BELIEFS AND EMOTIONS
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As we observe our own life and the lives of others, we quickly discover that we all react and respond to similar situations in many different ways. In fact, we even respond to the same repeated situation in different ways. These responses are controlled by, or are the result of, our basic beliefs. From these beliefs (made up of our values, points of view, and interpretations of specific past and present events) we choose our emotions and respond accordingly to a particular situation. It happens like this:
1. We experience a situation.
2. We interpret the situation based on our beliefs.
3. We respond to the situation with certain feelings and actions based on our beliefs about the situation.
The term "irrational" is being applied to any thought, emotion, or behavior that leads to self-defeating or self-destructive consequences and that significantly interferes with the survival and happiness of the individual. Irrational thinking and behavior have several specific aspects:
1. We tend to believe that our irrationality agrees with reality even though its consequences prove otherwise.
2. When we are irrational, we belittle ourselves and/or others, refuse to accept ourselves and/or others, or see ourselves and/or others as worthless.
3. Irrational thinking and behavior interferes with developing satisfactory relationships.
4. Irrational thinking and behavior seriously interferes with intimate relationships.
5. Irrational thinking and behavior hinders our work and our attitudes toward work (appreciation, joy, and satisfaction).
6. Irrational thinking and behavior interferes with our best interests in other important areas of our lives as evidenced by the long-term consequences.
People are, of course, remarkably different and unique. But there is also a great deal of similarity in how they disturb or upset themselves emotionally. We grow up with hundreds of irrational ideas, beliefs, philosophies, and even superstitions which we have creatively invented, dogmatically held onto, and foolishly used to upset ourselves. But all of these ideas or beliefs can easily be put into two major categories.
The first category is based on an "absolutistic" or "perfection" belief. We believe life must be the way we want it to be or the way we think perfection demands it to be. We believe people must act the way we want them to or the way we think perfection demands they act. We think life and people must be flawless when we are depending on them to satisfy our needs or fulfill our demands. When they aren't, we think it is so awful that we cannot tolerate it or "stand" it. This belief system is irrational, and quickly leads to strong negative emotions and self-defeating behavior.
The second major category is based on an "immunity" belief. We believe we should be free from problems, frustrations, hurts, rejection, or whatever else keeps us from experiencing what we think we deserve or need. When we experience those things we believe ought not to happen to us, we think it is dreadful and more than we can tolerate. This also results in strong negative emotions and self-defeating behavior.
These two major categories can be broken down into many smaller groups, and then into single statements. However, on close examination it becomes apparent that each statement takes on one or more of four basic forms.
1. We believe that someone/something SHOULD, OUGHT, or MUST be different from the way he/it actually is.
2. We believe it is AWFUL, HORRIBLE, or TERRIBLE when people or things are not the way we want them to be.
3. We believe we cannot STAND, TOLERATE, or BEAR the person or thing that is not matching up to our expectations.
4. We believe that we or others have made or continue to make INEXCUSABLE mistakes.
These irrational beliefs can be detected. When we are feeling any of the previously mentioned negative feelings, we can look for the SHOULDS, MUSTS, ABSOLUTES, EXAGGERATIONS, or MAGICAL DEMANDS that we keep telling ourselves. Some questions to ask in order to discover what you are telling yourself are:
1. "What do I keep telling myself to create such strong negative feelings?"
2. "What is it that must go the way I think it should?" "What is it about this situation that I keep telling myself is awful?"
3. "Why do I tell myself, 'I can't stand it.'?"
4. "Who am I damning and why?"
When we feel disturbed, but can't seem to recognize any irrational beliefs, the next best place to look is at the consequences of our behavior. If they are self-defeating and destructive, they are the result of irrational beliefs, no matter how satisfying or rational the immediate consequences seem at the moment.
