We have private thoughts at the back of the mind all the time. Often these are unnoticed yet they have a profound affect on our feelings. Cognitive therapy shows that negative and fear-laden laden thoughts add to depression and anxiety.
The trouble with this approach is that often our inner thoughts are so well hidden that it is only through careful self-reflection that we can begin to identify them. Sometimes we remain unaware of them even if we are outwardly affected by them and behave as if they were true. That’s where the cognitive therapist comes in to help.
Here are nine harmful assumptions that can lie on the fringe of consciousness. Knowing about them can help identify any of them that might be active in yourself. If you are open to a religious perspective, you may also be interested in my comments on each one based on the sayings and behaviour of Christ as recorded in the Gospels.
1. If you were to say to yourself: “To be happy one must be approved of by most people.”
then you are likely to be filled with social anxiety over-concerned about the impression you give others.
Christ associated with certain people knowing he would be disapproved of by others for his actions. Those he associated with included Pharisees, tax collectors and social outcasts.
Perhaps you need to be able to approve of yourself as someone who tries to follow your conscience even though others may disapprove of what you do or believe.
2. Similarly if you were you say to yourself: “To be happy, what I think and believe must be approved of by most people.”
then you will be anxious about how people respond to everything you say.
Christ’ followers commented that his teaching was hard to accept. In many cases Christ stated his thoughts and left others to make their decisions even if a decision was rejection of himself.
3. If you were to say to yourself: “It is important to have my own way”
then there is a danger you will start to either bully or manipulate others into giving into your demands.
Christ taught a prayer to God which included the line ‘Thy will be done’ in contrast to doing what we want to do.
4. If you were to say to yourself: “It is intolerable when things go wrong”
then you will never try to live with personal setbacks.
Christ never said “I can’t stand it”, or “I can’t take it anymore”. Instead he accepted reality as it was, even when reality meant death if he were to fulfil his mission. In other words he was saying acceptance of hardship and trouble is a gift and an important thing to learn.
5. If you were to say to yourself: “I and others deserve condemnation when bad”
then, in the strict Jewish religious culture of two thousand years ago, you might have been stoned to death for sexual infidelity. A sexually unfaithful wife was brought to Christ but he did not condemn her but merely said ‘sin no more’. His message being it is bad behaviour that deserves condemnation not the person behaving badly. All of us need love and tolerance.
6. If you were to say to yourself: “I should be thoroughly competent, to consider myself worthwhile”
then you will have low self-esteem because none of us have perfect skills.
Christ did not base a person’s worth on his or her competence but regarded all as valuable in their own right deserving love and support.
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matt 6:26)
7. If you were to say to yourself: “Happiness comes from what happens to me”
then your mood will depend on everything around you rather than on yourself: things external to yourself such as social events, what other people say and do, even the weather. However as the Greek philosopher Epictetus said
“People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them.”
In line with this, Christ worked to get people to change their ways of thinking. His spiritual view was that happiness comes from the spirit of the divine when listened to within our inner being.
8. If you were to say to yourself: “Worry about the future can make a difference”
then you will end up being full of anxious worry. Yet no amount of worrying will change a jot anything beyond your control.
Christ said :
“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt 6:34)
9. If you were to say to yourself: “Problems need to be avoided”
then you will never learn to deal with the difficulties life throws up. You can’t respond to a problem unless you face it.
Christ had many difficulties which he could have avoided for example speaking to his critics. Yet he faced them and dealt with them.
Finding out what you say to yourself and correcting unreasonable assumptions can be crucially important in personal growth and happiness.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems