Learning a New Way of Thinking
Don´t put yourself down. Why should you?
“Sometimes I don’t even realize I am putting myself down. The bully in my head has been there so long, I can quite easily mistake her voice for my own. Luckily my partner is very good at spotting her. Once I am aware I am hearing her, it becomes easier to turn my thoughts around” explains H.
There are countless ways of looking at life – how can you know which help and which hinder? Fortunately, there are some guidelines. It is probably most useful to start by learning how to recognise irrational thinking.
Why bother with problem thoughts? This is what distinguishes ‘rational’ from so-called ‘positive’ thinking: instead of rushing to tell yourself positive ideas, you first uncover and dispute the irrational ones. Otherwise, they remain untouched – and thus able to disturb you in the future.
What does irrational mean? To describe a belief as irrational is to say:
- It distorts reality (it is a misinterpretation of what is happening); or it involves some illogical ways of evaluating yourself, others and the world around you – awfulising, discomfort-intolerance, demanding, and people-rating.
- It blocks you from achieving your goals and purposes.
- It creates extreme emotions which persist, and which distress and immobilise.
- It leads to behaviours that harm yourself, others and your life in general.
Turning your thoughts around often means translating an irrational thought into a rational thought. Doing that consciously first, will help you reprogram and hear the difference between the bully and your own inner-voice. Here are some examples of how you can make that translation:
Your Inner-Voice Needs an Amplifier
After thorough lessons in doubting your instincts and inner-guidance, it can be very tricky to evict the bully from your head. Simply stating: ‘stop listening to those voices’ is unlikely to do the trick. When you are not even aware of the patterns you follow, you need your inner-voice to have an amplifier.
The best amplifier in the world is the combined inner-voices of many survivors. By reflecting on situations and sparring with others how to deal with an issue, a survivor can receive gentle feedback on the patterns that they may be following and slowly but surely can start digging out their true inner-voice. They can learn new ways of dealing with situations and relationships. They will have a support network that will not judge them, but rather will celebrate their healing journey with them.
The rules we live by
Dr Albert Ellis, a clinical psychologist who is the founder of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, proposes that a small number of core beliefs underlie most unhelpful emotions and behaviours. Here are a few samples of common irrational beliefs or rules for living (click here to view the full list):
- I need love and approval from those significant to me, and I must avoid disapproval from any source.
- People should always do the right thing. When they behave obnoxiously, unfairly or selfishly, they must be blamed and punished.
- My unhappiness is caused by things which are outside my control, so there’s little I can do to feel any better.
- I must worry about things that could be dangerous, unpleasant or frightening, otherwise they might happen.
- I can be happier by avoiding life’s difficulties, unpleasantness and responsibilities.
- Events in my past are the cause of my problems, and they continue to influence my feelings and behaviours now.
Everyone has a set of general rules of this kind. Some are rational, others are similar to those above. Each person’s set is different.
Mostly subconscious, the rules we hold determine how we react to life. When an event triggers a train of thought, what we consciously think depends on the general rules we subconsciously apply to the event. Say you hold the general rule, ‘To be worthwhile, I must succeed at everything I do.’ You happen to fail an examination – an event which, coupled with this rule, leads you to conclude, ‘I’m not worthwhile.’
Again, suppose you believe, ‘I can’t stand discomfort and pain, so I must avoid them at all costs.’ You lose a filling in a tooth, but know that going to the dentist would be painful; hence you conclude, ‘I must avoid such unbearable pain, so I’ll leave the dentist for now.’
Underlying rules are generalisations: one rule can apply to many situations. If you believe, for example, ‘I can’t stand discomfort and pain and must avoid them at all costs’, you might apply this not just to the dentist, but also to work, relationships and life in general.
Why be concerned about your rules? While most will be valid and helpful, some will be irrational – and faulty rules will lead to faulty conclusions. Take the rule, ‘If I am to feel OK about myself, others must like and approve of me.’ Let us say that your boss tells you off. You may (rightly) think, ‘He is angry with me’ – but you may wrongly conclude, ‘This proves I’m a failure.’ Furthermore, changing the situation (for instance, getting your boss to like you) would still leave the underlying rule untouched. It would then be there to bother you whenever some future event triggered it off.
Love, Health And Wisdom