Once we recognize our irrational beliefs, we can then challenge them, rethink them, and replace them. With effort and time we can remove them from our lives. The main way of challenging these beliefs is by asking the simple question, "why?". The main way of seeing the irrationality of our beliefs is by observing the consequences of our beliefs. The best way to discover the most rational way to think is by considering how God would have us live. And the main way of determining the best, most satisfying behavior is by comparing both the short and long term consequences with the results God desires for us as individuals and as members of larger groups (family, neighborhood, city, state, country, world).
An example of this is the belief that my car MUST always work when I need to be someplace important. With this as my belief, it becomes AWFUL and I CAN'T STAND IT when it breaks down. I begin to curse the car and the day I bought it. My feelings turn to anger, which I take out not only on the car, but on anyone else who irritates me or gets in my way. The consequences of this belief are that I get terribly upset, I'm unable to think clearly or function properly in solving problems when faced with a break-down, and I hurt or alienate the people upon whom I vent my anger.
When I challenge my irrational beliefs, I realize that it is frustrating at times to own a car, and disappointing when it does not work. I remember all the times the car gives me good service without any problems. I remind myself that God wants me to see trials as opportunities to further my Christian development (James 1:2-4). This frees my feelings to include joy or excitement along with the frustration of the moment. I remind myself that sinful anger accomplishes little, if anything. I remind myself that at times like these God invites me to pray and trust Him (Philippians 4:6,7). I pray, and express gratitude for His being active in this situation. This frees my mind to be thoughtful and open to creative and constructive solutions to the problem. The removal of intense negative feelings also leaves me free to respond in kindness and love to those who are around me during this time (Ephesians 5:1,3).
When we challenge, rethink, and replace our irrational beliefs, we are choosing to live rationally, constructively, and Godly in this world. The process may have to be repeated many times, since habits are hard to break, but by discipline and God's grace we can live satisfying, happy lives.
The following is a list of irrational beliefs that may be helpful in identifying your beliefs and the beliefs of people you deal with.
¶ These first three deal with the issues of personal rejection, personal competence, and fairness.
I MUST be sincerely loved and approved almost all the time by the people who are significant in my life (i.e., parents, siblings, spouse, special friends - those nearest and dearest).
Some alternatives to this belief are:
1. I want to be loved and approved by the significant people in my life, but I do not NEED it to enjoy life.
2. If I am not loved or accepted by someone important to me, I can determine what it is that that person doesn't like about me. Then I can decide whether or not I want to change it. If I see that this rejection is not based on any wrong or inappropriate behavior on my part, I can find others to build meaningful relationship with while continuing to show love to the person who is rejecting me.
3. Love and approval from God, first and foremost, is the basis of my security and happiness. Love and approval from significant others is secondary to that. If I am in the kind of relationship with God whereby I know I have love and approval from Him, I can be happy regardless of how others respond to me.
I MUST prove to others that I am competent and capable of doing whatever is set before me to do (perfect, or so near perfect that it seems I am perfect). Why? Because my acceptance and approval depends on it. The best way to ensure this is to do a perfect job every time. This way people will depend on me, which will give me the assurance that I am needed, accepted, and approved of.
|SUBSETS OF IRRATIONAL BELIEF #2|
|2a. I must always do well enough to win approval for what I do, or else I am not worth much - maybe even worthless.|
|2b. If I fail, others will see me as worthless and end their relationship with me. Therefore, it's better not to try than to try and fail.|
|2c. Any criticism of my ability, my methods, or the results of what I have done prove others do not accept me or like me. It proves they think I am stupid or worthless and unworthy of their approval.|
|2d. The things that are important to God must always be done perfectly or He will not forgive me, and I'll be unacceptable to Him.|
This irrational belief is based on a perfectionist point of view where we are convinced we cannot be happy, or what we do is worthless, or we are worthless and therefore people won't like us if we are not perfect. We may respond to this irrational belief by becoming anxious or worrying. We may avoid things that might bring failure (social interactions, difficult tasks). We may be critical of anything or anyone that hinders or makes the accomplishment of our task less likely. We will probably become defensive and self-justifying when criticized in relation to a particular task we are doing.
