Albert Ellis, a psychologist, taught that the interpretation of events in life are crucial, not the events themselves. I must say that while his theory was interesting, I was not always down with his execution. But there are three terms he coined that I think are perfect.
Awfulizing is the first term and it refers to a distortion of thinking. It is when we think in overly negative terms. It’s the making of a mountain out of a mole hill. It’s the kind of negative exaggeration where a minor setback is seen as a major catastrophe. Another example would be when a feared event is seen as so awful, it seems impossible to endure. Awfulizing can set into motion a domino effect of self-fulfilling thoughts, feelings and actions. Once set in motion things can be anticipate as being so awful that the mere expectation that things will get worse will cause them to get worse.
“Musturbating” is defined as strong desires and goals that have mutated into absolute musts, shoulds, and demands. We put immense pressure on ourselves by saying “we must” get something accomplished (or be a certain way) or else! Irrational feelings of guilt and anxiety haunt us when we have strong musts and are not obeying them.
It is the same with “shoulding” on ourselves. Every time you say “I should. . .” you put an irrational demand onto yourself. Again, guilt, anxiety, and depression follow the person involved who thinks or uses the word “should” a lot. For those who use it on others (“he should do this”) the result is anger, rage, and controlling behaviors.
Awfulizing, musturbating, and shoulding on yourself are all symptoms of irrational beliefs that, at best, will rob you of your peace and at the worst will leave you with depression, guilt, or anxiety. So, what can you do to overcome this irrational way of thinking?
Try this exercise.
*Think about all the times you start out with “I should …” I must…” Write down ones that come to mind. How have these shoulds and musts impacted your life?
*Read back through your list. This time, ask yourself the simple question: “Why should I?” Be sure to write down the first answer that comes to mind for each item on your list.
*Reflect upon the answers you have given. Where are these shoulds/musts coming from?
*This time go down your list and rewrite it with: “If I really wanted to, I could…”. This simple shift in thinking will transform your focus from being a victim of “should” to being empowered by being a decision-maker, ready to make changes as needed.
*How did things change when the thoughts were reworded?
*Reflect back on the should/must exercise and ask yourself these questions: How do I want to live my life? Are these expectations I place upon myself going to bring about the changes I want to see in the world? Is there a better way than this?
Until next time….
Change. Discover. Transform.
Carla Carter, Ed.D., LCPC, CMPC, EMDR Certified