Recognizing Irrational thinking

Home page                                                                                  Correct irrational thinking
Long ago, Dr. Albert Ellis identified four basic types of
irrational beliefs that human beings are prone to.  By
irrational, we mean that by thinking those ways they make
their lives worse instead of better.  They generate a
dysfunctional amount of emotion and then often say and
Can't Stand It-itis
The Science and Art of it all
Putting it all together
Label and Damning
Consider the THINK-FEEL-DO thermostat again.  There
are three ways to look at something that happens, or that
might.  To not care.  To think it is, or would be
unpleasant, inconvenient or uncomfortable.  Many things
inlife are.  Or, to think it is or would be really AWFUL,
meaning the worst possible thing that could happen.  If
you truly don't care, it's easy to remain cool, calm and
indifferent.  If you perceive something as being
unpleasant, inconvenient, or  uncomfortable, you'll be
frustrated, irritated or annoyed, or feel sad, concern or
regret or remorse.  However, if you think what's
happening is AWFUL, or what might happen would be,
you'll generate anger, anxiety, depression, shame and

It should be obvious that AWFULIZING often plays a role
in the way those being bullied respond emotionally to
being bullied.  For most adults, because of our more
extensive life experiences, it's obvious that there are a lot
worse things that could happen to young people, and
often do.   It's also understandable that young people, or
their parents might turn their THINK thermostats up, from
unpleasant, inconvenient and uncomfortable to AWFUL.  
It's part of being human to do so.  But it doesn't help.  It
just causes both to generate more emotional than is
helpful or necessary.  That just makes people more
reactive and less response-able.
Rule #5   We have a right to like or dislike whatever we
              want to.  

The mistake people make is to start telling them- selves
they CAN'T STAND something they simply don't like.  
The bottom of the thermostat is once again "I don't care",
the middle "I don't like it" and the top "I can't stand it".  If
we truly couldn't stand something, we'd die or go crazy.  
Obviously, if everyonedied or went crazy when they said
they couldn't stand something they simply didn't like, we'd
have streets and hallways littered with dead bodies or
crazy people.  When we say we can't stand something,
we're exaggerating and lying to ourselves and that part of
our brain that generates emotion.  That lower part of the
brain is blind, deaf and dumb to the outside world, and
takes the word of the upper portions of our brains which
make such judgments and pronouncements.  The truth
is, we CAN stand what happens.  We just don't like it,
and that's okay.  It's our right to not like it, and most other
people probably wouldn't either.
Remember Rule #5.

Rule #5   We have a right to like or dislike whatever we
              want to.   

We have the right to dislike what someone else says or
does, or what we do.  However, we often make the
mistake of blatantly overgeneralizing from a behavior to
making judgments about others or ourselves as a
person.  We condemn the DOER instead of simply
condemning the DEED.  Label and Damning someone
Dr. Ellis said that if we have one type of irrational
thinking we'll have the other three.  The first goal is
always to give people control over their own thermostat
- to teach them how to take control of it away from
others.  The second goal is to teach them to lower the
Frequency, Intensity and Duration of feelings like anger,
anxiety, depression, shame and guilt.  A third goal is to

Home page                                                                               Correct irrational thinking
Dr. Albert Ellis - Automatic Irrational Beliefs
There is a science and an art to helping someone
recognize their own irrational thinking.  The science is
that when people do generate a dysfunctional amount of
emotion, and possibly do things that make their own
lives and the lives of others worse, they engage in the
irrational thinking noted above.  It's part of being human.  
The art is getting them to be willing to see that they do
think such ways without triggering defense mechanisms
that will preclude them from recognizing and
acknowledging that they do.

One way to avoid having them resort to such defense
mechanisms is to exude
UOA or Unconditional Other
, and to teach and encourage them to have
do things because of it, or to deal with it, that makes their
lives worse.   He called the four types Demandiness,
Awfulizing, Can't Stand It-itis, and Label and Damning. Allow
me to explain the four types, and how they might relate to
I like to teach people five simple rules.

