Therapy works by helping people understand that having realistic beliefs and expectations enables them to deal with setbacks and challenges in a healthy manner. In contrast, when people have unrealistic beliefs or expectations, they can have a very negative reaction when a situation stirs up their unrealistic beliefs or expectations. Here are a few examples of self-defeating irrational beliefs that result in anxiety and suffering: 

  • I have to be perfect to be worthy of love and respect (since I am not perfect, I am not lovable).
  • Successful people know what they are doing and are confident and in control (since I feel insecure that I don’t know what I am doing I must be a fraud).

Freeing yourself from this form of self-inflicted suffering requires developing the ability to look at the beliefs that underlie your negative reactions and to compassionately revise these beliefs and expectations to be more in line with reality. Learn to do this by using the ABCDE method:

  • A – Adversity: What happened (who, what, when, where)
  • B – Beliefs: My beliefs regarding A or what I say in my head about A
  • C – Consequences: How I feel and act as a result of B
  • D – Disputation: Making sure I reality check B and revise my beliefs to be more in line with reality and more constructive (look at evidence and facts that contradict B, seek alternative views, and discern whether believing and reinforcing B is useful or limiting)
  • E – Energization: The shift in my energy levels and feelings when I revise B