control.
Dispute: Where does it say that the past is the sole determinant of the future (empirical dispute)? How is the belief that I am incapable of changing and managing my anger going to help me to stay married (practical dispute)? If I changed the way I think about my ability to manage my anger, how would I act differently (behavioral dispute)?
Rational Effective New Belief: While my parents’ constant arguing and anger towards one another has influenced my own anger, I can choose not to be a prisoner of my past, because I am the only person responsible for perpetuating my anger and bringing it into my marriage. There is no reason why my partner should entirely accept my anger, and by taking personal responsibility for my emotions and my behavior, I can make the decision to learn how to effectively manage my anger and live in a healthier and more functional manner.
10. Attitude: It is rational to be seriously disturbed by truly bad people and things
Irrational Belief: After enduring the traumatic experience of surviving a school shooting, I must recover at my own pace (demand), because anxiety, depression, anger, and complex grief are all normal emotions to experience in the aftermath of such tragedy.
Dispute: How is this belief helping me to get back to functioning effectively within my day-to-day routine, and to find enjoyment in life, despite this highly traumatic experience (practical dispute)? If I did not hold this belief so intently, how would I feel and behave differently (emotional and behavioral dispute)?
Rational Effective New Belief: While I would prefer to emotionally recover from my trauma at a slower pace, I acknowledge that there may be a more effective way to begin this process. Furthermore, even though anxiety, depression, anger, and complex grief are all normal emotions to experience in the aftermath of such a traumatic event, I will remind myself: just because something is normal does not mean it is helpful. I can seek support through counseling, where I will learn how to grieve and process my trauma in a healthier manner and help myself to experience healthier emotions and engage in functional behaviors, while continuing to honor my grief in constructive ways.
As you reflect on the aforementioned attitudes, be cognizant of irrational beliefs that you may be holding onto, which are very likely contributing to any unhealthy negative emotions you are experiencing, such as anxiety, depression, hurt, anger, guilt, shame, embarrassment, problematic jealousy and envy. Practice challenging your irrational thinking by asking yourself empirical, logical, practical, emotional, and behavioral disputing questions. Remember:
· Empirical Disputes ask: is my belief true?
· Logical Disputes ask: is my belief sensible?
· Practical Disputes ask: is my belief helpful?
· Emotional Disputes ask: how would I feel differently, if I were to change my belief to one that is more rational?
· Behavioral Disputes ask: how would I act differently, if I were to change my belief to one that is more rational?
When you learn to identify, dispute, and replace your irrational beliefs with effective rational alternative beliefs, you empower yourself by accepting that people, circumstances, and adversities do not have the power to determine your emotions and behaviors, and to push your buttons. You are responsible for your emotional and behavioral reactions in life, and you push your own buttons as a consequence of your irrational beliefs and attitudes!
To learn more about REBT philosophy, read my article: 5 Rational Self-Help Strategies for Improving Your Mental Health & Wellness!
To learn more about how REBT-based couples counseling can help to improve relationships, read my articles: How to Restore & Reestablish Your Relationship Through REBT and 9 Relationship Commitments that the Happiest & Healthiest Couples Make to One Another!