Irrational beliefs are harmless, even funny at times. Except when they are not.
This past week our country engaged in the fun and harmless belief that a rodent, a groundhog in particular, can either see its shadow or not see its shadow and thus can accurately predict how much longer winter will last. This Sunday, hundreds of millions of people will watch the Super Bowl, and diehard fans of the competing teams are likely to hang onto irrational beliefs in the midst of their fun. “Whenever I wear a certain T-shirt with my team logo on it, my team wins, so I must be certain to wear it this Sunday.” “When I sit in this chair and watch the game, my team always wins.” Players themselves are also known to engage in ritual behaviors and to hold on to certain beliefs that they think will maximize their chances of winning. “If I avoid stepping on the side line when I go into the game I will have better luck!”
Observing Groundhog’s Day and watching a sporting event like the Super Bowl are both entertaining and thus there is no real harm in the irrational beliefs that surround these cultural rituals. The same is true when I play a game that involves dice as I like to blow on the die before I roll them in hopes that it will bring me good luck. All of this I know is just part of the fun. There is no harm in any of these irrational beliefs when we embrace them in a spirit of silliness.
It is quite a different story when people hold irrational beliefs that can significantly impair their wellness. Here, in no particular order, are a few beliefs that people have shared with me over the years that I have served as a psychotherapist and as a pastor.
“If I were a real man I would not feel so vulnerable.”
“As a woman, it is always best for me to simply ‘go along, to get along.”
“My self-worth is totally depended on my achievements.”
“If I dare to bring up any conflict in the relationship the relationship will end, so it’s best to not bring it up.”
“If people really knew me, they would not love me.”
“If I ignore it, it will go way”
“If I ask for help, I am weak.”
“Keeping secrets from people I love will never hurt them.”
“I can’t leave this physically abusive relationship because God would punish me for doing so.”
“Bad things don’t happen to good people.”
“I shouldn’t have to tell others about what I need or want-if they really care about me they should already know.”
“If I’m not perfect, no one will love me.”
“I have cancer because I am being punished for mistakes I made when I was younger.”
“Parents should never say they are sorry because it will undermine their authority with their children.”
I’m all for irrational beliefs that are fun and harmless, whether they have to do with groundhogs or sporting events. But when it comes to holding on to irrational beliefs that harm one’s wellbeing or that of others, that’s a whole different matter. The important and potential life changing factor is to know the difference, to know when our beliefs are harmless and when they are harmful.
I invite you to take moment to name any irrational beliefs you have that may be limiting yourself and/or your relationships. Do any of the beliefs I listed above apply to you? Are there other irrational beliefs that you can name? If so, share them with others as a way of beginning to let them go. If need be talk to a trusted friend, a therapist, or a faith leader. Our beliefs can be fun and harmless, or they can be limiting and hurtful. It’s very important to know the difference.