How to replace irrational beliefs with rational ones. And why?


When burning jealousy, guilt, anxiety, or another strong emotion complicates your life, try to figure out what thoughts caused it. Perhaps they are not very realistic and even harmful? The work of recognizing and reducing such thoughts is done by cognitive-behavioral psychologists, but some of it can be done on your own. The psychotherapist Dmitry Frolov explains.

There are thousands of thoughts running through our minds all the time. Many of them arise without our conscious desire. They are often fragmentary, fleeting and elusive, may or may not be realistic. Of course, it makes no sense to analyze each of them.

Determine the cause

If you notice that your mood is bothering you, then identify the emotion and ask yourself: “What is it that I am thinking about right now that can cause this emotion?” After analyzing the thoughts that you find, you will most likely be able to deal with the problem. In rational-emotional behavioral therapy (REBT), irrational beliefs are considered the main cause of unhealthy emotions, there are four of them:

  1. duty
  2. Global Assessment
  3. Catastrophe
  4. Frustration intolerance.

1. Requirements (“must”)

These are absolutist demands on ourselves, others, and the world to conform to our desires. “People should always like me if I want it”, “I should succeed”, “I should not suffer”, “men should be able to earn”. The irrationality of the demand lies in the fact that it is impossible to prove that something “should” or “should” be exactly this way and not otherwise. At the same time, the “requirement” is the most common, basic among all beliefs, it is easy to detect it in a person suffering from depression, some kind of anxiety disorder, or one of the forms of addiction.

2. “Global assessment”

This is a devaluation or idealization of oneself and others as a person or the world as a whole: “a colleague is a moron”, “I am a loser”, “the world is evil”. The mistake is that we believe that complex entities can be reduced to some generalizing characteristics.

3. “Catastrophe” (“horror”)

This is the perception of trouble as the worst possible. “It’s terrible if my colleagues don’t like me”, “it’s terrible if they fire me”, “if my son gets a deuce in the exam, it will be a disaster!”. This belief contains an irrational idea of ​​a negative event as something worse, analogous to the end of the world. But there is nothing the most terrible in the world, there is always something even worse. Yes, and in a bad event there are positive sides for us.

4. Frustration Intolerance

It is an attitude to complex things as unbearably complex. “I won’t survive if they fire me,” “if she leaves me, I can’t stand it!”. That is, if an undesirable event occurs or the desired does not happen, then an endless streak of suffering and pain will begin. This belief is irrational because there is no such suffering that would not be weakened or ceased. However, it does not in itself help to solve the problem situation.

Challenge illogical beliefs

Everyone has illogical, rigid, irrational beliefs. The only question is how quickly we are able to deal with them, translate them into rational ones and not succumb to them. Much of the work that the REBT psychotherapist does is to challenge these ideas.

Challenge “should” means to understand that neither we ourselves, nor other people, nor the world are obliged to conform to our desires. But fortunately, we can try to influence ourselves, others, and the world to make our desires come true. Realizing this, a person can replace the absolutist requirement in the form of “should”, “should”, “must”, “necessary” with a rational wish “I would like people to like”, “I want to succeed / earn money”.

Challenge “Global Assessment” is to understand that no one can be generally “bad”, “good”, “loser” or “cool”. Everyone has advantages, disadvantages, achievements and failures, the significance and scale of which are subjective and relative.

Challenging “catastrophe” You can by reminding yourself that although there are many very, very bad phenomena in the world, none of them can be worse.

Challenging “frustration intolerance”, we will come to the idea that there are indeed many complex phenomena in the world, but hardly anything can be called truly unbearable. In this way we weaken irrational beliefs and strengthen rational ones.

In theory, this seems pretty simple and straightforward. In practice, it is extremely difficult to resist beliefs that have been absorbed from childhood or adolescence – under the influence of parents, school environment and own experience. This work is most effective in cooperation with a psychotherapist.

But to try to question your thoughts and beliefs – to reformulate, change – in some cases, you can do it yourself. This is best done in writing, challenging each belief step by step.

1. Spot the emotion firstthat you are currently feeling (anger, jealousy or, let’s say, depression).

2. Determine if she is healthy or not. If unhealthy, then look for irrational beliefs.

3. Then identify the event that triggered it: did not receive a message from an important person, did not congratulate him on his birthday, was not invited to some kind of party, on a date. You need to understand that an event is just a trigger. In fact, it is not a specific event that upsets us, but what we think about it, how we interpret it.

Accordingly, our task is to change the attitude to what is happening. And for this – to understand what kind of irrational belief is hidden behind an unhealthy emotion. It may be only one belief (for example, “requirement”), or it may be several.

4. Enter into a Socratic dialogue with yourself. Its essence is to ask questions and try to answer them honestly. This is a skill that we all have, it just needs to be developed.

The first type of questions is empirical. Ask yourself the following questions in sequence: Why did I decide that this is so? What evidence is there for this? Where does it say that I was supposed to be invited to this birthday party? What facts prove this? And it soon turns out that there is no such rule – the person who did not call simply forgot, or was shy, or thought that this company is not very interesting to you – there can be many different reasons. A rational conclusion might be: “I don’t like not being invited, but it happens. They shouldn’t have done this.”

The second type of argumentation is pragmatic, functional. What benefit does this belief bring to me? How does the belief that I should be invited to my birthday help me? And it usually turns out that this does not help in any way. On the contrary, it’s frustrating. A rational conclusion may be: “I want to be called for my birthday, but I understand that they may not call me, no one is obliged.”

Such a wording (“I want”) motivates to take some steps, look for resources and opportunities to achieve the goal. It is important to remember that by giving up absolutist shoulds, we do not give up the idea that we don’t like something. On the contrary, we understand our dissatisfaction with the situation even better. But at the same time, we are aware that it is what it is, and we really want to change it.

The rational “I really want to, but I don’t have to” is more effective than the irrational “should” in solving problems and achieving goals. In a dialogue with yourself, it is good to use metaphors, images, examples from films and books that reflect your conviction and somehow refute it. For example, find a film where the hero was not loved, betrayed, condemned, and see how he coped with this situation. This work is different for each person.

Its complexity depends on the strength of beliefs and their prescription, on susceptibility, mentality and even the level of education. It is not always possible to immediately find exactly the belief that needs to be challenged. Or to pick up enough weighty arguments “against”. But if you devote a few days to introspection, at least 30 minutes daily, then the irrational belief can be identified and weakened. And you will feel the result immediately – it is a feeling of lightness, inner freedom and harmony.

About the Developer

Dmitry Frolov – psychiatrist, psychotherapist, chairman of the REBT section of the Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists, author of the book “Psychotherapy and what it is eaten with?” (AST, 2019).

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