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emotions

How to Dispute Irrational Beliefs

Albert Ellis is known as the grandfather of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. He combined humanistic, philosophical, and behavioral therapy to form Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) in 1955. A main assumption of REBT is that people contribute to their psychological problems by the way they interpret events. Further, our emotions stem mainly from our beliefs, evaluations, interpretations, and reactions to life situations. REBT assumes that cognitions (thoughts), emotions, and behaviors interact significantly and have a reciprocal cause-and-effect relationship. Additionally, REBT postulates that people are born with a potential for both rational and irrational thinking.

According to Ellis, we have an inborn tendency toward growth and actualization, yet we often sabotage our movement toward growth due to self-defeating patterns we have learned. We originally learn irrational beliefs from significant others during childhood, and we actively reinforce these self-defeating beliefs by repetition, and by behaving as if they are useful. But it is not useful to blame ourselves and others; instead, it is important that we learn how to accept ourselves despite our imperfections. Therefore, a major goal of REBT is to achieve unconditional self-acceptance and unconditional other acceptance; the more one is able to accept him or herself, the more likely he is to accept others.

The therapeutic process involves identifying irrational beliefs, and replacing such beliefs with more rational and effective ways of thinking. Changing one’s thinking results in changing one’s emotional reactions to situations. Ellis succinctly puts it this way, “You mainly feel the way you think.” Some examples of irrational beliefs that lead to self-defeat include: I must have the approval of all the people in my life, or else I am worthless. I must perform all tasks perfectly, or else I am a failure. It is better to avoid life’s difficulties than to try and end up looking foolish.

The A-B-C framework and method of disputing irrational beliefs is central to REBT theory and practice.

A = an event, behavior, or attitude
B = belief about the event
C = emotional & behavioral consequence or reaction (can be healthy or unhealthy)
D = disputing irrational or self-defeating beliefs
E = effective philosophy of replacing unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones
F = a new set of healthy feelings

A (the activating event) does not cause C (the emotional consequence); rather, B (the person’s belief about the event) largely causes C. D is the application of methods to challenge irrational beliefs by detecting, debating, and discriminating irrational (self-defeating) beliefs from rational (self-helping) beliefs. E is the new and effective belief system that consists of replacing unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones. In doing this, F (a new set of healthy feelings) is created.ABC Framework 11

In summary, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy entails the following steps: (1) acknowledge that we are largely responsible for our own emotional problems, (2) accept that we have the ability to change these disturbances significantly, (3) recognize that our emotional problems often stem from irrational beliefs, (4) accurately perceive these beliefs, (5) see the value of disputing such self-defeating beliefs, (6) accept that we need to counteract our dysfunctional beliefs/feelings/behaviors, and (7) practice these methods to improve current and future circumstances.

References:
Corey, Gerald. Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. Belmont. Thomas Learning, Inc. 2005.

6 Principles for Meaningful Living

The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living [A guide to ACT: the mindfulness-based program for reducing stress, overcoming fear, and creating a rich and meaningful life] by Russ Harris

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is based upon six core principles that work together to help a person develop a mind-set known as “psychological flexibility.” Psychological flexibility is the ability to adapt to a situation with awareness, openness, and focus, and to take effective action, guided by your values. For short, psychological flexibility can be thought of as Mindfulness + Values + Action.

  1. DEFUSION is creating distance and separating from unhelpful thoughts. It entails recognizing that most of our thoughts are neither true nor false; rather, most of our thoughts are actually opinions, judgments, beliefs, and morals and related plans, goals, wishes, and values. The idea is not to determine whether a thought is true or false, but whether it is helpful. One way to create distance from an unhelpful thought is to simply insert the following phrase in front of the thought: “I’m having the thought that…” or “I notice I’m having the thought that…” DEFUSION recognizes that thoughts may or may not be true; therefore, we mustn’t automatically believe them. It also recognizes that thoughts may or may not be important; therefore, we only pay attention if they’re helpful.

Thought Defusion PICTURE for blog post

  1. ACCEPTANCE (EXPANSION) literally means “taking what is offered.” It is fully opening yourself to your present reality – acknowledging what is, right here and now, and letting go of the struggle with life as it is in this moment. This philosophy is encapsulated in Russ Harris’s “Serenity Challenge” (his version of the Serenity Prayer): Develop the courage to solve those problems that can be solved, the serenity to accept those problems that can’t be solved, and the wisdom to know the difference.

In practicing EXPANSION, the aim is to observe your emotions, not think about them. The four steps of EXPANSION are (1) Observe, (2) Breathe, (3) Create Space, and (4) Allow.

  • Observe the sensations in your body (i.e. a lump in your throat or a knot in your stomach) and focus your attention on that sensation with curiosity.
  • Breathe into and around the sensation with a few deep, slow breaths co provide a center of calm within you, like an anchor in the midst of a storm to hold you steady.
  • Create Space with your breath flowing in and around the feeling, giving it plenty of room to move around.
  • Allow the sensation to be there (even if you don’t like it or want it); simply let it be. Acknowledge any urges to fight with the feeling or push it away, and bring your attention back to the sensation.

Expansion PICTURE for blog post

  1. CONTACT WITH THE PRESENT MOMENT (CONNECTION) means being fully aware of you’re here-and-now experience, fully in touch with what is happening at this moment. The goal is to pull yourself out of the past or the future and bring yourself back to the present – right here, right now.

Why practice Connection?

  • so you can appreciate the richness and fullness of life
  • because the only moment we have is NOW
  • so that you can take effective, mindful, value-driven action (which requires being aware of what’s happening, how you’re reacting, and how you wish to respond).

CONNECTION happens through the OBSERVING SELF; it involves bringing full attention to what is happening here and now without getting distracted or influenced by the thinking self.

