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Beliefs, emotions, behaviors and health: Examining 3 categories of beliefs

Posted Oct 22 2008 6:27pm

Last time I discussed how people’s beliefs affect their health. This time I dissect three common categories of beliefs associated with exaggerated negative emotions and self-defeating behaviors: They are attributions, appraisals and irrational beliefs.

Attributions are inferences (conclusions) people draw about causality (i.e., who/what is responsibility, at fault, to blame for a problematic situation); changeability (i.e., prediction of whether a problematic situation is changeable and within you control or intractable and beyond your ability to change).

Negative beliefs about the attributes of causality and changeability tend to be associated with feelings and actions such as (a) angry emotions and hurtful behavior (e.g., if you believe someone in particular caused your problems and you blame them for it); (b) shame/embarrassment, avoidant behavior or self-destructive actions (e.g., if you believe your problem is your own fault); and (c) depression or sadness, low frustration tolerance, anxiety or fear (if you believe the problem will never change). Not only does this increase one’s stress levels (which would have an adverse affect on one’s health), but it prevents a person from being an effective problem-solver, which, when it comes to dealing with one’s health problems, means poorer health and quality of life.

Positive beliefs about causality and changeability, on the other hand, tend to be associated with optimism and hope, courage, assertive/proactive problem solving, persistence in the face of frustration and disappointment, self-respect, willingness to accept help from others, effective coping strategies, etc.

Appraisals are judgments about the degree of benefit (or potential reward) and harm (or threat) something or someone has caused (or will cause). If, for example, a patient believes a doctor’s advice won’t provide much help for his/her condition, the patient is unlikely to comply, and visa versa.

Another form of appraisal is what I call “People-Appraisals,” which involves measuring the amount of inherent worth and goodness people possess.

People who receive positive appraisals (from themselves and others) are believed to have successful, competent, powerful, valuable, superior, important, precious, worthy, noble, good, moral, virtuous, righteous, pure, respectable inner-selves. They are called successes, winners, stars, or good people, saints, heros, gems, respectable citizens. They develop a favorable opinion about who and what they are; they have a positive self-image and high self-esteem.

People who have negative appraisals, on the other hand, are believed to have worthless, useless, unlovable, unworthy, good-for-nothing, flawed, defective, inferior, weak, or wicked, degenerate, rotten, detestable inner-selves. They are called failures, losers, no-bodies, louses, flunkies, derelicts, bums, jerks, turds, shits, bad people, bastards, bitches, skunks, rats, swine, animals, sinners, evildoers, devils, criminals, scum of the earth, dregs of society. They develop an unfavorable opinion about who and what they are; they have a negative self-image and low self-esteem.

Just like attributions, appraisals affect one’s emotions and behaviors in powerful ways, including being a foundational component of racial/ethnic prejudice, the “deadly sin” of pride and deservingness, suicide and murder, and more.

Irrational beliefs are erroneous assumptions and perceptions, which include exaggerations, overgeneralizations, dogmatic demands, minimizations, personalizations, selective attention, polarized (dichotomous, black & white) thinking, and the elevation of wants/desires into needs.

In my next post, I discuss why people develop persistent maladaptive beliefs .

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