A good definition for irrational: 1) rigid, 2) inconsistent with reality 3) illogical 4) interferes with your psychological well-being and gets in the way of pursuing your personally meaningful goals.
Irrationality is the reaching of a decision or conclusion that is not the best decision or conclusion that could have been reached in the light of the evidence, given the time constraints that apply.
As used in this definition, “best decision” means the decision that is most likely to achieve the result desired by the decision maker. “Best conclusion” means the conclusion most likely to be “correct” within the reasoner’s frame of reference.
There are five irrational beliefs that many of us hold and that we can unlearn.
The notorious five are:
1. Musterbation (‘shoulding’, demandingness). I must succeed and obtain approval.
2. Awfulizing. I lapsed two weeks ago. Isn’t that just awful? [No.]
3. Low Frustration Tolerance. I can’t quit smoking; it would be too hard for me. [Cancer is even harder.]
4. Rating and Blaming. I’m worthless because I made a mistake, or, the world’s a rotten place to live. [Know a better one?]
5. Overgeneralizing. Always or Never attitudes. AA is good for everybody; it worked for me; or, AA is a lousy outfit; I tried it and it didn’t work for me.”
[ From When AA Doesn’t Work for You, Ellis and Velten.: Quoted from Addiction, Change, and Choice, by Vince Fox ]
Rational beliefs represent reasonable, objective, flexible, and constructive conclusions or inferences about reality that support survival, happiness, and healthy results.
1. promote productivity and creativity;
2. support positive relationships;
3. prompt accountability without unnecessary blame and condemnation;
4. encourage acceptance and tolerance;
5. strengthen persistence and self-discipline;
6. serve as a platform for conditions that propel personal growth;
7. correlate with healthy risk-taking initiatives;
8. link to a sense of emotional well-being and positive mental health;
9. lead to a realistic sense of perspective;
10. further the empowerment of others;
11. stimulate an openness to experience and an experimental outlook;
12. direct our efforts along ethical pathways.
Harmful irrational beliefs cloud your consciousness with distortions, misconceptions, overgeneralizations, and oversimplifications.
They limit and narrow your outlook such that you repeat mistakes.
Some forms put temporary escape of tension over long-term goals and benefits.
We find core irrational beliefs present in destructive conditions such as impulsiveness, arrogance, defeatism, condemnation, depression, anxiety, hostility, insecurity, addictions, procrastination, prejudice, envy, compulsions, and obsessions.”
[From Smart Recovery, A Sensible Primer, by Dr. Bill Knaus. ]
There are perhaps 10 to 15 supreme “necessities” that people commonly impose on themselves and others. These can be reduced to three dictates that cause immense emotional difficulties.
The first dictate is: “Because it would be highly preferable if I were outstandingly competent, I absolutely should and must be. It is awful when I am not. I am therefore a worthless individual.”
The second irrational (and unprovable) idea is: “Because it is highly desirable that others treat me considerately and fairly, they absolutely should and must do so, and they are rotten people who deserve to be utterly damned when they do not.”
The third impossible dictate is: “Because it is preferable that I experience pleasure rather than pain, the world absolutely should arrange this and life is horrible, and I can’t bear it when the world doesn’t.”
Much irrationality results from simple laziness. “Jumping to a Conclusion” without taking the time to think things through. On the other hand, we all know people who analyze to excess. When the cost of additional analysis exceeds the expected loss that may be avoided by such analysis (or the expected gain to be achieved thereby), it is time to stop.
A human can hold only a small number of ideas in his mind at one time...... When faced with a complex decision, a decision maker must use at least elementary principles of decision theory if he is to arrive at an optimal result. Even the simple method outlined by Benjamin Franklin—writing down pros and cons in two columns on a sheet of paper—can greatly increase the probability of reaching a rational decision. More advanced techniques can be used to advantage in complex cases.
This well-known pillar of irrationality can be explained by reference to the principle of cognitive dissonance—the mental conflict that occurs when cherished beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new evidence. The tension aroused by this conflict is eased by various defensive mechanisms: denial, rejection, avoidance, and so forth.
The Pillars of Irrationality were suggested by a reading of Stuart Sutherland’s book Irrationality: Why We Don’t Think Straight (Rutgers University Press, 1995). Sutherland, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Sussex, reviews the mechanisms of irrationality in the light of recent psychological research.
[Reprinted with permission Edited for Applicability Ś©Copyright 1995 Chuck Anesi all rights reserved ]
1. “It would be terrible to be rejected, abandoned, or alone. I must have love and approval before I can feel good about myself.”
2. “If someone criticizes me, it means there’s something wrong with me.”
3. “1 must always please people and live up to everyone’s expectations.”
4. “I am basically defective and inferior to other people.”
5. “Other people are to blame for my problems.”
6. “The world should always meet my expectations.”
7. ‘Other people should always meet my expectations.”
8. “If I worry or feel bad about a situation, it will somehow make things better. lt’s not really safe to feel happy and optimistic.”
9. “I’m hopeless and bound to feel depressed forever because the problems in my life are impossible to solve.”
