The Irrational Ideas of Albert Ellis

November 6, 2016

How many times has erroneous thought led us to undesirable situations? Thought can exercise a powerful force on us. It decides that you want to think. The final decision is found within us.

Albert Ellis was one of the founders of cognitive psychology. He started to develop his therapy in 1962 and gave it the name “rational emotive behavior therapy” (REBT). Ellis believes that a large number of psychological problems are due to patterns of irrational thought.

Ellis focuses his theory on the idea that “People are not changed by facts, but by what they think about the facts,” in the words of the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus. Thus we can say that the “REBT” part of the following hypothesis:

It is not events (A) that create emotional states (C), but the way in which they are interpreted (B). Therefore, if we are capable of changing our mental schemata, that is, our patterns of thinking, we will be capable of creating emotional states that are less painful, more positive, and consistent with reality.

Irrational ideas

So, Ellis listed a series of irrational beliefs and grouped them into 11 basic irrational ideas that we could summarize as follows:

  1. “I need love and approval from those around me” or “I have to be loved and have the approval of everyone important who is around me.”
  2. “To be valuable, I have to achieve everything that I set out to do” or “if I am a valuable person, I always have to be competent, sufficient, and capable of achieving everything that I set out to do.”
  3. “Bad people must be punished for their bad actions.”
  4. “It is horrible and catastrophic that things are not the way I want or desire, do not go that way, or do not turn out that way.”
  5. “Human unhappiness finds its origin in external causes and I cannot do anything or almost anything to avoid or control pain and suffering that this causes me.”
  6. “I have to constantly think that the worst can happen.”
  7. “It is easier to avoid than to face responsibilities and problems in life.”
  8. “We have to have someone stronger to trust in.”
  9. “My past is determinant of my present and future.”
  10. “I have to constantly worry about other people’s problems.”
  11. “Every problem has a right solution, and it is a catastrophe if I do not find it.”

These fundamental irrational ideas contain three basic notions in that individuals demand absolute character in themselves, others, and the world.

  1. I have to act right and I have to earn approval through the way that I act.
  2. Everyone has to act in a pleasant, considerate, and just way towards me; if they do not, they are contemptible and they have to be punished.
  3. Life conditions have to be good and easy so that I can achieve practically everything that I want without great effort or discomfort.

But not everything is irrational…

Head With Puzzle Piece Missing

On the other side of the coin, however, we can find the rational beliefs about each of the beliefs presented above. Rational beliefs tend to be more flexible, not placing obstacles in our path and not creating such an intense stress as with irrational beliefs.

I propose that you all be the ones who find a rational belief to the ones presented by Ellis, or even when you have a bit of free time to reflect on your own life and make a list of the irrational thoughts that cause you discomfort, and in another column, alternate ways of thinking. In this way, you can start undoing the knots, opening new paths of serenity.

“Our reward is in the effort, not the result. Full effort is full victory.”


Image courtesy of Francisco Rodríguez