Until recently it was believed that only 10 or 12 common irrational ideas caused most of human misery (Ellis & Harper, 1975). Now, it is thought that there are thousands of misery-causing false ideas (Ellis, 1987), a few of them are very obviously irrational but many are subtle and more convincing (but still wrong). As these ideas are described, think about your own thoughts, attitudes, and self-talk. To what extent do you think this way?
It is helpful to describe several irrational thoughts because we differ very much in terms of how we think. You will not have all the harmful thoughts listed; you may have only two or three, but they could be enough to make you miserable. It will probably be helpful for you to skim all the ideas below to find the few that are giving you trouble. Here are the common, fairly obvious irrational ideas described by Albert Ellis which create unwanted emotions:
1. Everyone should love and approve of me (if they don’t, I feel awful and unlovable).
2. I should always be able, successful, and “on top of things” (if I’m not, I’m an inadequate, incompetent, hopeless failure).
3. People who are evil and bad should be punished severely (and I have the right to get very upset if they aren’t stopped and made to “pay the price”).
4. When things do not go the way I wanted and planned, it is terrible and I am, of course, going to get very disturbed. I can’t stand it!
5. External events, such as other people, a screwed-up society, or bad luck, cause most of my unhappiness. Furthermore, I don’t have any control over these external factors, so I can’t do anything about my depression or other misery.
6. When the situation is scary or going badly, I should and can’t keep from worrying all the time.
7. It is easier for me to overlook or avoid thinking about tense situations than to face the problems and take the responsibility for correcting the situation.
8. I need someone—often a specific person—to be with and lean on (I can’t do everything by myself).
9. Things have been this way so long, I can’t do anything about these problems now.
10. When my close friends and relatives have serious problems it is only right and natural that I get very upset too.
11. I don’t like the way I’m feeling but I can’t help it. I just have to accept it and go with my feelings.
12. I know there is an answer to every problem. I should find it (if I don’t, it will be awful).