Some alternatives to this belief are:
1. I would like to be perfect or best at this task, but doing my best is what's important. If what I do does not turn out perfectly yet I've done my best, it means I've done all I can. If I need to improve I'll have to practice more or learn more about this task. If I cannot improve it is possible I lack the natural skills necessary to do it better. This does not mean I am worthless or unworthy of acceptance, approval, or being liked by others.
2. I will be happier and less frustrated if I try to do my best and achieve at a realistic level instead of demanding perfection.
3. My self-worth is not determined by me being perfect, but by trying to do my best even when my best is not good enough. If I fail, that will be disappointing but it need not make me depressed or miserable.
Life is awful, terrible, horrible, or catastrophic when things do not go the way I would like.
We tend to live out this irrational belief by whining, complaining, or getting angry at those closest to us when things go wrong or some tragedy strikes. We may withdraw and avoid closeness in relationships. We may grow bitter and blame others for our misery (We start with those closest and move on to those who are safe targets because of their distance - like a boss two levels up, an ethnic group, church or government leaders, etc.). We may act helpless and grow depressed. Essentially we are feeling and acting as if we are the victim.
Some rational alternatives are:
1. Life may not be everything I'd like, but I can find ways to enjoy it in the midst of my disappointment.
2. God did not promise life would match my idea of a fun filled and problem free life, but He did promise sufficient grace for each day and true joy from my knowing Him.
3. Discontentment feeds self-pity which feeds self-centeredness which leads to selfish attempts to make life better. This only compounds my problems. Better to find happiness in what I have and reasonable ways to improve my situation.
¶ These next three irrational beliefs deal with aggressive, blaming behavior, the denial of reality, and fear.
People who mistreat me, or who act in a manner contrary to how I believe they should act, or who commit evil deeds are not just bad, they are inherently evil and therefore untrustworthy (they have a character flaw, they are intentionally evil). They should be made aware of their wrong doing, their character flaw should be exposed (for the protection of others), and they should be punished for their sins.
|SUBSETS OF IRRATIONAL BELIEF #4|
|4a. People who misbehave and treat me or others unjustly (whatever that injustice may be) are evil and unworthy of respect and acceptance. They know better, yet they deliberately go ahead and do what they know is wrong.|
|4b. If people behave incompetently or stupidly they prove they are idiots, and therefore unworthy of respect or acceptance.|
4c. People must treat others (especially me) in a fair and just manner. If they act unfairly or unethically, I must see to it that they are punished or suffer in some way for their misdeed.
|4d. If people have the ability to do well but choose to shirk or avoid their responsibilities, they have little value as humans and I no longer have to be concerned with their well-being.|
Those who treat others this way usually treat themselves the same way. They damn themselves, criticize themselves, refuse to forgive themselves, and fail to see progress in themselves. They go on punishing themselves long after the failure, long after seeking forgiveness from God, and even after doing what is necessary to make their failure right.
Some alternatives are:
1. I can talk to people in a kind, firm way about what they're doing and give them time to change. I don't have to start with punishment (Matthew 18).
2. I may feel irritated or hurt when someone disappoints me, but I don't have to harshly criticize him or tell others (gossip) about his unacceptable behavior.
3. We all have behaved obnoxiously, unfairly, or incompetently, but that doesn't mean we always will. We can change if we choose to.
If something seems dangerous, threatening, or fearsome (my mate driving a long distance in a snow storm, physical affliction, loss of job, giving a speech), I must become preoccupied with it and grow increasingly worried, upset, or depressed about it.
This idea leads to unrealistic anxiety or fear as opposed to reasonable concern or caution. Anxiety or fear produces preoccupation which interferes with clear thinking. It often leads to trying to take personal control of the situation.
