I have read your website on depression and various other REBT therapy books by Dr. Albert Ellis. I have been feeling depressed and I have realized that I have conditional self-esteem. I was wondering maybe you could help me. I have this thought:
'I am boring because I am not around with friends'. It looks like I have the belief that 'Being around friends makes me interesting' and its logically opposite thought ' Not being around friends make me boring'.
When I'm not with friends, I feel depressed and anxious most of the time. Can you please help me on how to dispute this self-downing belief?
Dr. Matweychuk's answer based on REBT:
To dispute the attitude “I am boring” ask:
1. Does this attitude help me function or does it hurt my functioning? Answer: It hurts my functioning because I create depression and anxiety which does not facilitate good functioning in life.
2. Is the attitude “I am boring” true or false, consistent with the data of life or inconsistent with the data of life. Answer: It is false because I may act at times in a boring way as judge by some criteria I or others hold but I do not always act this way nor may always act this way in the future. The attitude “I am boring” means I am and will always be boring, boring is my essence, and it is implied that essence is less worthwhile than it could be.
Now see that the mistake you are making, which is having profound unhealthy and unproductive emotional consequences for you, is to define the entity known as the “self”. You are using the verb to be and by using this pernicious verb form you are forced by it to overgeneralize about your “self,” your “essence,” or your “I-ness”. You would do better to specify the characteristics, traits, and skills you possess as well as the deeds you have done. Then take the next step and rate, evaluate and label those parts of you but NOT the whole of you. The whole of you cannot be VALIDLY rated but when you hold the attitude “I am boring” you are rating your essence, the whole of you, your “I-ness” and thereby creating your depression and anxiety through crooked, invalid reasoning. Perhaps at times some people may sometimes find the way of acting as “boring” but that does not mean you, the person, are and always will be “boring”. Your self or essence cannot be validly rated due to the fact that it is very complex which means it has virtually an infinite number of qualities, characteristics, and traits. Over the course of your life you will do many, many things and those things can be validly rated in the CONTEXT of your goals and values. Other people can validly rate your behavior in the context of their goals and values but their rating SUBJECTIVE rating system is not a valid rating system of your essence or worth as a person. The entity we conceptualize as the “self” is in a constant state of evolution from your birth to your death and cannot be given a valid rating so long as you are alive and doing and living. Your “self” cannot be validly scored and summed and placed on some sort of continuum of self or human worth. Yet when you hold the attitude “I am boring” you are putting your “self” on a continuum and it is in a lesser position on that continuum than when you think “I am interesting.” You are creating and then riding a very painful and unproductive emotional roller coaster. Given the way you invalidly reason when you are around friends you create good feelings and when you are not around friends you create depression and anxiety.
You wrongly seem to think your worth is defined by the presence of friends. This is an arbitrary way of defining your complex and ever evolving self. Someone could come along and say you have it all wrong and that you are very worthwhile because you are alone, you are without friends and surviving, you are tall or you are short. All definitions of the self, of a person, are arbitrary and therefore the self cannot get assigned a valid score or value.
I recommend you acknowledge that you prefer friends and spending time in their presence. When you have too few friends or too much time away from friends this condition is bad and goes against your goals, values, preferences, and wishes. By rating the condition, you are making a rating but you are not rating yourself. You then will tend to unconditionally accept yourself and continue to dislike the state of having too few friends or not sufficient time with your friends. Now with your unconditional self-acceptance, you will feel the productive and healthy emotion of sorrow and displeasure. These feelings are the result of not getting what you want and will thereby motivate you to strive to solve the problem of developing more friendships so that you experience their presence more of the time and thereby experience what you want and the happy feelings that go along with getting what you want.
Make this your new rational philosophy: “I really, really like having friendships and spending a good deal of my time with friends but I do not absolutely have to have friends and spend a good deal of my time with friends. When friends are not present that is an inconvenient, bad, and an unfavorable condition but it does not diminish my value as a person. I can accept myself under these unfavorable conditions. The existence of these conditions in part shows I am a fallible human if they exist because of something I have done or something I fail to do. I can accept me, my personhood, my essence, my “I-ness” with or without friends. I will strive to make friendships and to do this I will strive to display traits and behaviors they may find agreeable so they thereby have an interest in spending time with me. When I successfully do this that is good and when I fail to do this and fail at goal that is bad. In either case, I am acceptable as a person. I can unconditionally accept myself.”
Rating only your traits, deeds, and actions but not your “self” takes a good deal of thought and disciplined reasoning. Read over my comments above many times until you understand this slippery concept of a complex and evolving self-entity that cannot be validly rated. Keep at this disciplined form of reasoning whereby you only rate your deeds, traits, etc. but not the self and you will then set the stage for acceptance of the self. You can do it but it takes work and practice!
Note: This is for educational purposes only and is not psychotherapy. If you are in need of immediate psychological seek a local and qualified mental health clinician or go to the nearest hospital to seek immediate help. You can also call the National Suicide Helpline at 800-273-8255