Abhijeet Deshmukh, MD  
Nagpur, India

Specialties: Psychiatry, REBT

Interests: Relationships, Counseling, psychotherapy
The Rational Hour
Psychotherapy and Counseling
Nagpur, India
All Journal Entries Journals
Sort By:  

Understanding Irrational Beliefs

Jul 12, 2010 - 23 comments

irrational beliefs


Psychotherapy (REBT)










The term Irrational Beliefs comes from Dr Albert Ellis (1913 - 2007), the father of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.

Beliefs are at the core of almost all of our emotional experiences. I used the word 'almost' to leave some space for emotions such as fear or terror in situations where there is a real threat to life.

Understanding beliefs and knowing if they are rational or irrational helps a lot in eventually overcoming the emotional disturbance. People carry all sorts of irrational beliefs which they are not even aware of. And the task of digging in deep and finding out the irrational beliefs is quite challenging and demanding. But it is equally rewarding.

Irrational beliefs are the preformed beliefs about certain situations, events, relationships and other life conditions that prevent a person from taking a decision or an action that would take him/her towards the goal. On the other hand, a rational belief helps a person move towards achievement of their goals and purpose. This fact has been used extensively by psychotherapists, especially in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.

Let me give you an example. Imagine a young man who has recently lost his job. He is also newly married and has his parents depending up on him for financial support and health care. Having lost his job, this young man goes into a state of depression, feeling worthless and decides that life is not worth living. What is happening here is that he is probably thinking he has "failed" in his "duties towards his family". This gives me a hint that he may be carrying with him a belief which could sound something like "I must never fail in life" or "Losing a job means failure in life and it's awful".  

Having such beliefs makes him think about giving up the fight. He is not able to take a positive action. His goal was to have a job which will earn him enough to support the family. And ideally, he should be searching for newer jobs. But the beliefs that he carries with him do not allow him to reach his goal. On the contrary, they make him do the opposite. His beliefs are driving him away from his goal. And this is why these beliefs, which are self-defeating, are called Irrational Beliefs.

To put it in simple words, beliefs shape up our experiences. And irrational beliefs, in a way, are unrealistic expectation we carry about ourselves, people and life, in general.

Let us see some of the common irrational beliefs that most of us carry with us, sometimes, all our lives!

Most human beings feel they 'must' be loved, accepted and approved of by the significant others. This is usually the root of most of the relationship conflicts and disappointments.

Most of us have a strong belief that performance reflects self-worth. Academic performance, work related achievements and so on are viewed with the same frame of mind. Children are taught to do well in everything that they do so that they will be accepted, loved and appreciated. And this leads to the eventual disappointment in life when the appreciation does not come every time one does well. Worse still is the situation where an individual fails to perform at his best or fails to achieve something; he/she may start raising questions about self-worth and self-esteem.  

A pretty common irrational belief is "things must go the way I like them to, or it will be an awful thing.”And a similar irrational belief is "something which affected my life in the past is going to affect my life in future, too." This belief is the reason why we see so many people who just refuse to accept that they are not destined to be failures.

I am sure you have come across people who have these self-defeating thoughts and beliefs. The examples of irrational beliefs that I mentioned above are some of the common ones. There could be situation specific beliefs.  There could be relationship specific irrational beliefs. And these are usually uncovered over the course of time in structured and goal oriented psychotherapy sessions.

Lastly I would like to add something about modifying these irrational beliefs. One of the ways to do so is to identify the beliefs and find out a more "preferential" way of thinking. Example would be - "I would expect things to go the way I like them to, but I understand that it may not be possible always and that it's not so awful if things go wrong." Once again, this is just an example. But this is pretty much the way an irrational belief can be modified in a psychotherapy session. In other words, we are making a change from a "demand philosophy" to a "preference philosophy".

(Edited) Hope you enjoyed this short journal entry. I would love to know your view on this subject.

God bless you.

Abhijeet Deshmukh, MD