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Chapter 6. Looking at the World Differently > Dealing with Irrational Beliefs

Dealing with Irrational Beliefs

Another powerful way humans create stress for themselves is by doing what Albert Ellis (1975) called catastrophizing, which happens when you give yourself messages that a situation is too awful or overwhelming to bear, or that the worst is about to happen. These messages, also termed self-talk by Ellis or automatic thoughts by Aaron Beck (1970), refer to running commentary that goes on in your head during the course of the day. Most of it is mundane and benign, but problems arise when your perceptions are influenced by automatic thoughts that reflect irrational beliefs. Many studies have documented the link between irrational beliefs and anxiety (Bonner & Rich, 1991), but not all irrational beliefs cause stress. Those that do typically fall into two general categories: (1) beliefs that the world, someone, or something should be different; and (2) beliefs that your perceptions reflect reality rather than your subjective impressions of reality. Many times these irrational beliefs operate on a subconscious level, yet guide your emotional reactions nonetheless. Self-talk tends to be circular in nature, often creating a vicious cycle that can heighten your stress level (Bourne, 1990). Figure 6.1 illustrates this cycle. It begins with events in the environment that have no positive or negative value until you are there to interpret them or ascribe meaning to them. Next, we have your sensory impressions of the event (that is, your perceptions and sensory input). This is followed by your cognitions and interpretations of your perception of events (that is, your self-talk about the event), which may include irrational ideas or self-statements. The next step is the reaction of your emotional and physical system, not so much to the events themselves, but to your interpretations (self-talk) about the events. These physical and emotional reactions then feed back into your self-talk. For example, if you are feeling disappointed or depressed because of how you have interpreted an event, this sadness will then further influence your self-talk, predisposing you to further negative cognitions—and the cycle goes on. Negative thoughts create unhappiness, and depression stimulates further pessimistic thinking.

Figure 6.1. The Irrational Self-Talk Cycle



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