TIP 5: Identify Irrational Thought Patterns
‘I should be loved by everyone for everything I do.’ How does this statement sound to you? Chances are it will sound unrealistic, irrational and almost impossible. How can anybody be loved by everyone for everything they do?
Let me introduce a situation here. You are at a party, exchanging pleasantries with other folk. You spot someone you know across the room. You generously walk up and say ‘hi’. That person however barely acknowledges you and walks away. How are you likely to feel? Are you more likely to dismiss it and say, ‘never mind, he must have been frustrated’ or to dwell upon how ‘disrespectful’ and ‘insulting’ a gesture that was?
A good number of us will be fuming for some time after that, or may tell others of the incident indignantly. Well, chances are that deep down, we are thinking in the same manner as has been described in the opening sentence of this blog. How often do we stop short of expressing our affection for someone out of an apprehension that the person may not like us back? Such apprehension is natural. However, if it stops us from freely expressing ourselves and our feelings repeatedly, it could be stemming from an ‘irrational thought’ that everybody needs to love us always.
What are irrational thoughts?
Irrational thoughts, put very simply, are thoughts that are unrealistic and counterproductive. They prevent us from achieving what we want and lead to unhappiness. Any thought, if serving to distort reality, is an irrational thought. A way towards mental health is to identify any such thoughts that may come to us and then alter them so that they are closer to reality. A brief description of some core irrational thoughts follows, in the hope that it will help you recognize which one you probably identify with. One of course has been elaborated upon above, some more follow:
Things should turn out the way I want them to: – There is no law, no fundamental principle that spells this out for us; we spell it out for ourselves. This thought could lead to low frustration tolerance upon any occurrence that is not in accordance to what we expect, “You cannot make this dish today because that’s what I planned”, “How could he bag the project? I worked so hard for it”, “I wanted a relationship that was easy and happy, look what I ended up with” etc. are some characteristic thoughts stemming from this core thought. Things will not always happen the way we want them to and even so, life is good and interesting.
I should be completely competent, intelligent and achieving in all I do: – Many of us fall prey to this one. We often do not give ourselves the space to fail. Failure is like one huge phenomenon we need to avoid at any cost. How many opportunities do we ultimately forgo because of this thought? We keep mum in class/meetings out of an apprehension that our contribution may not be ‘intelligent’. We often miss taking up golden opportunities out of a fear of being unable to deliver competently. The ‘what if I fail’ factor looms large upon us. Breathe easy. We can try to put in competent, sincere and intelligent efforts towards whatever we want to achieve, irrespective of the outcome.
Once something affects my life, it will affect it forever:- Think about our relationship break-ups and how we reacted to them. It appears to be simply terrible when it happens. The ‘forever’ factor comes in. ‘I will never be able to overcome this’ is what we think. However, a good number of us reading this are probably smiling to ourselves now because we actually did much better within months of that break-up. ‘My boss will never like me again’, ‘we will never be as we were’, ‘I will never be able to address a crowd after this disaster’…. Never say never. Your boss will like you back once you resume working as per his needs. Most relationships are capable of healing with sincere effort by both parties. And you will definitely be able to address one such crowd again. Discount the forever factor.
I have no control over my emotions and cannot help feeling certain feelings:- this one again is a favorite with several of us. ‘You made me mad!!!’, ‘the heat is driving me crazy!’, ‘You made me cry/sad/disgusted…” It’s not ‘you’, it’s ‘me’. ‘ I am angered at your statement’, ‘I am saddened at your behavior’. The feelings are ours. Their responsibility is ours too. Nobody can make us feel the way we do. They can only contribute to it. The same act by the same person may make us feel differently on different days, depending on our state of mind. Accept your feelings as your own. It will help you deal with them better.
In conclusion, let me add that almost all of us do think irrationally. Identification of particular thought patterns may however help us modify them into healthier and happier ones.
References: Nolen-Hoeksema (2005). Abnormal Psychology. Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited, New Delhi, 3rd edition. p 56.
Post contributed by: Malini Krishnan (Psychologist, Inner Space, 2010-Present)