By Jay Krunszyinsky
Are you a rational or irrational thinker? You may want to believe you are a rational thinker, but you find that you are the eternal pessimist, able to see only the half-empty glass in many situations you face. You are a rational thinker if you turn negative situations into positive ones. You can face unpleasantant situations and not become overwhelmed. You use your unique talents to resolve problems and view the brighter side of your life. If you are an irrational thinker, you will either overreact to problems or will not react at all. You will experience intense emotion-al pain when challenged to take responsibility for your actions or to acknowledge how your action may negatively impact another person. You become easily overwhelmed by the pace of work, family, and community responsibilities. You see negative qualities in the other person in your relationship and react in subtle ways to hurt him or her.
You have an internal monologue that runs through your day. Thoughts that are self-defeating or that provide unrealistic expectations for you are irrational thoughts. Using words like always, have to, and never can make thoughts irrational and expectations unrealistic. Thoughts that produce second-guessing messages such as “would have,” “should have,” and “could have” are irrational. By focusing your energy on thoughts that will not resolve problems or engage others in the here-and-now, you can send subtle, hurtful messages to another person. Thoughts that are uplifting and provide you with real solutions to everyday problems are rational thoughts. Rational thoughts will not always provide you with a warm, fuzzy feeling, but they will allow you to see the possibilities to get through the challenges of life. Rational thoughts help you to keep your perspective and priorities grounded in the truth. When you begin to feel that your life is awful and there is no hope, you are thinking irrationally.
Did you know that your thinking will influence how you feel and behave? Your thoughts are the guiding force behind your total social presentation. When you think rationally, you will experience positive feelings and demonstrate positive behavior. You will be more apt to act responsibly because you will see the situation much more clearly and feel more positive that you are doing the right thing for the other person. When you look at your relationship in a rational way, you take the time to assess how you are positively or negatively impacting the other person. You will see the unique qualities of the other person in your relationship. You will value the person’s thoughts and feelings and allow this person to demonstrate his or her talents. You will not place conditions on your love, and you will engage in an open and honest dialogue.
Instead, you may be causing the shame, anger, and guilt in the other person in your relationship. You may be the source of the resentment or even the hate. If you are involved in an unhappy relationship, you may be acting and feeling in negative ways that are guided by your irrational thinking. If so, you would benefit from knowing the factors that contribute to your irrational thinking. There are three areas in which these factors may have surfaced during your life. They are your psychiatric or developmental stability, your childhood family setting, and your childhood school setting.
Mental Illness and Irrationality
Did you know that one out of every three people suffers from a mental illness? Do you struggle with panic attacks, social fears, emptiness, paranoid thoughts, or extreme highs and lows? As a child, did you grow up with anxiety, attention problems, depression, social interaction problems, developmental problems, extreme energy, or involuntary vocal or motor tics? Did you find yourself pushing others away when you really wanted them to get close to you? The important factor to remember is that many of these disorders cause the person to think irrationally and to hurt others in his relationships. Many times, people with psychiatric and developmental problems do not intend to hurt, nor do they recognize the hurt they cause.
You may be wondering what types of irrational thoughts can prevent a person suffering a mental or developmental disorder from gaining insight into the hurt that he may cause another person. Major depression is a very prevalent psychiatric illness in society and will serve as a good example. Do you know what thoughts, feelings, and actions are associated with this disorder? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) is the manual used to classify mental and developmental disorders. The DSM-IV categorizes the thoughts of a depressed person as irrational. A depressed person thinks that there is no way to solve his problems or to change his life circumstances. This is why a depressed person may have recurrent thoughts of death and suicide. His thoughts produce feelings of sadness, emptiness, fearfulness, worthlessness, and guilt. Some of the behaviors associated with depression include insomnia, diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities, significant weight loss, and loss of energy each day. A person who possesses these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors will hurt other people in his relationships, though many times he will not recognize that he is doing so. This person will not communicate his problem with another person in a rational manner, nor will he look for ways to resolve his conflicts. This causes the other peo-ple in his relationships to also feel overwhelmed, helpless, and frustrated.
