Every so often we encounter an awe-inspiring question or statement that illuminates areas of our mind that we had previously left unnoticed. While browsing through the internet, I read a quote that asked "would you be friends with someone that spoke to you the way you speak to yourself?".  It was a 'mind-blowing' moment that I pondered for the rest of the day.  According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average person experiences 60,000 thoughts per day.  Now of course, many of these average thoughts probably have to do with tasks (I have to run to the bank), observations (the weather's sunny)  and memories (I remember when my mom used to cook my lunch) but also, within these thoughts, is the style in which we narrate to ourselves.

Considered as the grandfather of cognitive-therapy and founder of REBT, Albert Ellis identified a few ways that we not only speak to ourselves, but eventually learn to believe the thoughts through rehearsal and repetition. Ellis considered these beliefs in two categories: rational and irrational. He considered rational beliefs to be those that are flexible and adaptive whereas irrational beliefs are inflexible and rigid. These beliefs are the product of our thoughts and the ways in which we speak to ourselves.

Simply, we can become stuck in unhelpful beliefs which ultimately lead to maladaptive behaviors. Questioning our own thoughts is essentially how many cognitive therapists aim to restructure an individual's behavior.  If we repeated the thought "I can never be late" over and over again, we could see how this thought could lead to anxiety over punctuality and eventually lead to self-recrimination (I'm worthless if I'm late). The reason we ask people to respond (or at least analyze) their thoughts is because these thoughts can become rehearsed so often that they become automatic and our behaviors default on them being considered true.

In order to analyze and ultimately respond to these thoughts, Ellis highlighted ways in which we speak to ourselves that could lead to unhelpful behaviors. Dogmatic Demands are any rigid demands that we make (musts, absolutes, shoulds); Awfulizing is when we make a situation more awful than it actually is; Low Frustration Tolerance is when we believe that we can't bear to stand a situation; and Self or Other Loathing is when we make global assumptions about ourselves or others based on a single event.  Now, I'm not going to say there aren’t times when these these demands could be true, however in my experience, more often than not there's an element of irrationality in this all or nothing thinking.

Let's assume a situation occurred where you woke up late for an important exam. You call your friend to drive you and they oblige. While in the car you thank them for picking you up and helping you reach your class in time to complete the exam. Now imagine your friend responds like this :
Dogmatic Demand: You should never, ever wake up late ever again!
Awfulizing: It's the most awful thing that you woke up late!
Low Frustration Tolerance: How could you stand waking up late, imposing on me and walking in to class?!

Self/Other Loathing: You're so stupid! What kind of person wakes up late to an exam?!
                  Now, I'm sure some may see how despite taking you to school, this friend is also not helping an already crummy morning. This isn't to say that there isn't some level of truth that they are expressing, however there's also an element of being overly-critical and unhelpful. there is just as important as the destination. Furthermore, I'd like to reiterate that it's estimated we have 60,000 thoughts per day; imagine this friend repeating these critical statements, 60,000 times per day for 24 hours. How long do you think it'll take before you eventually react in terms of feeling or behavior?
                  This is what we ask people to do in therapy. We ask that you pay attention to your friend (your thoughts) and check whether what is being said is helpful, true or full of dogmatic demands and awfulizing. Here's how that would look:
Dogmatic Demand: You should never, ever wake up late ever again!
"Well everybody wakes up late every now and then, is it helpful to think that I never will?"
Awfulizing: It's the most awful thing that you woke up late!
"I can think of a few other things that are probably worse..."
Low Frustration Tolerance: How could you stand waking up late and walking in to class?!
"It'll probably be embarrassing but it's not the end of the world."
Self/Other Loathing: You're so stupid! What kind of person wakes up late to an exam?!
"It's unfortunate but this incident alone doesn't make me stupid."

Practically, we all have thoughts that are on some level less than rational. However repeated enough times and these thoughts can eventually lead to unhelpful behaviors and unhealthy negative emotions.  If you would eventually ask your friend to tone down the critical tone, then why allow yourself to speak to yourself in the same manner? 

  Marawan Elwakil   MA  Marawan is a therapist at Citron Hennessey. He has previous experience working with children, adolescence, young adults and chemical dependence. After establishing a therapeutic bond, he draws from his current training in REBT and various psycho-therapeutic perspectives to both address difficulties and roadblocks in life that lead us in to the therapy room. Ultimately, aiming to empower clients and cultivate the strengths laying dormant within them, in order to live their lives to its fullest potential.

Marawan Elwakil

MA

Marawan is a therapist at Citron Hennessey. He has previous experience working with children, adolescence, young adults and chemical dependence. After establishing a therapeutic bond, he draws from his current training in REBT and various psycho-therapeutic perspectives to both address difficulties and roadblocks in life that lead us in to the therapy room. Ultimately, aiming to empower clients and cultivate the strengths laying dormant within them, in order to live their lives to its fullest potential.

 
 
 

Please note: The opinions expressed are those of the individual therapist and not necessarily those of Citron Hennessey Private Therapy.