Please excuse any typos and grammatical errors
We went off course a bit in part 5 to cover something we will talk about again and again – the universal truths, but now it’s time to get back to REBT 101 and dive further into our self-defeating beliefs.
I have been using a lot of the nomenclature of Dr Ellis throughout this series and think it’s about time that I went over his methods. Dr Ellis created a system called the A-B-C, or more correctly the A-B-C-D-E method to describe how emotional disturbances happen.
A is for Activating Event. We all, by now, understand what this is
B stands for the Beliefs we have about the activating events. Again we’ve talked a lot about this throughout the Foundations series. Your beliefs can be either Rational, meaning they work towards your goal to be a happy and healthy person or they are, most likely, irrational and cause emotional disturbance
C is for consequences. The consequences for your beliefs. If they are irrational the consequences are likely to be emotional disturbance, or in many cases they can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example. The activating event might be an upcoming test. Your self-defeating beliefs about the event might be that you think you are not proficient in the subject thus feeling very anxious about it. That anxiety is likely to effect your grade on the test and thus, to you, proving that your original irrational belief that you are not proficient at the subject! It’s an endless loop that so many of us can get stuck in.
Now, for those B – Beliefs that are irrational we also have D which stands for Disrupting. This means the stage where you are disrupting your irrational beliefs and replacing them with rational ones. Again, we’ve done this throughout the series so far.
Lastly there is E – Effects. This is the effect of replacing your irrational beliefs with rational ones. This is where you have less anxiety and less emotional disturbance. Call it our end-goal.
Now, it’s nice to see the system we’ve been talking about all laid out in this simple manner but we should also cover some of the ways and reasons that we have for our negative self-talk to begin with.
Filtering – This is probably the most common thing humans do to create negative self-talk. We filter out the positive and dwell on the negative. We could have been told five times that day that we look great, and we will still look in the mirror and tell ourselves that we are overweight and ugly. So what happened to those five compliments? We filtered them out!
Personalizing – This is all about our ego. When something goes awry in our lives we tend to make it all out us. Our parents divorce and we tell ourselves it’s our fault! Your company downsizes and lays you off and all of a sudden the downturn is all about you. You’d not have been laid off if you had just done more. Patent nonsense.
Catastrophizing or awfulizing – You are on the way to work and suddenly the car in front of you slams on the brakes forcing you to hit your brakes hard. Your coffee spills all over the car. You just KNOW that your whole day is now going to be as bad as this one event! It’s a catastrophe! This signs that you are doing this are using words like awful, terrible, horrible to describe something. It would be awful if… It’s the worst thing that could happen! Oh my god if I lost my phone it would be terrible.
Polarizing- This would describe our current political system. We see things as either black or white. Good or bad. There is simply no room for middle ground. An example here is getting a B on a test and calling it a failure because you see an A as succeeding and anything else as failure.
Can’t-stand-it-itis – This is similar to catastrophizing but in this you are viewing the event as literally unbearable. I’d die if she rejected me! Divorce would be unbearable.
Demanding – Using ‘shoulds’ or ‘musts’ to describe things. I should have done something about that. This is also called moralizing because you are affixing morality to your, or someone else’s actions. I must not fail. Dr Ellis liked to call this musterbation. You don’t have to be using the word must itself here. Other forms of this would be ‘I need to be loved’ and ‘I have to have a cigarette’
Lastly there is People-Rating. This is self labeling or rating others total self worth based on an event. I am worthless. I am stupid. My love life is hopeless.
So we’ve talked about the different ways we go about negative self talk. Where negative self-talk leads to anxiety and emotional disturbances, rational thinking presents a stark contrast.
It is based on reality and emphasizes seeing things as they really are. It keeps things in perspective and focuses on tolerating discomfort and frustration. It’s all about self-acceptance.
Rational thinking helps you achieve your goals and creates emotions you can handle and embrace.
One rather important thing to mention is this. Rational thinking is NOT and I repeat NOT what people refer to as “positive thinking”. Rational thinking is realistic thinking and is concerned with how things actually are, not what we wish them to be or subjective opinion.
Rational thinking generally leads to realistic emotions. Not all negative emotions are necessarily bad for you and not all positive feelings are beneficial. For example feeling unconcerned about a real present danger could put your survival in jeopardy. Rational thinking generally avoids exaggerating both negative and positive thinking.
We have talked about how I suggest you start the process of change. The most important thing is to catalog your self-defeating beliefs. It’s the first step. Next, we create multiple rational belief counters to each of our major irrational beliefs. Then finally, we disrupt or irrational beliefs by replacing them with those rational beliefs. We do this by identifying when we have had an emotional disturbance, then reading our rational belief statements to ourselves. We do this after each event we can identify until we make it a habit. Once we’ve done this for each of our major self defeating beliefs, we do this for all of them. It takes time, but becomes easier as we go along. If you are committed to this, you can and will see marked improvement in yourself within 6 months. Within a year, it can and will start to become second nature.
So what are the obstacles to do this? Well humans have a tendency known as ‘low -discomfort tolerance’.
We like to be comfortable and change is not something we see as comfortable. It means giving up old habits and creating new ways. Your mind will try and avoid this. The biggest weapon you have against this tendency is to know of its existence. Once you understand you will fight it, you can make the plan to fight back by sticking to your schedule. Sticking to the plan.
