Refuting Irrational Beliefs

Irrational thoughts and beliefs can be harmful. We experience conditioning through modeled behavior and our environments, during our youth. We carry programming by way of experiences, norms and other both external and internal factors in our lifetimes. Our thoughts and beliefs have an impact on our interpersonal interactions as well as our self-criticisms. We have biases and expectations that are often unhelpful. Irrational beliefs do not have to be of the self. They are thoughts and beliefs about anything, and correcting or refuting our beliefs takes self-awareness and a conscious effort.


As a part of mindfulness, we should practice awareness of our though processes and what may be feeding them. We should also consider that how another person behaves or responds to us, is largely connected to their own experiences and beliefs. We cannot take those things personally.


Let's start with the basics of observing our irrational beliefs and statements. SMART Recovery considers an irrational belief as being untrue or unrealistic, illogical and/or harmful. A rational belief is then considered realistic (evidence), logical and/or helpful. SMART's approach is to first dispute that irrational belief by turning it into a question followed by a response. For example:


Irrational Belief: "The noise from my neighbors is unbearable and I can't be in this space."

Question: "Is it unbearable or is it annoying?"

Answer: It's unpleasant but I have endured much worse temporarily. I will have to introduce new methods of self-care to cope with the constant noise.


That's a simple enough example. An irrational belief does not have to be anything traumatic or a generalization of others. It can be any statement or belief that you're carrying or feeding yourself, that is simply unhealthy. If I think that everything is unbearable, I'm creating unnecessary anxiety and stress to my health. Here is another example from SMART Recovery**:


IB: "Nothing good ever happens to me and never will."

Question IB: "Does nothing good ever happen to me?"

Rational Belief (replacement): "The love and support of my family and friends are all good things that happen to me."


When you dispute your irrational beliefs, you are creating new norms of thinking for yourself, and a healthier lifestyle. It starts with a conscious effort and a change in vocabulary, before it can become a larger change in behavior. The more this is practiced, the more you change your feelings which are influenced by your thoughts. Here are a few statement swaps:


"My life sucks" - "I have experienced some hardships and I'm living to change that."

"I need attention" - "I'm worthy and ready for companionship."

"You're a bad person" - "You did something unkind."


Here are a few vocabulary swaps for awfulizing and demanding:

have to = could use

can't stand = don't like

must/should = want, would prefer

always = much of the time


Remember, much of this impacts how we talk to ourselves, love ourselves and how we treat other people. Please practice refuting and replacing irrational beliefs and statements, regardless of how simple it may seem (or complex when they involve others). Changing our thought processes is helpful in coping, for anyone and for those in recovery.


Stephanie Powers, MS, LCDC


**smartrecovery.org (2013)

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