Don E. Gibbons, Ph.D., NJ Licensed Psychologist #03513
This Blog is published for information and educational purposes only. No warranty, expressed or implied, is furnished with respect to the material contained in this Blog. The reader is urged to consult with his/her physician or a duly licensed mental health professional with respect to the treatment of any medical or psychological condition.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rationalization, Positive Thinking, Re-Framing, Affirmations, or Lying to Yourself?

You can get rid of the false beliefs and  perceptions
 that make life diffiicult -- if you go sbout it in the right way!.
When the truth is too unpleasant to face directly, we sometimes lie to ourselves and believe our own lie in order to hide from rea;ity. This process is called rationalization, and there are two main kinds. "Sour grapes" rationalization is what we do when we fail to attain something and tell ourselves we didn't want it anyway. The name comes from the old folk tale about a fox who was trying to get into a vinyard to eat some grapes and, when he was unable to do so, walked away in disgust, thinking that the grapes weren't worth eating anyway, because they were probably sour. "Sweet lemon" rationalization is what we do when life hands us a disappointment (a "lemon"), and we make ourselves believe that the lemon is actually a blessing in disguise, as might be the case if a child was denied an inheritance and convinced himself that the life of hard labor which was the  became his lot was really better because it bult up his strength and physical endurance.

We have other ways to lie to ourselves, such as the excessive use of affirmations, and positive thinking which is not really true, but which only allows us to put off facing the inevitable. "You can do anything if you put your mind to it," is one example, or the classic , "Every day, and in every way, I am getting better and better," are affirmations which eventually lose their power to inspire us because they are not confirmed in everyday life. 


However, there is one kind of way to change how you look at things, called re-framing, which is a way of thinking differently that is actually more true than the way you looked at them before. A client with a lifelong fear of hospitals, for example, may have acquired this fear as a child when one by one, the family members who went to the hospital died. This fear had also generalized to a fear of dentistry. Re-framing would help this individual to see that hospitals are not really houses of death, but houses of healing, because if you go to the hospital when your physician deems that you ought to do so, the chances of surviving illness are actually much better than if you do not go.


Re-framing is one of the most important tools of hypnosis and cognitive-behavioral psychology. Much of the work of both hypnotists and cognitive-behavioral psychologists is aimed at teaching people to think differently, but more realistically, about themselves, the world, and the future, as they make and test hypotheses to see whether or not their previous beliefs are accurate or need to be revised. 


It still takes work, of course, because the "insight" brought about by re-framing often may not be enough by itself. Social psychologists have amply documented that an attitude, or a tendency to respond in a certain way, is made up not only of an action component, but a belief component and an emotional component. Once we change our long-held beliefs about a situation, we still have to contend with a lifetime of accumulated emtional and experiential baggage which supports the former point of view. But at least, now we know know the right direction in which to proceed! The client who reported a strong fear of hospitals, and who was now in her seventies was soon facing long-neglected dental work. In order to get her through it, in her own words, "hypnosis was my savior!" 


One of my favorite scripts for this type of work is john Hartland's ego-strengthening suggestions, which may easily be adapted for a wide variety of purposes.  The suggestions themselves are adapted from his book, Medical and Dental Hypnosis, which is now in its third edition. The suggestions are available online at no charge, and may be accessed by the foregoing link. Although Haerland's style is a bit more authoritative and commanding than those which many contemporary hypnotists are used to, I have found it to be especially well-suited for overcoming the emotional residue left over afer successful reframing. 


An alternative approach which uses imagery rather than verbal suggesstion is illustrated by Julie Andrews' rendition of the song, My Favorite Things. (For best results, of course, you'll want to make up your own list.):