Identifying this tendency also means knowing what to look for. “I can’t do this”. “This is too hard” “This isn’t going to work” “I’ll start next month”. Those are all statements you might say to yourself to avoid actually doing the work and actual change. See it for what it is – avoidance.
The other point of contention that will hinder your progress is your deep desire to blame anyone else for your feelings and circumstances but yourself. It’s the American way! Taking self responsibility is a new concept to most people. One they will fight tooth and nail. You can identify this as a problem if you find yourself saying things along these lines: She makes me sooo angry! If only he had done what I asked, I would not be so upset. I know I’d be happier if I lived in California. If I were with the right woman, I’d be happy. If my kids behaved properly I’d not yell so much.
One thing REBT will damage is our inflated egos. However, those egos are what have to go if we really want to achieve a happy and healthy life and have happy and healthy relationships.
So now we come to looking at some of the twelve self defeating beliefs individually and how they can and do effect our lives.
I need love and approval from those significant to me and I must avoid disapproval from any source.
Ah the big one. We see this so often in family dynamics. My daddy or mommy must approve of my actions or it will be awful! If I don’t find a husband or wife to love my life will be meaningless. If my mother didn’t give me the love I think she should have, I am damaged. I must not have enemies or it would be intolerable.
I am sure you can think of your own variation of this. So why is this irrational? Well because it isn’t the truth. You can live without approval from others. It might not be the ideal life, but it is tolerable. You can survive without the love of someone you think should love you. In fact, you might actually be better off for it.
The biggest thing about this self-defeating belief is that is seldom applies to your situation in entirety. I mean, in almost all cases, someone in your life cares for you. Someone in your life approves of your decisions. However, even if you literally have no one that loves you or approves, it says nothing about your worth as a human being. It might actually be that it says more about the people in your life.
The other thing about this that is irrational is that there is simply no way we can avoid disapproval. We are not able to anticipate all the ways others will think we should behave. Disapproval from others so often comes down to their moralizing your actions. You cannot be held to others expectations. If you were, you’d be living for others, and not you. You’d be doing things to achieve their goals for you, not your own.
So what are some of the rational beliefs we could replace this with? Dr Ellis has his, but let’s expand on this.
I appreciate the love I get from others, but I simply cannot expect everyone I interact with to be loving and kind.
While approval from others is great when it happens, I have to understand that there is no chance I can go through life without meeting disapproval of my actions from some people. That disproval says nothing about who I am as a person and it likely speaks more about the other person’s unreasonable expectations than it does my actions.
I cannot expect others to behave in ways I want them to and vice versa. As such there will be people in my life that don’t love me that I love, and those that love me that I don’t feel the same about. If I tell myself that someone should love or approve of me, it’s just an attempt to control the uncontrollable. It akin to yelling at the sun for rising in the east. I would be better off accepting reality.
I will not wither and die without love and approval from those I think should give it. It might be uncomfortable, but it’s not the end of the world.
I am sure you might be able to come up with a few more that are geared to your specific situation. Most situations where this self-defeating belief comes up do not have to do with everyone in your life disapproving of your actions or being unloving, but instead, they will be about specific people thinking that you should or shouldn’t behave in some specific manner. Or, as another example it might be someone you hold in such high esteem that their disapproval, to you, devalues you to yourself. Say a teacher, or a parent.
The rational thought here is that no one person is right about everything and no human behaves exactly like you think they should. Even if you hold that person in high regard their approval or disapproval says nothing about who you actually are as a person. It’s their opinion and we are all allowed to have them.
To be worthwhile as a person I must achieve and succeed at whatever I do and make no mistakes
I think there is a reason Dr Ellis had these two number one and two. I believe that this irrational belief is mostly unconscious in that I doubt that we actually say this to ourselves, but the belief itself is there and it leaks out when we are so hard on ourselves over small errors or setbacks in our lives.
So what would this look like for us?
Well I think this self-defeating belief is also tied to how we filter. We graduate elementary. We graduate Middle School. We graduate high school and then get a degree in college. We head out into the work place and are fired from our first job for whatever reasons. We immediately filter out all that we have actually accomplished to tell ourselves that because we did not succeed at our first job, we are not worthwhile and maybe we then label ourselves loser etc.
If we think about it rationally it’s pretty darn funny how we do this. We even discount that we landed that same job to begin with. No easy task right out of school.
Another really common way this self-defeating belief manifests itself is during the death throes of a relationship. I remember labeling myself a failure after my marriage broke up. It was so easy to tell myself that because the relationship was coming to an end that it must say something about who I was as a person. It didn’t and it doesn’t.
So how can we change this belief? What kind of things could we be telling ourselves that would help in making a permanent change?
I could say and do this. My worth as a human is not tied to what I get done in this life. I give honest effort in what I try, and as long as I do that, I can accept that I will succeed at some of what I do and not at others. There are no perfect humans.
I also tell myself – I do not learn nearly as much from my successes as I do my failures. If it wasn’t for all the times I’ve stumbled, I’d not be where I am today.
For me personally this is the best thing I can tell myself as I understand, really understand that I could not be here talking to you about how to have a happy and healthy life and be in happy and healthy relationships without first seeing how to not be happy and how not to have relationships. I had to screw them up first to get what I was doing wrong.
What are your variations of these two self-defeating beliefs? Take a moment to examine what they might be and write down your rational belief counterparts.
We will continue to look at each self-defeating belief in part 7. Until then…
I am Diego Abrams and this is Triscele Life and Relationships