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Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) Unhealthy Beliefs

The CBT I use is based on Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) which is the work of Albert Ellis. And others, like Professor Windy Dryden, have developed his concepts.  In REBT we take the view that it is an underlying unhealthy belief that triggers the unhealthy negative emotion.  This belief is usually deep in the unconscious and has been around so long that we just don’t consciously realise it’s there.  The unhealthy belief is something that we have possibly learnt from others as we have grown up, or come to believe through it being ‘drummed’ into us.

For instance:

  • It’s wrong to show emotion
  • I must get everything right otherwise I’m a failure
  • I must always be in control if I’m not it’s unbearable
  • I must not fail my exam if I do it’s awful and I can’t stand it and it means I’m a failure
  • life must be fair, if it’s not then I can’t stand it

You might recognise some of these. 

We learn from our society, our upbringing and our social network to believe certain things. I don’t just mean religious beliefs – we learn about our role in society, the expectations that society has, what our parents, carers, teachers, friends, lovers, partners, acquaintances expect and demonstrate in their own set of beliefs, thoughts, actions and emotions.  Along the way we absorb and take on board these different views and beliefs and assumptions about what the world should be like and what others and ourselves should be like within that world. 

However, we don’t have to continue buying into those beliefs.  Just because that is what we have had demonstrated to us by others and have come to believe ourselves, doesn’t mean it is set for life.  How often do you change your mind about a decision?  Are there times when you handle something in a different way from someone else?  Why do you think that is?  Well we all have different coping strategies and mechanisms. Think of a situation, perhaps at work, where two people reacted differently to the same situation.  One perhaps coped ‘better’ than the other.  This is because they had a different way of thinking about the situation.

Unhealthy Negative Emotions V Healthy Negative Emotions

CBT helps you identify your unhealthy belief and the unhealthy negative emotion, which people get ‘stuck’ in, such as anxiety or depression.  The aim is to help you move from the unhealthy state to a healthier place.  So we might go from being really anxious about something to being concerned about the same thing.  The emotion is still a negative but it is a healthy negative; it’s not something that you are ‘stuck’ in.  A healthy negative emotion helps you to move on from and respond to situations in a more helpful way.

Unhealthy Negative Emotion Healthy Negative Emotion
Anxiety Concern
Depression Sadness
Unhealthy Anger Healthy Anger
Guilt Remorse
Hurt Sorrow
Jealousy Healthy Jealousy
Shame/Embarrassment/Humiliation Disappointment
Unhealthy Envy Healthy Envy
Based on the work of Windy Dryden, et al.  

Emotionally responsible

The other concept related to CBT is that of emotional responsibility.  What does this mean?  Well it’s about being able to choose how you respond.  By being able to control your responses to situations, you are helping yourself cope in a more beneficial way.  There may well be times when you are in a really challenging and difficult situation or have a lot of ‘crap’ going on in your life and think that you just don’t have a choice in how you feel about it.    I want you to take a step back and just think for a moment.  What are you really wanting not to happen or to happen in your life?  Are you saying that “x has to happen” or that “life’s not fair” or that “he, she or they shouldn’t have done that”?  These statements could be the beginnings of an unhealthy belief or demand that you are placing on yourself, others or the world.  

With CBT you are helped to identify the full unhealthy belief and start to change it so that it gives you more options in how you think and feel about situations. It doesn’t change the situation, it changes you, which if you think about it is really all you can control. Life may still have ‘crappy’ things going on just you’ll be coping with them in a more resilient and supportive way for you.