Correcting Irrational Thinking

Home page                                                                           Unconditional Self-Acceptance
A simple way to dispute, question or challenge what someone thinks, or says, is to ask a simple question, "Is that a fact or
opinion?"  When people disturb themselves more than is necessary or helpful, it's typically because they are thinking in terms
of, or expressing OPINIONS rather than FACTS.  For example:
                       
                                          
           They CAN'T say that about me  (OPINION)
                                                     They can say whatever they want to (FACT)

The closer our thoughts match reality, the better mental health we'll enjoy, and the less emotion we'll generate needlessly.  
The bigger the difference we create between our thoughts and reality, the more we'll disturb ourselves unnecessarily, the less
mentally healthy we'll be.  In other words, the more we think in terms of
OPINIONS, the more we are likely to disturb ourselves
needlessly.  The more we can learn to think in terms of
FACTS, the less disturbance we'll generate needlessly.

This particular strategy can be very useful in dealing with the comments others make.  When a student who's been "bullied"
relates something others have said about him/her, it could be handled this way:

                                             Is what they said about you a fact or just their opinion?
                                             Are they entitled to their opinion?
                                             Are you entitled to your own opinion?
                                             Does your opinion have to agree with theirs?
Dr. Albert Ellis created a five step process to help people generate a more functional amount of emotion.  The five steps are:

                                                  
                 A  =  Activating Event
                                                                   B  =  Beliefs
                                                                   C  =  Consequences
                                                                   D  =  Dispute
                                                                   E  =  Effective Coping Statements

In step A, we simply identify what happened.  In step C, we identify how someone felt (made themselves feel) and anything
they might have done as a
consequence of what they thought and felt about what happened.  Then we would do step B, which
is called "thought catching" or "turning private talk into public speech".  We'd attempt to identify the beliefs that caused them to
feel the way they do, and that might have fathered their behavior.  In step D, we question and challenge, or dispute those
beliefs as needed to help them feel better.  Then we'd identify some effective coping statements, or new ways of looking at
things, that would allow them to feel better.

There is a science and an art to working through these steps.  Part of the science of correcting irrational thinking is given
below.  I'll discuss the art to doing so after I share the science.  Due to space limitations, and for the sake of brevity, I have not
included all the strategies that could be used to help young people correct their irrational
thinking.  The others can be read about at:  
http://www.itsjustanevent.com/Tool5.html
Counter
Dr. Ellis' Five Steps
Strategy 2:  Is that a FACT or OPINION?
Strategy 4:  Simple and Direct Questions
The Science and Art of it
Affirming the Preference
The Goal of Correcting Irrational Thinking
There are a host of simple but direct questions we can also learn to ask to challenge and question our irrational beliefs, the
answers to which can lead us to think more rationally.

For example, suppose someone makes the following DEMAND:

                                        Belief:           That HAVE TO (should, must) leave me alone

                                 Question:
           Why do they have to leave you alone?
                                                              They have to, or you just want them to?
                                                              They have to, or you'd just like them to?

When people are first asked such questions, they usually start their response with "Because...."  Anything they say after that is
the wrong answer.  Unfortunately, the only correct answers are:

                                    Answer:           They don't have to leave you (me) alone  
                                                              They don't have to, you (I) just want them to.  
                                                              They don't have to, you'd (I'd) just like them to.
                                                              They don't have to do anything.

Another example:             Belief:            They CAN'T (shouldn't, must not) talk to me like that

                                 Question:            Why can't they talk to you like that?
                                                              They can't, or you just don't want them to?
                                                              They can't, or you just don't like when they do?

                                    Answer:           They can talk to you (me) like that
                                                              They can say and do whatever they want to
                                                              They can, I just don't want them to
                                                              They can, I just don't like when they do
I noted on the page for "Recognizing Irrational Thinking" that there's a science to helping young people learn to recognize
their irrational thinking, but there's also an art to doing so.  You often have to tread carefully and lightly, trying not to trigger
the usual defense mechanisms young people throw up when you try to get them to talk about how they think or feel.  They do
that because they believe that if others found out how they really think and feel, it would reflect badly on them.  If we appear
to be critical or judgmental of them for thinking and/or feeling the way they do, they'll shut down any interaction immediately.  

Therefore, you always exude
Unconditional Other Acceptance (UOA), and encourage them to have Unconditional
Self-Acceptance (USA)
.  In other words, let them know that you believe that whatever they think in response to what has
happened to them, or might, is understandable, part of being human and nothing to be ashamed of, and encourage them to
look at it the same way.   You can read more about USA and UOA on another page of this website.  

