PMH Tool 4 – Recognizing Irrational Thinking in Yourself and Others

THOUGHTS cause FEELINGS, not EVENTS. For that reason, it’s important to recognize when you and others think irrationally. Irrational means in ways that cause you to feel worse than is necessary or helpful, and to say or do things that make your life and the lives of others worse instead of better.

Dr. Albert Ellis identified and named four basic and common types of irrational thinking.

  • Demandingness
  • Awfulizing
  • Can’t Stand It-itis
  • Labeling and Damning


There are three basic ways you can look at something.

  • You could not care about it
  • You could want, prefer, and desire it
  • You could think you need it, it’s a necessity, and demand it
  • You can range from “sort of” to “really” for each way of looking at things

Rule 1 – We all have the right to want whatever we want

  • When we don’t get what we want, prefer or desire, that will be perceived as a threat
  • How big of a threat will be determined by how badly you want, prefer or desire it
  • Remember, emotion is energy to move to help us deal with threats and get what we want and need
  • People will often elevate simple wants, preferences, and desires to the same level as air, water and food in their minds. That makes not getting something equivalent to suffocating or dying of thirst or hunger. It maximizes the perceived threat.

According to Dr. Ellis, the problem is that people start to think they need things they simply want, start to treat their simple preferences as a necessity, and start to demand what they simply desire.

Rule 2 – The greater the difference between your expectations and reality, the greater the perceived threat will be and the more emotion you’ll generate

  • If you don’t care about something, there will be no perceived threat and no emotion
  • If you want, prefer or desire something, and don’t get it, you’ll be frustrated, irritated, or annoyed. If you imagine not getting it, you’d be concerned.
  • If you think you need it, it’s a necessity, and demand it, and then don’t get it, you’d be angry. If you imagine not getting it, you’d experience anxiety

You can make demands of others, yourself, or life.

  • Anger tends to come from making demands of others, but can also come from making demands of yourself or life
  • Anxiety comes from making demands of yourself or life BEFORE some life event
  • Shame and Guilt come from making demands of yourself AFTER an event
  • Depression comes from making demands of life, i.e. “This can’t be happening”
  • Loneliness doesn’t come from being alone. That’s just an event. It comes from what we think about being alone. If we think we need to be with someone we will feel more intense loneliness than if we simply want to be with them

People often use the verbs “should” or “shouldn’t” when making demands of others, themselves, and life. Dr. Ellis jokingly called this “SHOULDING” on others, yourself, or life.

Demands can come in the form of a question. For example, “HOW DARE you?” or “HOW COULD you?”

Rule 3 – When someone starts to think they need something they simply want, it can cause otherwise smart people to do stupid things.

  • If you were suffocating, what would you be willing to do to get air? Anything!
  • Suppose you started thinking you needed someone’s love like you needed air. What would you be willing to do to get it, or keep from losing it? Anything, and that’s what can make an otherwise smart person do stupid things.

Rule 4 – Behavior intended to satisfy a perceived need will tend to win out over behavior intended to satisfy a rational preference. For example:

  • If you want to quit smoking, that’s a rational preference for a host of reasons
  • But if you tell yourself, “I need a cigarette. I can’t go all day without one”, that’s a perceived need. No one needs a cigarette like they do air, water or food.
  • What are the odds of quitting if someone looks at cigarettes this way?


There are a lot of things in life that are unpleasant, inconvenient, or uncomfortable to some degree. The mistake people make is to think and tell themselves what is happening to them is awful, as in the worst possible thing that could be. That magnifies the perceived threat out of proportion to reality and causes people to generate more emotion than is necessary or helpful. Awfulizing flows naturally from thinking we need things we simply want and demanding what we simply desire. If we didn’t get air, it would be awful.

Can’t Stand It-itis

Rule 5 – You have a right to like or dislike whatever you want to

The mistake people make is to start thinking and telling themselves they can’t stand what they simply don’t like. That needlessly inflames them, and its why Dr. Ellis called this type of thinking “Can’t Stand It-ITIS”. If someone truly couldn’t stand something, they’d die or go crazy. For example, if you didn’t get air for 3 or 4 minutes, you couldn’t stand it. The proof is that you’d die. Thinking or telling yourself you can’t stand something you simply don’t like naturally flows from thinking you need what you simply want and demanding what you simply desire.

Labeling and Damning

Rule 5 says that you have a right to like or dislike whatever you want to. That includes someone else’s or your own behavior. The mistake people make is to label and damn the person rather than simply dislike the behavior.

  • It’s condemning the doer instead of the deed.
  • It’s an over generalization, like calling an apple “bad” simply because it has a bruise, even though the majority of the apple is just fine.
  • People can label and damn others or themselves.
  • Labeling and Damning others causes anger. Labeling and Damning yourself causes shame and guilt.

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