10. “I must always be perfect.”
There are several kinds of perfectionism that can make you unhappy.
o Moralistic perfectionism: ‘I must not forgive myself if I have fallen short of an y goal or personal standard.”
o Performance perfectionism: To be a worthwhile person. I must be a great success at everything I do.”
o Identity perfectionism: “People will never accept me as a flawed and vulnerable human being.”
o Emotional perfectionism: “I must always try to be happy. I must control my negative emotions and never feel anxious or depressed.”
o Romantic perfectionism: “People who love each other should never fight or feel angry with each other.”
o Relationship perfectionism: “People who love each other should never light or feel angry with each other.”
o Sexual perfectionism: Beliefs about inadequate sexual performance, or comparing it to an unattainable ideal.
o Appearance perfectionism: ‘l look ugly because I’m slightly overweight (or have heavy thighs or a facial blemish).”
You see things in black-ar white categories If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. When a young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, ‘I’ve blown my diet completely.’ This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice cream!
You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as ‘always’ or “never” when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird dung on the windshield of his car. He told himself, ‘Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car!’
You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exdusively, so that your vision of all of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.
You reject positive experiences by insisting they ‘don’t count.’ If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn’t good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positive takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.
You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your condusion.
Mind reading: Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you.
Fortune telling: You predict that things will turn out badly. Before a lest you may tell yourself, ‘I’m really going to blow it. What if I flunk?’ If you’re depressed you may tell yourself, ‘I’ll never get better.’
You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities. This is also called the ‘binocular trick.’
You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: ‘I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be very dangerous to fly.’ Or ‘I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person.’ Or ‘I feel angry. This proves I’m being treated unfairly.’ Or I feel so inferior. This means I’m a second-rate person.’ Or ‘I feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless.’
You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, ‘I shouldn’t have made so many mistakes.’ This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days. ‘Musts,’ ‘oughts’ and ‘have tos’ are similar offenders.
‘Should statements’ that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration: ‘He shouldn’t be so stubborn and argumentative’
Many people try to motivate themselves with shoulds and shoudn’ts , as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything. ‘I shouldn’t eat that doughnut.’ This usually doesn’t work because all these shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite. Dr. Albert Ellis has called this ‘musterbation.’ I call it the ‘shouldy’ approach to life.
Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying ‘I made a mistake.’ you attach a negative label to yourself: ‘I’m a loser.’ You might also label yourself ‘a foal’ or ‘a failure’ or ‘a jerk.’ Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings exist. but ‘fools,’ ‘losers,’ and ‘jerks’ do not. These labels are useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration, and low self- esteem.
You may also find that you label others. When someone does something that rubs you the wrong way, you may tell yourself: ‘He’s an S.O.B Then you feel that the problem is with that person’s ‘character’ or ‘essence’ instead of with their thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves little room for constructive communication.
Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control.
When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulties at school, she told herself, ‘this shows what a bad mother I am,’ instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child.
When another woman’s husband beat her, she told herself, lf only I were better in bed, he wouldn’t beat me.’
Personalization leads to guilt. shame, and feelings of inadequacy.
Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to the problem: ‘The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable.’ Blame usually doesn’t work very well because other people will resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right back in your lap. It’s like the game of hot potato - no one wants to get stuck with it.
Psychological defense mechanisms: unconscious psychological processes that provide relief from intrapsychic conflict and anxiety.
The following is a brief description of a few of the more common defense mechanisms.
Compensation: an unconscious attempt to make up for real or imagined short-comings.
Denial: an unconscious attempt to reject unacceptable feelings, needs, thoughts, wishes, or external reality factors.
Displacement: the unconscious transfer of unacceptable thoughts, feelings or desires from the self to a more acceptable external substitute.
Dissociation: the unconscious separation and detachment of effect from a negatively charged thought, experience, memory, or object.
Idealization: the unconscious overvaluation of a desired attribute of another.
Identification: unconscious redirecting of unacceptable thoughts, feelings or impulses from the external to the self.
Intellectualization: unconscious control of effects or impulses by excessive thinking about them rather than effectively experiencing them.
Introjection: unconscious redirecting of unacceptable thoughts, feelings or impulses from the external to the self.
Minimization: unconscious lessening of importance of an experience or effect.
Projection: an unconscious phenomenon, in which that which is unacceptable or intolerable within the self is rejected and attributed to an external other or others.
Rationalization: the unconscious effort to justify or make consciously tolerable behaviors, feelings, thoughts or desires that are unacceptable.
Reaction formation: unconscious mechanism whereby an individual adopts the opposite thought, feeling or behavior from that which he truly holds.
Regression: unconscious return to more infantile behaviors or thoughts.
Repression: withholding from consciousness or expulsion from awareness of an idea or effect. This usually pertains to an internal reality, whereas denial more generally affects the perception of external reality.
Substitution: unconscious replacement of an unreachable or unacceptable goal by another more acceptable once.
Undoing: unconscious attempt to reverse an unacceptable thought, feeling or behavior by reenacting its opposite, usually repetitively.