Abhijeet Deshmukh, MD  
Nagpur, India

Specialties: Psychiatry, REBT

Interests: Relationships, Counseling, psychotherapy
The Rational Hour
Psychotherapy and Counseling
Nagpur, India
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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

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Avatar universal
by MARKLIGHT, Jul 12, 2010
           GOD BLESS  YOU !

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by ginger899, Jul 12, 2010
I really enjoyed reading this, and it made me dig deep and examine my beliefs too.
Thank you for a fascinating blog.

Avatar universal
by Dazon50, Jul 12, 2010
Interesting :-)

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by joggen, Jul 12, 2010
Thanks for this journal. I truly believe in REBT and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  The two books that have helped me the most in life are "A Guide To Rational Living" by Dr. Ellis and Dr. Robert Harper, and "Feeling Good" by Dr. David Burns (didn't think you would mind me plugging these). Both have helped me deal with some major, recent challenges.

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by Dalubaba, Jul 13, 2010
It is a good subject to be actively aware of. Demand philosophy changes to preferred philosophy after having some negative experiences. In initial phases if there differences are understood, things can go on smoothly.All must have experienced the changes in rational and irrational belief and demanding and preferred philosophy. Thanks for such a stimulating article.

Avatar universal
by Jaquta, Jul 17, 2010
I have benefited more from psychoanalysis (than either cbt or rebt) but I expect irrational beliefs are a significant part of my pathology.

I have an irrational belief that all male, Indian doctors, especially psychiatrists, are abusive.  It is difficult for me to read this blog and to accept that if I were more receptive to receiving information from a like culture there is a lot I could learn.

And so the doctor has issues about acceptance too.

If I were able to get past my own irrational beliefs (and intense negative emotions) I would say that your article is OK.

Looking forward to reading your response to posts on the Mental Health-International expert forum.

Avatar universal
by des900, Jul 17, 2010
Society, Culture etc etc creates all problems.

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by lindahand, Jul 19, 2010
This is the crux of my problem. I have so many negative thoughts about life it is hard to get out of them. The result is really low self esteem. I go to see a psychologist at the end of the month and am going to work on such things.

Avatar universal
by Badwabbit, Jul 22, 2010
Thank you! Very helpful and clearly stated.

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by Tuckamore, Jul 22, 2010
God Bless YOU for sharing this valuable insight into some of the reasons behind our behaviors. We may even be aware of the truth in the information you have shared on some conscious level but too often it is our sub-conscious that drives our thought and beliefs.

I cannot get in a aircraft, cannot! It is an irrational fear regarding falling from the sky! I can live with this fear though it makes my life a little more difficult.

I think self-esteem plays a key role in all that we do....including how we react to daily challenges and constructive criticism. I believe it is the hardest thing a parent can instill in their children, self worth. But along with honesty I think it is the most important gift we can teach or give our children. We must teach our children that they are worthy rather they win or lose, it truly is how you play the game. If we all could do this successfully what a better place this world would be.

Again thank you.

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by margypops, Jul 22, 2010
I read it twice and I do like your article ,to me it reads from your culture in India , which is a wonderful culture I may say, I am not certain if the perspective you have written about is America and thats my perspective ,I see a wide differance in thinking..Thank you it would be good to hear some thoughts from you on the responses .

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by 29sillygirl, Jul 22, 2010
Thank you for your reminder of the tenets of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.  I studied Dr. Ellis and other pioneers in the field of what is often called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy now.  My assumption is that the two therapies have the same goal.

I couldn't agree more that beliefs shape our attitudes toward life's events.  At 74, I still discover irrational beliefs lurking under the surface of my consciousness.  

My example: In March, my former husband shot and killed one of my children.  He wounded another.  It was a tremendous shock and brought me much sadness.  I found myself too open to the opinions of others, soaking in their emotions, instead of turning inward to examine and reflect from my core.  