The same is true for teaching them to correct their irrational thinking.  You want to always reiterate Rules #1 and #2.  Rule #1
says we all have the right to want whatever  we want.  Rule #2 says we have a  right to like or dislike whatever we want to.  
One way to do that is called "Affirming their preference"
Part of he art in challenging irrational thinking, and teaching them to do the same, is called AFFIRMING THE
PREFERENCE.
 Remember that Rule #1 is that people have a right to want whatever they want to.  Rule #5 is that they
have a right to like or dislike whatever they want to.  Here's how you might work those into disputing:

     ATP:   I can understand why you wouldn't like others saying or doing that to you.  I wouldn't like it if
                 other adults said or did that to me.  But you're saying 'They can't do that to me'.  It'd be nice if
                 they didn't, but I have a question for you.  

Question:   Why can't they do that to you?  They can't, or you just don't want them to?  They can't, or you
     
            just don't like when they do?

  
   ATP:   I can understand why you'd want them to leave you alone.  I wouldn't like it if someone was doing
                 this to me.  I'd certainly want that person to stop if he/she were.  But you're saying "They have to
                 leave you alone".  It'd be nice if they did, but I have a question for you.  

Question:   Why do they have to leave you alone?  They have to, or you just want them to?  They have to or
                 you'd just like them to?
The goal of questioning and challenging the way people look at things, and teaching and encouraging them to do the same
for themselves, is NOT to get them to have no feelings.  It's to get them to generate a more functional amount of emotion.  
E-motion can be helpful energy to move to make their lives better.  However, people often generate a dysfunctional amount
of it.  That means more than is helpful or necessary, more than they want to have, more than is healthy for them, more than
they know what to do with, and a type and amount that works against them instead of for them.  That causes them to react
to life instead of respond to it in the best possible way.  In the case of someone being bullied, we've seen that play out in
tragic ways, i.e. school shootings or suicides, and a whole bunch of ways short of that.

Thoughts cause feelings, not events.  Attitude is always the father of behavior.  By teaching and encouraging people to
recognize and correct their irrational thinking, we help them turn down their emotional thermostat.  That helps them turn
their behavioral thermostat down.  They are less likely to react or overreact to what happens.  There's two ways to make
something you don't like worse, do nothing and overreact to it.  Turning their emotional thermostat down frees them to
problem solve, and to be more likely to respond to what they don't like in the best possible way.  If there are some things
they can't control or change, it allows them to tolerate it better without disturbing themselves in a way that won't change
anything.  See the diagram below.  

Home page                                                                                  Unconditional Self-Acceptance
Correcting the other types of irrational thinking
You can do the same with the other three forms of irrational thinking.  For example:

                                        Belief:            It's really AWFUL that they did that?              (Awfulizing)

                                  Question:            Why is it so awful?
                                                               Is it awful, or just unpleasant?
                                                               Is it awful, or just inconvenient?
                                                               Is it awful, or just uncomfortable?
                                                               Is it awful like having cancer (or something like that)?

                                     Answer:            It's not really awful
                                                               It's not awful, it's just unpleasant
                                                               It's not awful, it's just inconvenient
                                                               It's not awful, it's just uncomfortable
                                                               At least it's not as bad as having cancer, etc.

                                        Belief:            I CAN'T STAND IT when people do that           (Can't Stand It-itis)

                                  Question:            Why can't you stand it?
                                                               Are you going to die or go crazy when they do that?
                                                               You can't stand it, or just don't like it?

                                    
 Answer:            I can stand it
                                                               I'm not going to die or go crazy just because of that
                                                               I can stand it, I just don't like it

                                        Belief:            They JERKS for doing that to me"                 (Label and Damning)

                                  Question:            Why are they jerks just because he did that?
                                                               They're jerks, or just did some jerky things?
                                                               They're jerks, or just did something you didn't like?
                                                               They're jerks, or just a fallible human being like the rest of us?

                                     Answer:            They're not jerks just because of that
                                                               They're not jerks, they just did some jerky things
                                                               They're not jerks, they just did something I didn't like
                                                               They're not jerks, they're just fallible human beings like the rest of us

You can do something similar to "affirming the preference" with the other types of thinking.  For example.

   ATP:     I agree that's it really unpleasant to have others say things like that about you, or do things
                 like that to you.  I think most people would find that to be very unpleasant, no matter what age
                 they might be.  And, I can fully understand why you wouldn't like it.  I wouldn't either.  I doubt any
                 human being would.  

Question:  But is it awful, meaning the worse possible thing that could happen to you?  Is it awful, or just
                 unpleasant?  And you truly can't stand it, or just don't like it?"