Rule #1   You have the right to want whatever
              you want

That's true even if it's not good for us or something others
might not agree with.  That's our right as human beings.  
However, according to Dr. Ellis, human beings have a
tendency to:

1)  Start to think they NEED something they simply want
2)  Treat their simple preferences as
3)  DEMAND what they simply desire                               

We can make demands of ourselves, others or life.  Who
or what we make demands of determines which feeling we
end up with.  For example:
Demand of       Feeling you get
Others         Anger

   Self          Anxiety (if made before an event)
                   Shame, Guilt (if made after an event)

   Life          Depression, Anxiety

The words people use when making demands of others,
themselves and life are:
need, have to, can't, should,
 When people use should or shouldn't, we
jokingly say they are "shoulding" on themselves, others or

In a case of being "bullied", it's understandable for young
people to want, prefer and desire for others to leave them
alone, and to not have to deal with such things.  That
would cause them to be frustrated, irritated, annoyed when
such things happen, and be sad that they do have to
continually deal with such things.  It's also understandable
that they would want, prefer or desire to handle whatever
happens on their own, and better than they do.  If they
don't believe they can or do, they'd have regret or
remorse.  It would also be understandable to want to
prevent or avoid recurrences.  That would cause them to
generate concern in advance of finding themselves in
situations where it has occurred before.

However, if young people start to
DEMAND that others not
do things to them, and others do, they will generate anger.  
We've all watched in horror at reports of school shootings.  
Anger will give anyone a false sense of power,
righteous-ness, permission and protection.  That's makes
doing such things easier to contemplate and follow through
on.  When people make themselves angry, they are more
likely to adopt the mistaken goal of revenge, and have that
anger be the driving force behind any efforts to get even
with others.  

If they tell themselves they can't, and shouldn't have to
deal with what they do, they'll get depressed.   We also
watch in horror at reports of young people taking their own
lives after being bullied.  There's a saying that "You're
either mad or sad".  Anger and depression are like a roller
coaster, with the peaks being anger, and the valleys being
depression.  The angrier someone gets, the more
depressed they can become when they stop being angry.   
The reason is that they both come about from
Demandiness.  In the case of anger, someone makes
demands of others.  In the case of depression, he/she
makes demands of life.  These two can be connected and
overlap in many ways.  I believe this explains in part the
homocide-suicides we see in school shootings and the
society at large.   

If young people "should" on themselves, telling them-
selves they should be able to handle things better than
they do, they'll generate shame and guilt instead of regret
and remorse.  Finally, if they take the position that they
can't and must not let it happen to them again, they'll
generate anxiety instead of simple concern, perhaps even
a crippling frequency, intensity and duration of it.   This
anxiety could be why they start staying home, or even
consider dropping out, or even start contemplating taking
their own lives or others.  It's plugging them into their "fight
or flight response"

Rule #2 explains why making DEMANDS of yourself, others
or life exacerbates any feeling you end up with.

Rule #2   The bigger the difference between your
expectations and reality, the more emotion you'll generate  

Consider the THINK-FEEL-DO thermostat discussed on
another page of this website.  The bottom third of the
thermostat says "I don't care".  The middle section says "I
want, prefer, desire" something, or for something to be a
certain way.  The top says "I need it, it's a necessity, and I

If you set your thermostat at "I don't care", it's easy to remain
cool, calm and indifferent when things happen.  You
wouldn't have a lot of "energy to move" and wouldn't be
motivated to do much.  If however, you set it at "I want,
prefer or desire", you'll be frustrated, irritated or annoyed, or
feel concerned or sad, regret or remorse if or when things
don't turnout as you want or would like.  You'll have "energy
to move" to make your life better.  The frequency, intensity
and duration of such feelings will depend on how much you
wanted, preferred and desired something.  The greater the
real or perceived difference that exists between your
expectations and reality the more emotion you'll generate,
the more often you'll generate it, and the longer it will last.  
However, you'll still be relatively free to respond to what's
happening rather than react to it.  

If you set your THINK thermostat at DEMAND, either of
others, yourself or life, you'd feel anger, anxiety, guilt,
shame or depression instead.  The DEMAND increases the
gap between your expectations and reality.  The greater
your DEMAND, the higher frequency, intensity and duration
of emotion you'll generate.  This makes you more likely to
react or overreact to what is happening.

The goal is certainly not to try to get a student who is being
bullied to not have emotion.  Emotion can be helpful "energy
to move" to motivate them to take action to make their lives
better in some way.  However, too much can make them
more likely to react to their life events rather than being free
to respond to them.  It can either paralyze people, i.e.
staying home from school, or keeping what's happening to
them a secret and suffering more because of it.  Or, it can
lead to things like school shootings,contemplating taking
their own lives.  An important point is that no amount of
emotion by itself will change what has
already happened, or what might.  Even worse, the more
emotion those being bullied generate and display, the
greater the sense of power and control those doing the
bullying will think they have over them.