Once I realized what was happening I could control my thoughts, and in turn my emotions.  I am recovering from anal cancer, and fortunate to be able to discuss my feelings with a caring therapist at M. D. Anderson hospital, at no charge.  She was the first to see I was being 'bullied' by the younger generation.  The constant rehashing of past events in the lives of my sons and their father needed to stop.  

The facts are we are not a conferring family.  The 'children' are in their 50s and 40s.  Their life choices and mine are quite different.  I had not seen my former husband for 20 or more years: my son who died checked in on my about once a year.

I am glad my four children are independent.  They appreciate my independence.  Our paths rarely crossed, until this tragedy.  My youngest is the sole beneficiary of my deceased son's will, and I have helped him by signing legal papers to speed up the release of funds.  I will not be attending the trial.

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by kareemhelp123, Jul 22, 2010
I'm 16 ,and Ive been going through so much trouble with my body.I have a canker sore in my mouth and the tip of my tongue on the right side burns.I think I bit my tongue to hard it looks clear and red around it and it leads down too my tongue alittle..I dont drink,smoke ..My family is very healthy and have such a great diet..But I need help now it bothers me and now its the fourth day .I used perxide,sometimes drink salt water or use baking soda..I just wanna get rid of this thing ..Can some one please help me bad!!!,I cant take it any longer with this crap!!!! I thinks from my stressed ive been depressed since december after this girl i really loved left me ...I need your help ,can you help me or know any other doc. on this website that can help me pleasee!!

Avatar universal
by Jaquta, Jul 23, 2010
To kareemhelp123.
The expert on the Dental Health expert forum may be able to advise.  I have seen him post on similar threads.
I think that you should speak to a doctor if you are feeling depressed.  From there I would advise psychotherapy.

To 29sillygirl.  I'm sorry for your losses.

To margypops.  The doctor has left many of us individual notes regarding our responses here.  I think all cultures have the same basic emotional needs.

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by Abhijeet Deshmukh, MDBlank, Jul 23, 2010
Tuckamore: Good thoughts about inculcating self-esteem in children. And I hope you are getting help for your fear of flying.

margypops: The concept of 'rational/irrational beliefs' sweeps across all cultures. Even though it originated with Dr Ellis, it is not at all alien to someone from my culture. I do agree with you that the example given in the article was more from an Indian perspective.

29sillygirl: I agree with you that these therapies ultimately aim at reducing the emotional disturbances. The approaches are different. I am sorry for what you have to go through and hope you are able to deal with the situation well.

Jaquta: Thank you for your comments.

Avatar universal
by AkhilDua, Jul 29, 2010

Good post and am glad you picked a topic that doesn't get too much limelight.

I agree that belief shapes our experiences but also believe that its vice-versa as well. Let me explain:
As a kid I looked upto my grandfather the most. He was hard-working, strongly opinionated, classy gentleman. Since I was 8 I always received this message from him that I would be the one to take over the family business one day and that I had to be prepared for it. He would communicate this message to me directly as well as through in-direct jestures which included sending me abroad to study in that particular field. After a while it became my belief that this is what I was meant to do and work on for the rest of my life. Until, I went abroad and the experiences I had there changed my belief.

Culture seems to play a huge role on belief as well. In my own experience, I would feel guilty enjoying on a weekend in the States while people around me were busting their *** to make money and go ahead. When I returned to my small hometown back in India there were others who were leading a balanced life and that made me feel at ease...

Thanks for making us question our long-lasting in drilled believes.

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by Abhijeet Deshmukh, MDBlank, Sep 05, 2010
Akhil: You have summarized what effect the Indian culture has on a growing child. It's is not necessarily the rule, but it is common. There is no doubt external experiences and situations shape up the whole belief system, especially when it runs in families generation after generation. Over the past 15 to 20 years or so, Indian families are witnessing a change, though. And the change is happening not because of any policies or laws, but due to individuals, young lads like you taking efforts to change their own beliefs and lives!

I wish you good luck!

Avatar universal
by yash02, Nov 03, 2010
The Topic war really enlightening.... but i have one question here. How do we define Pessimism and Optimisim in the light of Irrational beliefs. What i mean to say is most of the Pessimist personalities would have irrational beliefs and Optimists rational beliefs. So how you you explain Irrational beliefs with respect to optimists and pessimists.

