Unhealthy Mindsets: The Three Dark Horses

Dark HorsesDid you know there are only 5 types of Unhealthy Mindsets and only 3 of them are linked to Psychological Disorders?

Mindsets: Back to The Future…

When I was younger I was an avid reader of self-help books and found the work of Dr Albert Ellis really helpful in understanding and improving myself.  Dr Ellis (September 27, 1913 – July 24, 2007) was an American Psychologist who in 1955 developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).  He was a very direct and somewhat controversial therapist and zealous promoter of what he called Rational Thinking.

Dr Ellis developed a list of Irrational Beliefs AKA Unhealthy Mindsets which he theorized were the root cause of most psychological disturbance. As researchers tried to prove Dr Ellis’ theory they began to develop questionnaires to measure these Irrational Beliefs. When they analysed how similar or different each of these beliefs were, they found a number of beliefs overlapped and their results suggested there were only 5 clearly distinguishable types of Unhealthy Mindsets:

  1. WorryingIrrational and excessive worrying over possible misfortune and possible future accidents.
  2. Need (Demand) For Approval – Excessive need for approval from others reflecting a fear of not being accepted and/or rejected. 
  3. Emotional Irresponsibility (Blame)Ascribing emotions to external causes instead of oneself.
  4. RigidityIrrational rigid thoughts and norms people hold for themselves and others leading to guilt, attribution of guilt and punishment for mistakes.
  5. Problem Avoidance – Irrational avoidant and dependent cognitions concerning decision making and taking risks.

Unhealthy Mindsets & Psychological Disorders

Fast forward 15 years and I am completing my PhD research. In my research I examined the link between types of Unhealthy Mindsets and psychological distress in people who were carers for a family member with an injury or illness. I did what is called a ‘longitudinal study’ where I measured people’s mindsets and also their level of distress at two time points which were 6-months apart (to accommodate for the varying effects of life events on psychological status).

The results of the study at Time 1 highlighted a range of different stressors and coping problems people had which were difficult to disentangle given their complex adjustment issues. However, at the second point in time – where participants had a subsequent 6-month period of settling and adjustment – the results were much clearer regarding the specific impact of different mindsets on various types of psychological problems.

PhD Stats

As you can see in the table above, the Mindset of Worrying is linked to almost all forms of psychological distress. The Mindset of Demand (Need for Approval) is linked to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Hostility and Suspiciousness (Paranoid Ideation), and the Mindset of Blame (Emotional Irresponsibility) is significantly correlated with Depression.

The key point here is that whilst all 5 Unhealthy Mindsets are likely to be unhelpful in living a successful life, only 3 Mindsets in my follow-up research were linked to actual psychological disorders per se.

Changing from Unhealthy into Healthy Mindsets:

Having discovered the 3 most important Unhealthy Mindsets to change in order to prevent serious stress related disorders (Worry, Demand & Blame) it was also important to identify and clearly describe the corresponding healthy mindsets for each of these (Accept, Encourage & Responsible) and be able to clearly communicate what this shift in thinking patterns would look like:

From Demanding to Encouraging

There is much freedom from Anger and Depression when you change your mindset from Demanding and hostility towards others, where you insist that they “should” do what you want them to and trying to control their actions. Example thought patterns that relate to Demanding include:

“They should do what I want them to do or else…”

“I must achieve what I set out to with no flexibility.”

“I do not accept failures or excuses and people must do what they commit to regardless.”

The opposite mindset, Encouraging, respects people’s right to make their own choices and encourages and influences them where possible. Example thought patterns that relate to Encouraging include:

“How can I shape and influence them to do what I need them to?”

“I hope they will do what I want but I need to have a back up plan.”

“How can I encourage them and show them the benefits of what I want them to do?”

From Worry to Acceptance

The mindset of Worry involves fearing the future and change, over-controlling relationships, and blocking growth and development for self and others. Example thought patterns that relate to Worry include:

“They might be hurt or unsafe but I do not know because I am not there.”

“What if this or that bad thing happens soon?”

“I can’t let them take that risk as I do not want them to get hurt.”

You move from here to a state of Acceptance, where you are able to Accept that you cannot predict the future. You make the most of each day and each relationship in the “here and now”. Example thought patterns related to Acceptance include:

“That has not happened yet. I need to make the most of today.”

“One day at a time – I will not worry about the future.”

“I hope they are safe but no point worrying about what I can’t control.”

From Blame to Responsibility

Blame is where you rigidly blame other people and/or events for your own reactions, outbursts and negative moods. Examples of thought patterns related to Blame include:

“How dare they talk to me like that!”

“It’s all their fault my life is ruined.”

“If they didn’t treat me like that then I would have been able to succeed.”

When you make the journey to the Responsible mindset, you take responsibility for your own reactions, outbursts and moods. You have an awareness of your own body and mind and decide your own actions, letting go of harmful emotions. Example thought patterns related to Responsibility include:

“I will not waste my energy or time on them any longer.”

“I will make the most of what I have.”

“My anger is my problem and the sooner I move on from this the better.”

Mindsets and You

When it comes to Mindsets, where are you at with the 3 Dark Horses? Do you Worry more than live in a state of Acceptance? Do you Demand more than you Encourage? Do you Blame more than take Responsibility? Take some time out now to identify where you could improve your thinking patterns and adopt healthier mindsets when facing the challenging waves of life!

Ride the Waves of Life!

Dr Pete

The Stress Surfer

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