“…you, luckily, can practically always unupset the one person in the world whose thoughts and feelings you control – you!” -Albert Ellis
Have you ever felt unhappy, disappointed, worried, perturbed, unsettled, agitated, or vexed? Well, all of these synonyms for feeling upset have merit. When multiple words exist to describe an unpleasant emotional state, it means there are many versions of an undesirable experience available – more than we want to have.
In 1955, Dr. Ellis created three themes of self-induced misery he witnessed in his clients. He had already identified a dozen beliefs which he labeled as irrational reactions to adversity. In his book, How to Make Yourself Happy and Remarkably Less Disturbable, the themes are listed as statements. These themes aren’t common in conversation because the statements exist as an unspoken mental script. Without awareness of how powerful these themes are, they can run and sometimes ruin things.
Three Themes of Irrational Thinking:
- I must perform well and win approval or else I am an inadequate person!
- Other people must treat me kindly and fairly – or else they are utterly rotten!
- Conditions must be the way I want them to be or else the world is impossibly bad!
Theme number one references the need to be pleasing. An added burden of this theme is a negative belief about failing when pleasing others isn’t achieved. This behavior pattern sets up a perfect storm to lose yourself. The first wind blows you away from being true to yourself by picking actions that you think others will like, rather than being true to yourself. The wind then knocks you down because if you fail at being pleasing, it means you are not enough which may cause you to hide your true self through more pleasing.
The second theme involves wanting to receive kindness, always. If others are unkind, rude, disrespectful, ignorant, or error prone humans having a bad day and do the opposite of what we want – then they are bad people for not doing what we think is good. This can cause anxiety about being around others.
The last theme focuses on how we want things to always go our way. This is similar to wanting others to do what we want, but this time it is asking for circumstances to be favorable. Predicting conditions is difficult, but controlling them is impossible, rendering the individual who tries powerless.
One Thing to Do: Acknowledge adversity without maximizing the negative impact on self or others. Try to avoid projecting or personalizing.
“To be realistic is to fully acknowledge the undesirable aspects of life, to view them as bad or obnoxious, and to motivate yourself to try to change them (not control them).” -A. Ellis
Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.
Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.