Rule #3    When people go from simply wanting, preferring
or desiring something, to think they need it, it's a necessity
or demanding it, it can make otherwise smart people do
stupid things.

"Stupid things" would include schools shootings or
suicides.  To understand this rule, consider this.  Suppose
you were suffocating, or dying of thirst or hunger.  What
would you be willing to do to get air, water or food under
those circumstances?  Anything!  Now imagine a young
person who is being bullied.  They understandably would
want, prefer and desire that what others do to them stop.  
Then imagine they start to think they NEED to make it stop
like they need air, water and food when suffocating, or
dying of thirst or hunger.  What might they be willing to do to
make it stop?  Probably the same thing.  Anything!  And
that's what can make an otherwise smart person do stupid

Rule #4    Behavior intended to satisfy a perceived need
will win out over behavior intended to satisfy a rational

Some examples of how Rule #4 might play out for a young person being bullied:
Rational preference:  I don't want to hurt anyone or to get into trouble
Perceived need:         I have to get even with them.  I have to make them pay     School shooting

Rational preference:  I don't want to die
Perceived need:         I have to make this stop.  I can't let this happen again.            Suicide
It would be helpful to encourage someone being bullied to
temper their way of looking at what's happening to them.  
No amount of emotion will change what's happened
already.  Generating more than is necessary or helpful is
understandable.  However, it just makes any perceived
sense of power and control in the mind of the bullies seem
bigger to them.  That can just reinforce their behavior and
encourage them to engage in even more of it.  However, we
must be careful in how we go about encouraging those
being "bullied" to temper their ways of looking at things.  If
we aren't careful, they could perceive us as criticizing them
in some way.   For this and many other reasons I encourage
schools to teach every students about the different types of
irrational thinking in an innocuous class setting - before any
crisis arises.  It's a lot easier to refer to something they
already have learned than to try to teach it in a crisis
situation.  To awfulize is part of being human.   It just
doesn't help, and often makes things worse than they need
to be.  We need to empathize, and always have UOA or
Unconditional Other Acceptance for whatever they think,
feel, say or do.  TWe'd probably do much the same if we
were in their shooes.  That said, the last thing any young
person who is being bullied needs is someone else
validating any AWFULIZING he or she is doing.
The reason Dr. Ellis used the suffix -ITIS is that by
continually telling ourselves that we CAN'T STAND
something we simply don't like, we INFLAME ourselves
unnecessarily, usually to no good end.  

It is hopefully obvious how this type of thinking could play a
role in what happens when young people get bullied.  If they
tell themselves "I CAN'T STAND it" or "I can't take this
anymore", they will generate much more emotion than if
they simply told themselves "I don't like this".  At the very
least, that just contributes to someone generating more
emotion than is helpful or necessary.  It just causes them to
feel worse than they need to, for longer than they need to.  
At the very worse, it could contribute to the school shootings
or suicides we too often see.  That's especially true if a
young person also convinces him/herself that things will
never get better.  They often do that by simply rehearsing
their thoughts without challenge from others, causing them
to start to feel like a facts instead of the simple opinions
such thoughts really are.
USA or Unconditional Self-Acceptance.  It's usually the best
place to start.  In other words, letting them know that you
look at anything they or others think, feel, say or do as being
understandable, part of being human, and nothing to be
ashamed of.   And encouraging them to look at what they
think, feel, say and do the same way.

The other way, as noted above, is to teach every student
about such thinking before they end up in crisis situations.  
It's a lot easier to tap into their prior knowledge at such times
than it is to introduce such concepts for the first time.  
else or ourselves is like calling an apple BAD because it has
a bruise, despite the fact that 95% of the apple is still
perfectly edible.  It's calling others or ourselves stupid
because they or we simply did a stupid thing, or simply
something we didn't like.  Label and damning others
exacerbates anger.  Label and damning ourselves
exacerbates shame and guilt, either of which can lead to
bullying ending tragically.
teach people to go from having anger, anxiety, depression,
shame and guilt to having qualitatively different feelings like
frustration,  irritation, annoyance, concern, sadness, regret
and remorse.  The way to do that is to help them recognize
their own irrational thinking and to turn down their cognitive
thermostat.  Teaching them how to correct their irrational
thinking is the way to turn their cognitive thermostat down.