Rational Self-Counseling for
Do you ever do self counseling? We may not realize it but we do self
counseling all the time! In fact, we hardly do anything without
counseling ourselves first to do it. Furthermore, what we counsel
ourselves determines how we behave. For example, when the alarm rings in
the morning, if we counsel ourselves “I better get up,” then we get up.
On the other hand, if we counsel ourselves “I need more sleep”, then we
go back to sleep. Similarly when offered a chocolate, we may self
counsel to take it or refuse it. When we advise ourselves to tolerate an
injustice or tyranny, then that is what we do. On the other hand if we
self-counsel that that we are not going to take it any more, then that
is what we do.
Although we do self counseling all the time, we don’t always do
rational self counseling. In fact sometimes we do self-counseling that
is downright foolish, unwise, counterproductive, destructive and
otherwise irrational. We may counsel ourselves to drink and drive or to
smoke or to do something else harmful to ourselves and to those we care
Self-counseling affects not only our behavior, but, what is more
important, our emotional well being! There are people who have
everything that most people could only dream about: wealth, fame, looks,
adoring fans and still feel miserable. Marilyn Monroe, John Belushi,
Janice Joplin come to mind. How did these people manage to be so
unhappy? The simple answer is: self-counseling that is irrational. At
the other end of the spectrum are cases of people who have very little:
terminally sick, with little money, who manage to have a peace of mind.
How do these people do it? Again, through self-counseling.
Rational self-counseling can propel us to great success on the
outside and to happiness and satisfaction inside. Irrational
self-counseling does just the opposite: failure in the outside world
and/or unhappiness on the inside.
Self-counseling, whether rational or irrational, is extremely
powerful. Fortunately a lot of irrational self-counseling is easy to
spot. Luckily it is also easy to correct merely by replacing irrational
words with rational words. It is that simple! And, the effect is
What are common irrational ways that cause people
trouble? The following six (what I like to call "Devil's six-pack") seem
to be most common. (See later antidotes)
- “Should”: Irrational use of the moralizing
“should” and its variants “must” and “ought”. When applied to
oneself, the moralizing “should” and its variants cause guilt. When
applied to others, they lead to anger. In fact, it is practically
impossible to feel anger or guilt without a “should” or an implied
“should” (as in “how could he/she/I do such a thing?”). Just try it.
- “Have to”: There are very few things we have to as
long as we have enough to eat, clothes to wear and a shelter
overhead. Effective antidote is to replace “have to” with “choose
to” for certain rewards.
- “Can’t”: Most of the time when people self-counsel
“I can’t”, the real meaning is “I do not want to”. Effective
antidote is “I can but I choose not to because I like the
- Irrational extreme exaggerations: Words like
“always”, “never”, “forever”, “awful”, and “horrible” used in
self-counseling are very powerful in producing great upset in the
person. This may seem surprising at first since everybody knows that
such words are not meant to be taken literally. The problem is that
the emotion producing part of the brain (the subconscious mind) is
very gullible and tends to take words literally to produce the
emotional reaction commensurate with the literal words. Just try it
yourself. Compare the reaction the following two statements produce.
1) “She is never on time and always takes forever to show up. This
is just awful.” 2) “It is not every time that she is late. Today she
is 10 minutes late already. This is inconvenient.” Antidote is to
not use extreme exaggerations.
- Irrational falsifications in self-counseling:
Enormous amount of anguish has been caused by misrepresentations, even
though it is obvious that the words were not meant to be taken literally. When
somebody says to self “I am tied to this job” or “I am trapped in
this marriage”, it generates feelings of great anguish and
helplessness. A more rational description would be “There are no
ropes or traps holding me. I can walk out of here at this moment.
But I choose to stay for my reasons.” Effective antidote is what is
called “a camera check of reality” which means replacing any
metaphorical words with those that could be verified by a camera.
Such an approach would also pre-empt the use of epithets such as
“bitch” and “ass hole”. Why do we irrationally lie to self and
others? It is done simply to manipulate oneself or others into
feeling much stronger emotions than an objective truth would
- Saying that somebody "makes me" angry, anxious, upset, happy
etc.: It generates feelings of helplessness and resentment. In
reality, nobody can "make" us anything, though they can trigger in
us something that already exists -- a behavior or behavior pattern. "Make me" is a version of falsification but is used so
commonly that it deserve a category of its own. When we use a "make
me", we put the primary responsibility for how we feel on the other
person rather than recognizing the responsibility as being primarily
Anti-Dotes : Rational Alternatives
When we get infected
with some component of the Devil’s six-pack, the result is that we get
robbed of happiness and satisfaction in life. It also impacts our
effectiveness. Powerful antidotes to the Devil’s six-pack are to be
found in alternative rational statements such as the A’s listed below:
Things should be
exactly as they are. They became this way for a reason. I don’t have
to like or approve of them but I am not going to let it immobilize
me. I will either accept it or work on a practical solution, instead
of demanding things to be different.
2A. I really don't have to. I
have only chosen to because I like the alternatives less.
3A. It is really not that I
can't. It is more like that I really do not want to.
4A. It is rarely "all", "every",
etc. There have been times when this has not been the case.
It does not meet
the camera-check-of-reality test. I will only describe the reality
only person who can make me do anything is me. Others only trigger
those behavior patterns in me that are already armed and ready.
self-counseling is something we do all the time. Our self-counseling
words have a powerful effect on how we feel and behave. Irrational
self-counseling robs us of happiness on the inside and our effectiveness
in the outside world. Rational self-counseling, on the other hand, can
propel us towards success in the outside world as well as inner peace
For Further Reading (books):
- “Help Yourself to Happiness
Through Rational Self-Counseling”, by Maxie C. Maultsby
- “A Guide to Rational Living”,
by Albert Ellis
- “Your Erroneous Zones”, by
Wayne W. Dyer
Suresh has taught Rational
Self-Counseling as a noncredit six-session course.
Updated: 08 Nov
© 2005 Suresh