Many of the other psychiatric and developmental problems outlined in the DSM-IV involve irrational thoughts. People with schizophrenia experience delusions, or false beliefs. These beliefs, which are the results of their auditory and visual hallucinations, can range from paranoid thoughts that people are attempting to harm them to beliefs that they have special powers and abilities not based in reality. Some adults and children with hyperactivity or mania think that their activities should provide constant stimulation and pleasure. They place their priorities on people, places, and events that are stimulating to them, which causes them to become disorganized and lose focus. People with various addictions obsessively think about their addicting activity. Many people with personality disorders do not think that others value or love them. They spend much of their time finding ways to make their irrational thoughts become self-fulfilling prophecies. Through their irrational belief that they are not valued or loved, they treat others poorly and set expectations that cannot be met for the other people in their relationships. The antisocial person believes that he should be able to satisfy his needs and wants regardless of the social norms and laws of society.
Psychiatric illnesses can occur as a result of trauma. Have you ever suffered a traumatic event in your life? People who suffer traumatic life events such as abuse, disaster, abduction, or the ravages of war can also adopt irrational thought processes due to the trauma they experience. This also includes individuals who witness horrific acts such as murder and abuse. Many people who experience trauma also suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Many times they avoid activities, people, and places in their environment that remind them of their trauma. They are consumed with thoughts that the traumatic event will occur again. Their irrational thoughts cause strain on their relationships, many times causing the severance of those relationships. They often lose the ability to gauge who they can or cannot trust. They may either demand too much control of the other person in a relationship or become too passive. This causes them to behave in unpredictable ways in relationships. Many times, children who suffer trauma also have a caretaker who acts in ways that further confuse them and reinforce irrational thoughts and fears.
Raquel was a five-year-old girl who lived with her maternal grandmother. Raquel had been brutally beaten and raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was four years old. Raquel was receiving family counseling to help her and her grandmother work through this traumatic situation. The family counselor discovered how much Raquel loved one of the cups in the kitchen cabinet. It was an old cup that had the face of Santa Claus on it. The grandmother was outraged at the suggestion that Raquel be given milk in this cup before bedtime. This would mean more work for her and was out of the question. The grandmother also shared her displeasure with the counselor’s suggestion that Raquel be read a story each night before bed. The grandmother stated that she needed her time each night and did not have the time for this.
Medication can help many individuals who suffer from mental and developmental disabilities from acting in aggressive or bizarre ways. Even so, irrational thinking will continue for many people with disabilities. Medications will not address their need to function in social situations, which contributes to the losses that they experience in their relationships. Many become so absorbed by their irrational thoughts that they fail to recognize how their behavior hurts others. This hurt can be subtle in nature and consist of selfishness, disrespect, and dishonesty. The person with the psychiatric problem may demonstrate the need to have others support him, but he does not reciprocate supportive behavior. With irrational thoughts guiding his feelings and behavior, the person with a psychiatric problem will not take the initiative to notice the redeeming qualities of another person and show love. As we saw in the example involving Raquel, a family setting may involve factors that contribute to or reinforce a person’s irrational thought processes.
How did your experiences with a parent contribute to your way of thinking today? Some people receive many negative messages throughout their childhood. Those who received negative messages as children develop irrational thought processes that carry over into their adult life. Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D. wrote about the childhood origins of anxiety disorders in his book, The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook. He postulated that children who grow up with critical parents who are perfectionists will experience self-doubt about whether they are “good enough” or are “sufficiently worthy.” He reported that these children grow up feeling insecure and become dependent on safety. Many of these children grow up to become perfectionists later in life. Are you driving yourself or another person to be perfect in your relationship? The high expectation of perfection is irrational for anyone in a relationship. Can you be perfect? You live in a world that reinforces high standards and achievement. Can your relationship work with this same philosophy? The perfectionist con-tributes to the hurt in a relationship through critical statements and blame. A person’s critical behaviors represent another subtle kind of hurt in a relationship, which can go unrecognized by the criticizer.
Alanis Morissette’s song, “Perfect,” depicts the irrational thoughts of perfectionists.
