In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychology-related terms. This week, we’ll look at the 12 irrational beliefs and 3 major musts described by Albert Ellis, the founder of rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT).
I was vaguely familiar with REBT as the therapeutic approach behind SMART Recovery. Recently, when I was reading Calm & Sense by Wendy Leeds, I came across REBT founder Albert Ellis’s 12 irrational ideas/beliefs. I was quite impressed at how well they capture our run-of-the-mill human ridiculousness.
12 Irrational beliefs
- “The idea that it is a dire necessity for an adult human being to be loved or approved by virtually every significant other person in his community.”
Will everyone like us? Realistically, of course not. Except we’re not realistic.
- “The idea that one should be thoroughly competent, adequate, and achieving in all possible respects if one is to consider oneself worthwhile.”
How dare you not know how to do macramé? How dare you not have been alive during the ’70s to have a clue what macramé is? What kind of an excuse for a person do you think you are?
- “The idea that certain people are bad, wicked, or villainous and that they should be severely blamed and punished for their villainy.”
I’ve talked before about moralizing, which involves jumping on one’s self-righteous moral high horse. It’s not a good look. If a horse is necessary, Lady Godiva would be a better look.
- “The idea that it is awful and catastrophic when things are not the way one would very much like them to be.”
What’s interesting here is that things are never the way we would very much like them to be.
- “The idea that human unhappiness is externally caused and that people have little or no ability to control their sorrows and disturbances.”
This is sort of a reverse choose happiness with a twist. We often say someone “made me feel _______.” But no one else has power over your emotions. Now, depending on illness and other factors, you might not have a lot of control either, which is where I differ a bit from Albert Ellis.
- “The idea that if something is or may be dangerous or fearsome one should be terribly concerned about it and should keep dwelling on the possibility of its occurring.”
Anxiety isn’t one of my issues, but I can see this one having blinking red lights for the anxiety-disordered folks reading.
- “The idea that it is easier to avoid than to face certain life difficulties and self-responsibilities.”
What??? Avoidance is my favourite unhealthy coping mechanism.
- “The idea that one should be dependent on others and needs someone stronger than oneself on whom to rely.”
This one seems pretty foreign to me. Sometimes I wish for a magical dependable person to take care to take care of task [x], but otherwise, my style is more get out of my way, I can take care of myself, so leave me alone.
- “The idea that one’s past history is an all-important determiner of one’s present behavior and that because something once strongly affected one’s life, it should indefinitely have a similar effect.”
My in-person friend tends to do a variation of this. We used to work together, and every week, he would stock up on candy and put it in his designated drawer at work. All week, people would steal his candy, and then the next week he’d refill it again. He had it stuck in his head that if he stopped providing free candy, people would think less of him. I tried to intervene, but he was having none of it; that was part of who he was as an employee, and, in his mind, it couldn’t be changed.
- “The idea that one should become quite upset over other people’s problems and disturbances.”
This one surprises me. I can see in a self-referential sense getting ourselves worked up over what other people think of us or are going to do to us, but perhaps I’m just too short on fucks to give a rat’s ass about other people’s disturbances just because I “should.”
- “The idea that there is invariably a right, precise, and perfect solution to human problems and that It is catastrophic if this perfect solution is not found.”
I’m not a perfectionist myself, but I can see this resonating strongly with the perfectionists in the crowd.
- “The idea that you can give people (including yourself) a global rating as a human and that their general worth depends upon the goodness of their performances.“
Sometimes you might do this to yourself; the question “am I a bad person” comes to mind. Other times, it might be someone writing you off as “toxic” because they think you’re bringing down their vibrations.
3 major musts
The three major musts are the highlights of the 12 irrational beliefs.
- “I must do well and win the approval of others or else I am no good.”
There are several problems with this “must.” It places a lot of weight on what others think, which is something we have no control over. It’s not realistic, it’s not self-accepting, and it makes for a very fragile foundation for determining one’s self-worth. Behavioural consequences of this belief include avoidance and procrastination.
- “Other people must do ‘the right thing’ or else they are no good and deserve to be punished.”
This is moral high horse territory. It’s not up to you to dictate other people’s right and wrong, but if you try, you can venture into the territory of intolerance, nagging, or even bullying. Our self-righteous high horses are ugly and they , and we should just leave them in the stable.
- “Life must be easy, without discomfort or inconvenience.”
This can lead to a desire to control external circumstances that aren’t controllable, or it can lead to avoidance of dealing with problems when they come up. This “must” is disempowering, and it can feed into self-blame a pattern of thinking that something must be “wrong” if things are difficult.
Do any of these stand out as being particularly loud in your head?
The Psychology Corner has an overview of terms covered in the What Is… series, along with a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.
Ashley L. Peterson
BScPharm BSN MPN
Ashley is a former mental health nurse and pharmacist and the author of four books.