Cognitive-behavioral psychologists have found many ways to change people. Many of these techniques, once we have learned them and put them to work in our own lives, can also be used to help those around us. While they cannot, of course, serve as a substitute for actual counseling or psychotherapy which is provided by a duly trained and licensed mental health professional, they can help to make life easier, both for ourselves and for those whom we hold dear.
For example, Albert Ellis has compiled a list of "ten irrational ideas," which is reproduced below, Most of us believe some of these false beliefs at least part of the time. The first one, "I must be perfect in all respects in order to be worthwhile," does an especially great amount of damage, since it guarantees that we are going to feel like miserable failures whenever we do not live up to this impossible ideal. We can spare ourselves a great deal of misery when we cast out this false belief once and for all! But what about our friends and loved ones? Whenever someone who is close to you acts as if he or she could use a gentle reminder that they are being too hard on themselves by expecting to be perfect all the time, you might point this out by saing something like, "You know, dear, sometimes I think you feel like you have to be perfect all the time or you're a failure. But even the Pope goes to confession. You mustn't expect yourself to be perfect when nobody else is!"
You don't need a Ph.D. in clinical psychology to apply ideas like this in a common-sense manner when the situation is appropriate. The rest of the items on Ellis's list can also take their turn when the situation warrants it.
"I must be loved and approved of by everyone who is important to me." Sometimes you just can't help making enemies, and there are people in the world who bear ill will to almost everyone. But you can't make your own life miserable by trying to please them.
"When people treat me unfairly, it is because they are bad people." Most of the people who treat you unfairly have friends and family who love them. People are mixtures of good and bad.
"It is terrible when I am seriously frustrated, treated badly, or rejected." Some people have such a short fuse, that they are constantly losing jobs or endangering friendships because they are unable to endure the slightest frustration.
"Misery comes from outside forces which I can’t do very much to change." Many prison inmates describe their life as if it were a cork, bobbing up and down on waves of circumstance. You can choose whether to see yourself as an effect of your circumstances, or a cause.
"If something is dangerous or fearful, I have to worry about it." Many people believe that "the work of worrying" will help to make problems go away. "Okay, that's over. Now, what's the next thing on the list that I have to worry about?"
"It is easier to avoid life’s difficulties and responsibilities than to face them." Even painful experiences, once we can get through them, can serve as a basis for learning and future growth.
"Because things in my past controlled my life, they have to keep doing so now and in the future." If this were really true, it would mean that we are prisoners of our past, and change is impossible. But people change all the time -- and sometimes they change dramatically!
"It is terrible when things do not work out exactly as I want them to." Could you have predicted the course of your own life? Probably not. By the same token, you can't predict that things are going to work out exactly as you want them to, even in the short term.
"I can be as happy as possible by just doing nothing and enjoying myself, taking life as it comes." If this were true, almost every wealthy or comfortably retired person would do as little as possible. But instead, they seek new challenges as a pathway to further growth.
Overgeneralization. A single negative event turns into a never-ending pattern of defeat. "I didn't get a phone call. I'll never hear from anybody again."
Mental filter. One single negative thing colors everything else. When you're depressed, it sometimes feels like you're "looking at the world through mud-colored glasses."
Disqualifying the positive. If somebody says something good about you, it doesn't count. But if somebody says something bad about you, you "knew it all along."
Jumping to conclusions. You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
Mind reading. You think somebody is disrespecting you and don't bother to check it out. You just assume that he is.
The Fortune Teller Error. You think that things are going to turn out badly, and convince yourself that this is already a fact.
Magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization. Imagine that you're looking at yourself or somebody else through a pair of binoculars. You might think that a mistake you made or somebody else's achievement are more important than they really are. Now imagine that you've turned the binoculars around and you're looking through them backwards. Something you've done might look less important than it really is, and somebody else's faults might look less important than they really are.
Emotional reasoning. You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel it, therefore it must be true."
"Should" statements. You beat up on yourself as a way of getting motivated to do something. You "should" do this, you "must" do this, you "ought" to do this, and so on. This doesn't make you want to do it, it only makes you feel guilty. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
Labeling and mislabeling. This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. When you make a mistake, you give yourself a label, such as, "I'm a loser." When someone else's behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him, "He's a louse." Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
Personalization. You believe that you were the cause of something bad that happened, when you really didn't have very much to do with it. And ask a friend to help you realize your emotions or worries so that you can have someone to rely on.
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Laazrus, A. A., Lazarus, C. A., & Fay, A. Don't believe it for a minute! Forty toxic ideas that are driving you crazy. San Luis Obispo, CA: Impact Publishers.