Sometimes is never quite enough
If you’re flawless, then you’ll win my love
Don’t forget to win first place
Don’t forget to keep that smile on your face
Be a good boy
Try a little harder
You’ve got to measure up
And make me prouder
How long before you screw it up
How many times do I have to tell you to hurry up
With everything I do for you
The least you can do is keep quiet
Be a good girl
You’ve gotta try a little harder
That simply wasn’t good enough
To make us proud
I’ll live through you
I’ll make you what I never was
If you’re the best, then maybe so am I
Compared to him compared to her
I’m doing this for your own damn good
You’ll make up for what I blew
What’s the problem... why are you crying
Be a good boy
Push a little farther now
That wasn’t fast enough
To make us happy
We’ll love you just the way you are if you’re perfect
Other negative messages may consist of the child not feeling loved and respected. Can you remember the times you were made to feel hated or disrespected by a parent? Did a parent consistently lie to you? Did your parent have a favorite child? Were you blamed for your parents’ problems in their marriage? Did you think you were the cause of a parent’s hate or disrespect toward you?
Burt and Cynthia have been married for twenty years and have four children: Burt Jr., age seventeen; Judy, age fourteen; Jonathan, age nine; and Becky, age four. Burt and Cynthia have experienced some marital problems recently. Cynthia’s mother, Marge, has baby-sat the younger children and has been pointing out to the children how their father has not been spending enough time with them. Marge has also pointed this out to Cynthia and has told Cynthia that Burt is just like her father. Burt Jr. cannot stand his maternal grandmother and tells his father the bad things she is telling the other children. Burt Sr. takes out his frustration on the three younger children and tells them that they are rotten kids and that they are never satisfied. He threatens that someday he will leave them with their mother to survive on their own with no help from him. Burt and Cynthia argue frequently in front of the children and threaten to leave one another.
Does this happen in real life? How irrational do you think some children will become when exposed to negative messages from parents?
On October 1, 1997, high school student Luke Woodham opened fire on several students in Pearl High School in Pearl, Washington. He killed two of the students and wounded seven. He began his day by slitting his mother’s throat before he headed to school in her car with a rifle tucked underneath a trench coat. Luke talked to one of the students he wounded and apologized, claiming he was not shooting at anyone in particular. Police Chief Bill Slade said Luke had written a detailed note, saying he felt he’d been wronged and that he killed because people like him are mistreated every day. During his 1998 trial for killing his mother, Luke stated he killed his mother because “she always never loved me.” He went on to state that his mother blamed him for her divorce and problems with his brother. He also stated that his mother spent much time away from home. Luke wrote about how he and an accomplice beat his dog, Sparkle, then set it on fire and threw it in a pond. He wrote, “I hit her so hard I knocked the fur off her neck. It was true beauty.”
If you believed your parents’ negative messages as a child, you grew up with irrational thoughts that have influenced your thought processes. Due to your irrational beliefs, your actions toward someone in a present relationship may not be based on reality. Do you find yourself overreacting to comments made by a person in your relationship? Do you automatically interpret someone’s critical feedback as an expression of hate or rejection? How would you respond to someone you thought hated you or was rejecting you? In these instances, many people either avoid the problem or become very aggressive. In either case, the per-son’s behavior resulting from his irrational beliefs from the past would contribute to his hurtful acts in a present relationship. The problem is that he will not always recognize his actions as hurtful. Many people who receive negative messages as children enter relationships as adults sending similar messages.
Codependency and the Enabler
When you were a child, did you grow up in a home where your parents or caretakers took little to no responsibility for their problems or behaviors? Did you witness a parent support the behavior of the other regardless of how destructive it was? A parent providing this support was an enabler. A parent bases his or her enabling on manipulation and dishonesty that hurts others in subtle ways. Children are robbed of their ability to see a relation-ship clearly due to the inconsistent messages of the enabling parent. Children are also reinforced for depending heavily on their codependent parent, which robs them of their own development in decision-making.
Angela Miller wrote about the enabler:
When not in check,
Pick up your shoes
Carry your pack
Pay your traffic ticket
Lie to your boss
Do your homework
Remove rocks from your path
And strip you of the joy
Of saying, “I did it myself!”
Do you possess codependent traits? Codependent personalities evolve from attempts to keep some type of order in a hurtful relationship. The term codependency refers to a relationship where one or both parties enable the other to act in certain maladaptive ways. Many times, the act of enabling satisfies a need for the codependent person because his or her actions foster a dependency from the other person or persons in the relationship. Did your family have an alcoholic or drug-dependent parent? To enable the parent with the addiction, the codependent parent makes excuses and lies for the addict, which enables the addiction to continue. Codependency is reinforced by a person’s need to be needed.
