What IS irrational thinking?

Posted on December 10, 2010

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In Albert Ellis’s book A New Guide to Rational Living, (although it’s not really new, it was published in 1961) Ellis proposes that our lives would much better if we could identify our irrational beliefs and dissolve them.

The problem with our irrational beliefs, Ellis argues, is that we take them for granted. Because of the way we’ve been conditioned by society, we operate as if our irrational beliefs are true which causes us a lot of unnecessary suffering.

All we have to do is to figure out what irrational beliefs we’ve been holding onto. Then we can question and dispute them and whala! We will start to think more rationally and automatically live more happily.

This month, we’re going to take a look at Ellis’s 10 Irrational Beliefs and apply them to the world of relationships. But first, let’s take a lot at what Ellis defines as “rational” and “irrational.”

Some self-help gurus mislead their followers into believing that any negative thinking  or feeling is irrational and that if one only learned to discipline his/her own thinking better, he/she would always be happy. Totally irrational.

As Ellis points out, many of our negative thoughts and feelings actually ensure our physical and emotional survival and therefore serve a very important purpose. Our judgments about what is good and bad, what we should and should not do help us live in this world.

Getting angry at a partner who lies to you actually ensures your survival. Anger is an important signal that gets you to pay attention and act. Being sad when a relationship ends is your psyche’s way of dealing with change and loss.  To dismiss all negative emotions as irrelevant or as evidence of undisciplined thinking is to deny our humanity.

It’s when we get stuck in these negative emotions and start to evaluate either ourselves or others as “good” or “bad” that we start to participate in irrational thinking.

Rational thinking is the kind of thinking that a) assists you to survive and b) helps you achieve the goals or values you select to make your survival pleasurable, enjoyable and worthwhile.

Irrational thinking however, is the kind of thinking that actually impedes the achievement of your goals and values because you are judging yourself and others as either good or bad. When one participates in irrational thinking, the essence of a human being is being judged (favorably or unfavorably), rather than one’s behavior.

Now that we’ve got all of that cleared up, let’s begin, shall we?

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