  1. THE OBSERVING SELF (as opposed to the THINKING SELF) is a viewpoint from which you can observe thoughts and feelings. It’s essentially pure awareness; without the observing self, you would have no capacity for self-awareness. Your thoughts, feelings, and sensations change continuously; sometimes they’re pleasant, sometimes painful, helpful, happy, calm, angry, etc. The observing self can’t be judged as good or bad, right or wrong, because all it does is observe, nor does it judge or criticize you (because judgments are thoughts, which come from the THINKING SELF); it simply sees things as they are. You can think of the observing self as being like the sky, while thoughts and feelings are like the weather – constantly changing.
  1. VALUES are (1) Our heart’s deepest desires: how we want to be, what we want to stand for, and how we want to relate to the world around us, and (2) Leading principles that can guide us and motivate us as we move through life.

To identify what your values are, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Deep down inside, what is important to you?
  • What do you want your life to be about?
  • What sort of person do you want to be?
  • What sort of relationships do you want to build?
  • If you weren’t struggling with your feelings, or avoiding your fears, what would you channel your time and energy into doing?

Values are not the same thing as goals; a value is a direction we desire to keep moving in, and ongoing process that never reaches an end, while a goal is a desired outcome that can be achieved or completed. For example, getting married is a goal, whereas being a loving and caring partner is a value. One can think about their values in relation to different domains of life, such as Family, Marriage/Intimate Relationships, Friendships, Employment, Education/Personal Development, Recreation/Fun/Leisure, Spirituality, Community Life, Environment/Nature, and Health.

Values PICTURE for blog post

  1. COMMITTED ACTION entails setting meaningful goals for your identified values. Use the following steps to create a Committed Action Plan for yourself:
    • Summarize Your Values for each domain. For example, “In the domain of Family, I value being honest, respectful, authentic, and supportive.”
    • Set an Immediate Goal – something that can be accomplished right away. For example: “During my lunch break, I’ll call my husband and encourage him because I know he’s having a stressful day.”
    • Set Short-Term Goals: ask yourself what small things you can do over the next few days and weeks that are consistent with your identified values.
    • Set Medium-Range Goals: think of larger challenges you can set for the next few weeks and months that are consistent with valued living.
    • Set Long-Term Goals: decide upon major challenges you can set for the next few years that will continue to take you in your valued direction. A good question to ask yourself is, “Where do I want to be five years from now?”

People-Pleasing: Is it really such a good thing?

Excerpts from The Disease to Please (Harriet B. Braiker)
Additional annotations by Molly Pierce, MA, LPC, NCC

Has anyone ever told you that you’re a people-pleaser?  Don’t be so flattered…it’s not really a compliment.  It feels better to view people-pleasing as an admirable attribute, rather than look at it for what it truly is: a serious psychological problem. 

In actuality, the “disease to please” is a compulsive — even addictive — behavior pattern in which you feel controlled by your need to please others, and addicted to their approval.  At the same time, you feel out of control over the pressures and demands on your life that these needs have created. 

The Disease to Please is comprised of three components: (1) People-Pleasing Mindsets, or distorted ways of thinking; (2) People-Pleasing Habits, or compulsive behaviors; and (3) People-Pleasing Feelings, or fearful emotions

People-Pleasing Mindset
If you fall into this category, your behavior is driven by a fixed thought that you need and must strive for everyone to like you.  You measure your self-esteem and define your identity by how much you do for others whose needs, you insist, must come before your own.  You believe that being nice will protect you from rejection and other hurtful treatment from others.  You impose demanding rules, harsh criticism, and perfectionist expectations on yourself in an attempt to gain universal acceptance from others.

People-Pleasing Habits
If you fall into this group, you are driven to take care of others’ needs at the expense of your own.  You do too much, too often for others, almost never say “no,” rarely delegate, and inevitably become overcommitted and spread too thin.  And, while these self-defeating, stress-producing patterns take their toll on your health and closest relationships, they maintain a firm grip on your behavior because they are driven by your excessive, even addictive, need for everyone’s approval.

People-Pleasing Feelings
Under this category, your behavior is primarily caused by the avoidance of frightening and uncomfortable feelings. You will recognize the high anxiety that merely the anticipation or possibility of any angry confrontation with others evokes.  (All you conflict avoiders out there — this is you!)  Your people-pleasing behaviors are primarily an avoidance tactic intended to protect you from your fears of anger, conflict, and confrontation.  These fears don’t actually diminish; they intensify as long as the avoidance pattern persists!  (Long story short: you have to face your fears in order to overcome them).  Because you avoid difficult emotions, you never allow yourself to learn how to effectively manage conflict or how to appropriately deal with anger.  As a consequence, you relinquish control too easily to those who would dominate you through intimidation and manipulation.

Living a life of people-pleasing is not the way to go.  Your self-esteem takes a massive toll.  Your identity and sense of self-worth is all tied up in how much you do for others and how successful you are at pleasing them.   It causes your relationships to lose their authenticity; If your niceness prevents you from telling others what is making you unhappy, angry, upset, or disappointed — or from hearing their complaints — there is little chance of fixing what has gone wrong.

Under the surface of your selfless niceness, resentment and frustration will begin to boil and churn, threatening to eventually erupt in open hostility and uncontrolled anger.  It takes a physical toll, as well.  It may come out in the form of migraine or tension headaches, back pain, stomach pain, high blood pressure, or any of a host of other stress-related symptoms.  You will eventually hit the proverbial wall with your energy exhausted and you’ll want to give up, not knowing what else to do.  In the end, your trusty habits of people-pleasing will fail you. So save yourself the trouble, and don’t spend your whole life living hostage to its ways.