The beliefs that end up in negative emotions are, according to Albert Ellis, a variation of three common irrational beliefs. Coined as the “Three Basic Musts,” these three common irrational beliefs are based on a demand – about ourselves, others, or the environment.
- I must do well and win others’ approval or else I am no good.
- Others must treat me fairly and kindly and in the same way I want them to treat me. If they do not treat me this way, they are not good people.
- I must always get what I want, when I want it. Likewise, I must never get what I don’t want. If I don’t get what I want, I’m miserable.
If we don’t realize “Must 1,” we likely feel anxious, depressed, shameful, or guilty. If we are not treated fairly, as per “Must 2,” we usually feel angry and may act violently. If we don’t get what we want, per “Must 3,” we may feel self-pity and procrastinate.
In order to act and feel differently, we must dispute or challenge the irrational beliefs we experience. Essentially, what we are questioning is our irrational beliefs:
Who says if I don’t win someone’s approval I’m no good?
Where is it written in the rule books that a boss always acts professionally and treats others fairly?
Why do I have to be absolutely miserable if I don’t get something I want? Why shouldn’t I just feel slightly annoyed instead of downright miserable?
If you are emotionally healthy, you experience an acceptance of reality, whether that reality is pleasant or unpleasant.
- Unconditional Self-Acceptance – I have flaws – I have my bad points and my good points, but that does not make me any less worthy than another person.
- Unconditional Other-Acceptance – Sometimes people won’t treat me fairly – there is no reason why they have to treat me fairly. Though some may not treat me fairly, they are no less worthy than any other person.
- Unconditional Life-Acceptance – Life is not always going to go the way I want. There’s no reason why it must go the way I want. I might experience some unpleasant things in life, but life itself is never awful and it is usually always bearable.
That is, instead of having a black and white emotion – “I must do my job perfectly. If I make a mistake, I’m a failure” into a less severe response. “I made a mistake on the job. This is not the end of the world – we all make mistakes. It’s annoying that this happened, but I’ll work toward not making the same mistake in the future.”
These subdued reactions lead to fewer self-defeating behaviors.