"Does feeling insecure have much to do with your continuing to
live at home? ...staying with the same boy/girlfriend? ...staying
in the same job?"
"What attitudes do secure people have in this situation?"
"What am I saying differently to myself when I'm not upset in
"Why does this belief exist?" (Mc Mullin (1986) says some
irrational ideas help us feel safe, e.g. "most people are stupid"
helps us feel smart, "you are a nerd if you don't drink" helps
establish rapport with our drinking buddies, "it's my fault" helps
us believe we are a good, responsible person, and so on.)
Another interesting strategy to understanding negative thinking is
to imagine, for the moment, that your dire thoughts are true.
Then, ask yourself, "If that were true, what would that mean to you?
Why would that upset you?" Flanagan (1990) gives this example: a
student in counseling was worried because his professor had criticized
him and probably thinks he is a poor student. The therapist always
asks the above question, "If that were true, why would that upset
you?" Student: "It would mean I am a bad student, he is an expert."
Therapist repeats questions. Student: "It would mean I was a failure."
Therapist: same questions. Student: "It means I have to leave
school." Therapist: same questions. Student: "Everyone would know I
failed." Therapist: same question. Student: "It would mean I was a
total failure. There would be nothing for me to do." Thus, the student's
reactions to these questions imply the underlying assumptions that are
so upsetting: (1) any criticism of me is right, (2) my worth is
determined by success in school, (3) one person criticizes me and the
world falls apart and I'm useless, (4) others will not accept my
weaknesses--I must be perfect, (5) everyone must respect me, (6) if I
fail in school, I will fail at everything. With this kind of thinking, it is no
wonder we make mountains out of mole hills.
A similar way to discover the impossible demands you may be
imposing on yourself is to ask "Why?" repeatedly (Flanagan, 1990).
Example: suppose you wanted to but couldn't turn down a friend's
request for a favor. Why? "Because I felt uncomfortable saying no."
Why? "Because I should be helpful." Why? "Because we should all try
to accommodate others." Why? "Because everyone should be happy."
Why? "Because being sad wastes time and that's wrong." Why?
"Because you should be accomplishing something." Why? "Because I
feel guilty wasting time and my mood gets down." Why? "Well, I
should be productive and in a good mood all the time." Notice all the
"shoulds" in this line of reasoning that ends with a ridiculous
If you can understand the ramifications of your thoughts and the
true underlying problems, it will help a lot when you are developing
arguments against your irrational ideas.
As with self-instructions and stress-inoculation (method #2 in
chapter 11 and method #7 in chapter 12), you can prepare and