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Reading a book about how strongly human nature inclines toward irrationality and the importance of fighting to be rational made me think about illogical beliefs that clients bring into therapy. Although their lives are problem-laden or they can’t reach their eating and other goals, they are often upset when I challenge these irrational beliefs. Because my job is neither to placate nor make them feel good in the moment, but to get and keep them mentally healthy, I challenge them anyway. If you want the health, happiness, and success that other people achieve, you can’t hold these beliefs:
It’s understandable how this thought takes root. How reassuring to believe that bad
things happen to other people and not to us. Or that bad things may befall us, but they only protect us from worse things happening. If we believe that unfortunate things happen only to people who are bad and we are good, we might think we can outmaneuver fate, a belief that children adopt to feel safe and protected from future harm.
However, as adults, it’s essential to acknowledge that all the horrific things that happen to people, to strangers, friends, and family, could as easily happen to us. We, along with loved ones, could be swindled, raped, beaten, or left for dead. Who do these things happen to if not us? We don’t want to dwell on these dangers, of course, but we also want to avoid being lulled into irrationally thinking that we are somehow immune from them because, if we deny these possibilities, we’ll be in even more serious emotional trouble if they do happen.
Humans are meaning-making creatures and try to make meaning unconsciously and consciously. However, events are simply happenings—from the dinosaurs dying out to losing a job. The meanings we give to events and the comforting interpretations we slap on them don’t make us right about their causation or meaning.
People wish to believe that everything happens for a reason because this is what they had to think in childhood to keep their heads above water. This belief is crucial for children to make coherent meaning out of their mistreatment or the chaos that was their family petri dish. Believing that good will come from bad is a very hopeful, adaptive, empowering thought as a child—all is not lost, pain inflicted on me isn’t arbitrary but has purpose, I feel awful but will grow stronger from my misery. People who grow up in emotionally healthy households don’t need to, and don’t generally as adults, give meaning when there isn’t any because they didn’t need to twist logic to manage overwhelming pain and suffering as children.
This is also a belief that begins in childhood. Imagine how horrible a child’s life would
be thinking that things would never improve and might even get worse. This kind of thinking in children leads to despair and depression. Once again, hope carries the day. Like “everything happens for a reason,” it’s a soothing belief that all will be well which makes people feel better or at least less bad.
The truth is that things often don’t work out the way we hope they will and expecting and accepting this truth is part of mature, healthy, rational thinking. We have misfortune and regrets. We fail miserably and need to pick up the pieces and start again. Things don’t work out or we have immense losses and we must find a way to go on living anyway. Painful but universal truths.
I hope you’re able to be honest if you see yourself in any of these descriptions and will try to understand how you’re doing yourself a grave disservice by clinging to these irrational beliefs. They may feel comforting now, but they will hinder you from becoming a rational, mature adult. And isn’t that what reading these blogs is all about?
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