3 Ways to Dispute Irrational Beliefs

Posted on November 4, 2014

Are You a Loser?

QuestionPeople observe their behavior, and evaluate it in terms of how well they like it. If we did not do this, we would have no way of improving how we act.  When people seek help in therapy, in self-help groups, or by reading self-help books, they are not merely observing and thinking of their behaviors and deciding how to make adjustments. Typically, their thinking interferes with their ability to adjust and often they’re mainly aware of their misery.

REBT attempts to show you that (1) events do not automatically create your thoughts, (2) events do not cause your emotions, and (3) by changing your thinking, you will see things differently, and then your thoughts and emotions will aid you instead of interfering with your actions.

Let’s say you failed at something important to you. Compare the following two sets of thoughts regarding how they make you feel, how truthful they are, and how well they help you adjust.

1. I failed and that’s bad. Maybe I didn’t pay close enough attention to what was going on to prevent my failure. I regret that.

2. I should not have failed. It’s awful to fail as I did. Because I did fail, I’m a loser; I can’t stand myself.

In REBT, we call the second set of beliefs Irrational. They easily lead you to lose. When you find yourself having thoughts such as those, we recommend that you work at diminishing their strength.

Disputing Irrational Beliefs (DIBs)

The first exercise we recommend is Disputing Irrational Beliefs. Here’s an example:

Irrational Belief: I should not have failed. It’s awful to fail as I did. Because I did fail, I’m a loser; a real louse. I can’t stand myself.

Disputing question: Is there any evidence that I’m a loser?

Sensible answer: No. I lost what I wanted, but losing doesn’t make me a loser. It only shows that I can make a serious mistake. And, if I were a loser, why didn’t I notice this before I failed?

Disputing question: Is there any evidence that I should not fail?

Sensible answer: No. I did fail. That shows that my belief can’t be true. Surely I can fail.

Disputing question: Is there any evidence that it’s awful to fail?

Sensible answer: No. It’s bad to fail, but awful is beyond bad, and nothing is beyond bad. (Bad is when you don’t get what you want. Even the worst loss fits this definition, and in the case of the worst loss, it still is not beyond what you don’t want.)

Disputing question: Is there any evidence that I can’t stand myself?

Answer: You may not like the actions that led to your loss, but you can stand the thought of them and yourself for doing them.

Disputing question: Is there any evidence that I’m no good?

Sensible answer: No. I can prove that my performance wasn’t good, but I can’t prove that I’m no good.

Disputing question: What bad things can happen to me if I keep my belief?

Answer: I’ll feel miserable a lot of the time. I may drink excessively merely to escape these feelings. I may think it’s hopeless for me to ever do better. I may believe that since I’m a loser, I can’t do any better.

Disputing question: What good things can happen to me if I give up my belief?

Answer: I may realize that many of the problems I’m having are simply due to the ordinary difficulties and have nothing to do with my being “a loser.” I will stop berating myself. I can feel better and I can do better at getting on with my life. I can stop thinking that others think I’m a failure. I can feel more joy and happiness when good things happen in my life. I can create more joy in my life.

Disputing question: OK. If I’m not a loser, what am I?

Sensible answer: Human, which means fallible.

Disputing Irrational Beliefs (DIBs) asks you to look for evidence. Evidence requires that you find an event that reflects your belief. You can sense something bad, something you do not like, but you cannot sense something that is awful. Awful is merely an idea or belief that you hold. You can sense a loss, but not a person who is a loser.  To do the disputing exercise, get a blank sheet of paper and write at the top your Irrational Belief. Be sure to state it clearly and frankly.

Next write the question, “Is there any evidence that my belief is true?” Then write your answer. Next, write, “What bad can happen to me if I keep that belief?” Then write your answer. Finally, write, “What good can happen to me if I keep my belief?”

Rational Emotive Imagery

Do the following exercise. It focuses more directly on your emotions. Imagine an event in which you were certain you had lost something important. Picture the event as you did in real life or as you now recall it. When you do, allow yourself to feel disturbed as you now do when you think of it. Hold this feeling for about a minute. Next, while you still hold that image in your mind, change your emotions to an appropriate (helpful) emotion such as sadness. Don’t change the image; just change the emotion.

Do this change of emotions three times before you quit the exercise. Do the disputing exercise followed by the imagery exercise once a day for three weeks, and you may help yourself far more that you would initially believe.

By Dr. Phillip Tate.

Dr. Tate is author of the book titled Alcohol: How to Give It Up and Be Glad You Did, which is included in SMART Recovery®’s reading list. This article originally appeared in the 2006 Spring Issue of SMART Recovery® New & Views.


4 thoughts on “3 Ways to Dispute Irrational Beliefs

  1. Linda Wilkinson LPC

    What is REBT? Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Disputing Irrational Beliefs (DIBs) are extremely useful in recovery groups because everyone tends to entertain irrational, negative beliefs about themselves, and especially in the face of failure. Failure is nothing but one facet of the human condition, and the sooner we learn that, the better off we are. A relapse is often considered a big failure by people with addictions, but once they realize that everyone in the world fails (over and over again), and that the only REAL failure is the person who falls down (fails) and doesn’t get up again. The key is to get up and try again. History is full of famous people who reached their goals only after numerous failures.

  2. Bill A.

    This posting warrants a response.

    I’d suggest you reread your response and think again while considering the following questions:

    What makes me think I am a total failure — rather than a person who has failed often?

    What is the evidence I am a failure which means I have never succeeded at anything in life?

    How do I know I will fail at the next thing I try to improve my life?

    How is this likely erroneous conclusion about myself helping me with the problem I might wish to solve with a change ?

    Think about this, my friend, and maybe review the excellent blog again.

    Then post here again.

    We all would like to help.

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