Rational alternatives to this belief might be:
1. It is impossible to keep a bad event from happening by worrying about it. It is equally impossible to change what is by becoming upset about it. Anxiety robs my mind of the ability to think clearly and rationally in looking for ways to sensibly deal with the situation.
2. Instead of worrying, I can pray (committing it to God and asking for wisdom), and carefully think about what I need to do, asking a friend to help me think it through if necessary. (Philippians 4:6-7)
IRRATIONAL BELIEF #6
Life should turn out better than it actually does, and it's awful or horrible when I can't find quick or perfect solutions to life's hassles.
Sometimes, there doesn't seem to be a good solution to our problems. In these situations we may tend to moan and groan and lose what little good there is by our negative attitudes. The three friends of Daniel who faced breaking God's law by bowing down to an idol on the one hand and breaking the king's law and being cast in the fiery furnace on the other seemed to have little in the way of a "perfect solution." They chose to do the best they could, and trusted God for the outcome. Often we are looking for quick, easy solutions that magically make everything right.
A rational alternative might be:
1. It doesn't appear that a perfect solution exists. I will accept that reality and do the best I can in using what God has already given me and in trusting Him to bring good out of this for everyone involved.
¶ These last four irrational beliefs deal with irresponsibility for ourselves and our behavior.
IRRATIONAL BELIEF #7
Emotional misery or distress is caused by external forces (circumstances or people) and I have little, if any, ability to control the feelings that build up within me from those forces (feelings like anger, hostility, or depression).
We justify holding this irrational belief (and excuse wrong or destructive behavior) by labeling ourselves as having a bad temper, or being too sensitive and easily hurt. We may make statements like: "I guess that is just the way I am." or "I cannot stand it when everything starts piling up. I always go to pieces." We are blaming our behavior and feelings on something we think we have no control over.
This irrational belief promotes an irresponsible approach to our own thinking and behavioral problems. As long as we place the blame on our personality helplessly responding to certain circumstances or people we cannot see that we are doing anything wrong and therefore see no reason to change. If we believe we cannot help the way we feel or think in response to a given situation or person than we will not take responsibility to control our thoughts and feelings and redirect them.
Interestingly, those who believe that others cause their hurt, anger, or depression often believe they are responsible for causing other people to feel the same way (even when they have done nothing wrong). They live in fear they will say or do the wrong thing. We fail to recognize the fact that people choose how they will respond. We need to be loving and considerate of others. But excessive or unfounded fear of saying or doing something to upset someone indicates a wrong belief.
Some rational alternatives to this irrational belief are:
1. I can handle it when things go wrong. Even though I have strong feelings, I can choose to think in a way that will promote right behavior. The Bible says that God will not allow me to be tempted beyond my ability to bear it, so I am able, by God's grace to properly handle my feelings in difficult situations.
2. I am responsible for my own behavior no matter what others do or what my circumstances are. Whatever thoughts or feelings I have in response to a given situation or person I can take control over them and/or redirect them so that I respond properly.
3. Others have choices in how they react to me. As long as I respect the rights of others, I do not have to take 100% responsibility for their reactions to me.
Life is easier and I will be happier if I avoid facing life's or my own difficulties rather than facing them and responding responsibly.
This irrational belief is based on the idea that we should have a problem free life and that having to solve problems or resolve conflicts creates more (at least immediately) problems than it resolves. It's as if the effort to get things solved or make personal changes is so unpleasant that it's better to act as if the problem or conflict doesn't exist.
To hold this view we must close our eyes to the negative consequences which are sure to appear in the near or distant future. Avoiding solving problems only gives them time to get worse and cause us more trouble. Avoiding the resolution of conflicts allows relationships to deteriorate further - fostering stronger negative feelings, putting more distance between those in conflict, and making it more difficult to reconcile. We fail to recognize that right behavior may be painful and difficult at first, but it ultimately frees us from the problem and produces a lasting satisfaction and pleasure.
