Preventing Dysfunctional Beliefs from Diminishing Your Quality of Life

Throughout life, you may develop a set of opinions, expectations and attitudes towards how situations should unfold and how you see yourself in the grand scheme of things. Thus, you should find yourself changing, growing, and maturing in ways that should be beneficial to you. When you find yourself in a rut, it could be that your cognitive processes are impeding your ability to learn from the mistakes of the past. Thought processes that prevent you from moving forward in life are called dysfunctional beliefs. Identifying and managing your dysfunctional beliefs is crucial for moving past negativity and becoming at peace with yourself and your role in society.

What are the common types of dysfunctional beliefs? These are the thoughts that are behind feelings of "being stuck," due to the conflict that arises when we are at odds with how things are and how we expect things should be. The problem is, you can't change things that are beyond your control. Dysfunctional beliefs are poorly adapted responses to situations you may feel are outside your ability to manage.

There are several types of dysfunctional beliefs that are always unhelpful. Such common types of dysfunctional beliefs may include the following:

  • "If things happen that do not conform to my plans, I will be unhappy."
  • "I can exert control over the behavior of others and make them act as I want them to."

  • "There is something wrong with people who do not act or believe the way I do."

  • "If I don't get what I deserve, I will be unhappy."
  •  "If I worry about future events, I may be able to control them."

  • "I can protect myself if I avoid risk-taking."

Ask yourself whether you subscribe to any of the above dysfunctional beliefs, and recognize that each belief represents a distortion or exaggeration of reality. You can gain peace of mind by letting go of your sense of control over the way others perceive and treat you. Making progress involves divesting yourself of the perception that reality must fall in line with one of these dysfunctional thought processes.

When you entertain dysfunctional beliefs, you limit the choices you have in life, because you are focused on how things should be, instead of how they are. Your level of resilience to life's stressors, consequently, will become compromised when you don't see choice in your life. If you become indignant or resentful when things don't conform to your expectations, you will be unhappy, and, because dysfunctional beliefs don't align with reality, you will set yourself up for perpetual disappointment. It is common to react with pain, incredulity, and suspicion when reality does not conform to one of your fundamentally held beliefs. If you find yourself feeling indignant and angry all the time, however, it may be your thought processes that require adjustment. Realize that none of the above thought processes are likely to play out in life, and that you are setting yourself up for pain and failure should you cling to beliefs that are so far removed from what is likely to happen to you.

 Breaking the cycle of dysfunctional beliefs involves:

  • Challenging each thought with a substitute thought that is more in line with reality.

  • New beliefs should focus on creating new perceptions of oneself and one's place in the world. For example, you may wish to appreciate and gain insight into your own vulnerability with a substitute thought such as "I can't control the future by worrying about it."

  • Instead of becoming angry when others don't conform to your expectations, you may want to focus on appreciating others for how they are with the substitute thought, "Others act or believe certain things, and that is okay."

With the right substitution techniques, personal growth and relief from the negative cycle of dysfunctional thought processes are possible for everyone.

Image: Pixabay/Kareni


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