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by muppetmama, Apr 04, 2011
Can you tell me more about ldn to treat myasthenia gravis?  my neurologist says it does not help so if you know of some research or patient cases that would be helpful.  


Avatar universal
by sgarima, Feb 20, 2012
I am writing to seek your guidance on relationship problem. I and my boyfriend have had a shaky long-distance relationship for past four years during which he has been verbally abusive (using swearing) and has physically abused me twice over some fight when we met . In response to his behavior I have tried to breakup this relationship but he gets very aggressive and recently after I wanted a breakup over he physically abusing me, he apologized and he started abusing himself physically "in order to show his love for me". He has taken to alcoholism and self abuse since I have expressed to leave the relationship. I am concerned about his well being, do you think psychological therapy will help him  in this regard?

Avatar universal
by bbonnie, May 19, 2012
hello im a 26 year old single mother with 3 kids and they all have different fathers, im sorrry i know that may already seem bad but, i dont put up with abuse mentally or physically. my 1st child is a beautiful 7 yr old and she is the reason i am  writing my daughter just came to me almost 5 months ago and told me her old babysitter made her give oral to them, this person was my own brother, i have opened an investigation and involved cps. why i ask myself everyday, did she take so long to tell me, what nightmares she had everynight holding this in, and what the hell was going threw his mind and yyyyyyyyyyy? my brother was living with me rent free plus i was paying him almost 50 dollars a day to watch my babies. when my daughter had told me about what had occured i was working i couldnt stop thinking about it, i had to quit my job and i havent been able to bring myself to get another job, i feel like no one will ever be trustworthy enough for me to leave my kids with them ever again. i used to live in a 3 bedroom, i am now living with a friend. i cant get myself out of this depressing or anxious mental feeling. im torn. what do you think my best bet is to do? i was seriously considering SSI. please let me know ur honest responce. excuse my spelling i wasnt going to write this but decided to do it quickly if anything thank you and bless

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by Froggygurl, Sep 30, 2013
I need advice -My mother-in-law has social anxiety and OCD - she is 75 years old. She can't sit still - mostly paces and wrings her hands saying "I'm worried, I'm worried," and "what am I going to do?" she doesn't leave the house (she has agoraphobia too), wears the same clothes every day, OCD about cleanliness and things being in a particular order, she won't allow her husband to have salads because she says it's too much mess to clean up. To make this worse she had back surgery several years ago and hasn't been the same since, can't lift her arms (her rotator cuffs are messed up) and she has Celiac Sprue and has to have gluten free/wheat free foods. My father-in-law is 77 years old and was hospitalized for breathing difficulty and has Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis Disease and came home 6 weeks ago. He won't go back to the doctor for fear they will hospitalize him again. He worries about who is going to take care of his wife. His wife is stressing him out and driving him crazy as they are now both "housebound." My husband and I go over once a week to help with groceries, and I am seeing a lot of neglect in the housework and worry that neither one of them are eating properly. She won't let me or my husband help with the housework, and she fusses about each and every grocery item we get for them. I spoke with her primary physician yesterday and he said it's the worst case of social anxiety he's ever seen. My father-in-law says he wants to move to assisted living, which is good, but I worry that she won't let the caretakers come in and help. She is adamant about not wanting anyone to do anything for her. I also worry that putting them in assisted living will just make it worse on my father-in-law as he will be placed in an even smaller space with this woman who just paces and wrings her hands in front of him. He wouldn't be able to escape it like he can now in their three bedroom home. I have suggested to my husband that she get a psychiatric evaluation, but he says she won't go for that and neither will his father. I think his father feels guilty about her and that he feels he has no option left but to deal with it. He may not have long to live (1-2 years tops) and I hate to see him having to live his last months in this intolerable situation.  What can we do?

Avatar universal
by tpadma, May 06, 2015
Though I am reading this article in a random search on the internet, It is quite enlightening and gave a new perspective of myself.

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