Some rational beliefs include:
1. Even though I might feel momentarily happy by avoiding a difficult situation or the resolution of a conflict, I will continue to go on feeling frustrated and unsatisfied and my problems will get worse.
2. What I am avoiding probably isn't as awful as I've convinced myself it is.
3. Avoidance of a proper and responsible response ultimately compounds my problems, but never my pleasure.
Our past is all-important in determining our feelings and behavior today.
This belief allows us to blame our past, our parents, a teacher, or any other past people and events for the way we are behaving today. We make global judgments about life itself, the value of relationships, the interpretation of current situations, and the motives or trustworthiness of certain people based on our past. We do this in spite of having little or no supporting evidence for interpreting current situations and/or people in light of our past.
Rational thoughts include:
1. My past is significant, but I am not locked into it's mold. People or circumstances may have hurt me, but that doesn't mean people in similar positions, or circumstances similar to those which hurt me in the past, will hurt me today.
3. Because people in significant relationships with me in my past mistreated me it does not mean people in significant relationships with me today will mistreat me.
4. No matter what happened to me in the past, I am responsible for my thoughts, words, and deeds today. No one but me controls what I think, say, and do.
Giving up is better than trying and failing, or trying when there is little hope of succeeding.
This irrational belief implies that life is hopeless and, generally speaking, we are helpless. We tend to think this way when bad circumstances get piled on top of bad circumstances, or when we feel overwhelmed by the size of a particular problem. This kind of thinking is based on suppressed anger. First and foremost we are angry at God because if anyone has the power to fix things, He does and since He isn't we are angry at Him. Then we are angry at whoever or whatever else is related to or seems to increase our since of helplessness and hopelessness.
Most often we deal with this deep sense of despair by withdrawing from social contacts, becoming bitter, getting depressed, sleeping too much, or turning to things like alcohol, drugs, food or other pleasures to dull the pain and help us forget our problems. Sometimes we want to commit suicide.
A rational belief would be:
1. Life has no guarantees against disappointment and hard times. It is up to me to make the best of what I have. I can choose to fight the 'poor-me' thinking and keep my focus on promoting and protecting the good of everyone (including God) affected by me choices and behavior.
Irrational beliefs serve an important function in our lives: survival. The problem is, we are so focused on protecting ourselves from what might happen that we don't look at our method of protection to see if it really works and what if any side affects come with its use. Personal honesty is essential to admitting holding one or more of these ten irrational beliefs. Hard work and time (three months to one year) are essential to replacing them with truth. We won't replace them unless we are convinced we have something better to put in their place. We won't stay with the truth unless we are convinced someone greater than ourselves (God) is our provider and protector
Our behavior is not the direct result of a given stimulus. Instead, it is the direct result of what we believe or tell ourselves about the stimulus. For example, people, or people’s behavior, do not make us mad. We get mad based on what we believe about that person or that person’s behavior.
|Stimulus||Beliefs & Self-Talk||Response|
1. Criticized by someone
(What I believe about the stimulus drives my response. Therefore, to understand why I am responding the way I am it is important to understand what I believe about the stimulus and/or person causing it.)
|1. Defend yourself or grow quiet|
2. Treated with disrespect
|2. Feel hurt and/or angry, then verbally attack the one who showed disrespect and point out his flaws|
To find out why you respond in negative, selfish, and sinful ways to certain stimuli from others, examine what you believe about the way they are treating you, or what you are telling yourself about them or their behavior.
FOUR LOGIC ERRORS WHEN INTERPRETING EVENTS
1. Draw conclusions where supporting evidence is lacking.
2. Disregard certain aspects of a situation which contradicts our conclusion.
3. Over-generalize from a single event.
4. Exaggerate the meaning or significance of an event.
EXAMINE AUTOMATIC THOUGHTS
Questions to ask:
1. What is the evidence for or against my belief about the event and interpretation of the event?
2. If my worst fears were fulfilled, what would the consequences be?
3. What images come to mind concerning this event?
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