Stress due to irrational thinking

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Stress due to irrational thinking

“Man is not disturbed by events, but by the view he takes of them ”                                                                                – Epictetus

Harrison James is in the process of preparing a tender for the supply of personal computers to a big multinational company. He has an excellent track record and is in the good books of all his superiors. Though he is one of the most experienced members in the corporate sales department, he is immensely tensed out while preparing the tender. His thought process during this period is something like this: If my tender quote is slightly higher than our competitors then the company might lose the order. If my company loses the order I may lose my job. If I lose this job I will be leftover with poor track record and it will be very difficult for me to get another placement.

Almost in every moment of our conscious life we are talking to ourselves and with this self talk which reflects our internal thoughts we describe and interpret the world. If the self talk is practical and realistic, we function well but if it is irrational and untrue (as in the example), we may experience distress and emotional disturbance.

Irrational ideas are based on outright misperceptions or an over perfectionistic attitude towards life. According to Albert Ellis, between any event and our emotions there is realistic or unrealistic self talk. The self talk produces the emotions i.e. our own thoughts directed and controlled by us create stress, anxiety, anger and depression.

There are two common forms of irrational self talk

  • Statements that “awfulize” (Tendency to talk or perceive in extremes). This type of self talk awfulize by making catastrophic, nightmarish interpretations of our experiences, e.g. a momentary cough is bronchitis.
  • Statements that “absolutize“, often including words like “should”, “must”, “ought”, “always” and “never”.  This type of self talk sets unrealistic and strict standards and any deviation from these standards are considered bad.

Albert Ellis summarized ten basic irrational beliefs, a modified version of which is presented below

  • It is absolutely necessary to be loved, liked and approved by every person in my life – this is a highly irrational belief and is a major cause of unhappiness and stress. It is impossible to please everyone in our life.
  • I have to be unfailingly competent and perfect in everything I do in life. 
  • Some people are evil, wicked and villainous and they should be punished.
  • It is horrible when people and things are not the way I want them to be.
  • All my bad feelings are caused by things beyond my control and therefore I cannot do anything about them.
  • I should feel frightened and anxious whenever I come across anything that is not known to me or is dangerous.
  • It is easier to avoid something difficult or unpleasant than to face it.
  • I need someone stronger than myself to depend on.
  • The past has a lot to do in determining the present.
  • Inaction, passivity and endless leisure leads to happiness.