Irrational beliefs: “I feel like a failure because I failed a class.”

"Think" - Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©

“Think” – Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©

Einstein learned to speak late, at the age of four. Bill Gates’ first business venture failed. Walt Disney got fired for his lack of imagination and good ideas. Are any of these people a failure? Of course not. Most of us who are not famous are not failures either, even though we may have failed a class, gotten a divorce and much more.

Irrational thinking

Yet people often unknowingly hold faulty beliefs that cause them to suffer from their own self-imposed negative emotions. For example, people hold mistaken beliefs such as “In order to be a worthy person I must get great grades, I must make a marriage work, I must get the best job, or I must have the perfect life.”

Unfortunately, such irrational thinking will have unhealthy consequences. It may cause a person to feel depressed and miserable, which in turn will make him or her less effective and less capable of dealing with or improving any given situation.

The cognitive approach to psychology holds that unhappiness often stems at least in part from our irrational beliefs. These irrational beliefs distort the way we see others, ourselves and the world. If either our thoughts are inaccurate or our reasoning is irrational, our emotions and behavior can become disturbed and inappropriate, causing harm to ourselves and others.

Solution

1. Identify the irrational belief.

2. Analyze the facts more objectively.

3. Re-interpret your belief based on reality.

4. Adapt to improve the situation.

Our thoughts have great influence over how we feel about ourselves. Most of us are unaware of all the assumptions we continuously make. Therefore, the key is to learn to monitor your thoughts and then check them against reality by discussing them with your friends or a therapist.

Example: “I failed in my marriage.”

By exploring the assumption that divorce is a failure, for example, we find that there is no evidence that one must have a good marriage to be a successful, worthwhile and happy person. A good marriage might be great for some, but it is not necessary for health, fulfillment and happiness. Besides it takes two motivated and compatible people to have a good marriage. It is wishful thinking for someone to think that one person can be responsible for a good marriage on his or her own.

Through any disappointing relationship we learn about ourselves and others. We may learn, for example, that we need to set better boundaries, to have more fun, to be less controlling, to avoid people who are controlling, etc. By viewing a marriage and subsequent divorce as a meaningful experience including both joy and suffering, rather than a failure, we can learn from the experience, and perhaps even cherish some of the memories.

Example: “I feel like a failure because I failed a class.”

Similarly, when you realize that getting a bad grade does not make you a failure, your emotional response to bad grades might be sadness or frustration rather than self-loathing or depression. Sadness and frustration are often healthy negative emotions that may lead you to transform a situation, e.g., to study harder, get a tutor or change classes. Such emotions trigger reflection and the realization that something needs to be changed. Disappointment in life is inevitable, but can pave the path to improvement and change.

By becoming more objective, you can avoid feelings of self-loathing that cause people so much grief and make it difficult to move forward in life. Instead, appropriate negative feelings cause us to reflect and to focus on making changes rather than dwelling miserably on perceived failure.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Commonly attributed to Darwin

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Irrational thinking: ‘I’ll reject them before they reject me.’”

Read “Mind reading: ‘You just don’t like spending time with me!’”

Read “Catastrophizing: ‘I failed my test. Now they’ll know how stupid I am. I’ll never get into college and get a decent job.’”

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

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