The enabler thinks irrationally by believing he can maintain healthy relationships through manipulation and control. He believes he can do this by avoiding conflict and fostering dependency. Is it rational for someone to think that he can maintain a healthy relationship when he does not address problems and he lies to protect others from their responsibilities? The way a codependent person can continue to foster this dependency from others is by controlling situations and people around him. As a child, you may have been reinforced to comply with actions and decisions of a parent instead of being afforded opportunities to challenge those actions that you found to be wrong. Can you see how these types of messages could foster the development of irrational thinking? The ongoing themes in a codependent home are to avoid conflicts and problems and to make excuses for destructive or hurtful behavior.
Scott is a seventeen-year-old boy who knew that he needed to be by his mother’s side in order to protect her from his father. His mother told him how much she loved him and needed him. Scott was a well-built boy who was popular in school. Many of the girls in his class liked him. He grew fond of one of the girls and asked her out on a date. Scott’s mother did not approve of him going out with the girl. She went to his father and stated that he needed to do something about his boy who wanted to have sex with girls. Scott and his father got into a physical confrontation, resulting in Scott having to go to the hospital to get a cast put on his broken arm. Scott could not understand why his mother lied when the doctor asked how his arm was broken. Scott and his mother’s relationship improved once he stopped dating.
Can you relate to Scott? Over time, children develop a dependency on their codependent parent to help them through their life. Their codependent parent’s need to be needed makes his relationship dysfunctional and filled with hurt. In many instances, hurt can result from the codependent parent’s attempts to keep the peace in the family. Over time, the only way a code-pendent parent can accomplish this is by being manipulative and controlling of relationships. He often controls these relationships by provoking the abusive parent to carry out undeserved punitive action to further promote the child’s dependency on the codependent parent.
Why does enabling cause so much hurt in a relationship? What is the harm with trying to keep the peace? Part of this was answered in the previous example. The power afforded to the codependent person in a relationship reinforces his need for control even if he uses inappropriate means to fulfill his need to be in control. A second and overlooked reason centers on the inconsistent messages and unclear expectations presented by someone who is codependent. These characteristics contribute to a relationship filled with irrational thoughts and behavior. This kind of relationship has no clear rules to right and wrong behavior. There are circumstances within a family’s composition that leads a parent to act in irrational ways. This, in turn, can contribute to the child’s irrational thought processes. Did you know that close to sixty percent of families were headed by a single parent in 1994? Did you also know that 75 percent of families with children had both parents working? These numbers demonstrate the various roles and challenges parents take on today. Did your parents take on job and social roles that took their attention away from you? Many parents are forced to work because of the costs to raise a family. In some families, both parents work in the pursuit of more material wealth. Each endeavor is admirable as long as the family is grounded in a morality that places importance on the relationships within the family unit. A child who experiences rejection from his parent due to these factors will make attempts to redirect the parent’s attention. If this fails, the child will find other means to meet his needs, many times acting in maladaptive ways to cope with the stress in his life. He may demonstrate addictive behavior, social withdrawal, or even violence.
The “Feel-Good” Morality
Televisions, stereos, computers, video games, and friends are means by which children develop their sense of right and wrong in many families. Do you think children should develop their own sense of morality from means outside of their parents? In the hustle and bustle of life, a parent might be more apt to allow his child to turn to one of these mediums for extended periods of time. This does not allow a child to develop clear expectations of what constitutes right and wrong behavior. This also leaves the child to determine right and wrong by the social customs to which he is exposed. Have you ever heard the term moral relativism? Moral relativism means that moral standards are grounded only in social custom. Morals are defined as good acts. Do you know how you can get a good act to remain good if the social custom is hurtful? Don’t worry, I do not know the answer either. The terms moral and relativism are contradictory. The prevailing thought or custom of society needs to contain a safeguard to prevent immorality. How will you keep your behavior in check if you do not adopt a morality that contains absolute rights and wrongs? Today, more and more children are adopting their parents’ “feel good” morality, which often causes them to inflict hurt toward others. If more people declare a behavior an acceptable social custom, the behavior will become morally acceptable according to a relative moral view. A person’s view on a social custom can be influenced by music, television, movies, literature, and societal trends. If these views are not held to a standard that is absolute in regards to right and wrong behavior, the person can begin to lose his ability to see the line between good and bad. Have you ever searched for a good feeling through sex, drugs, material possessions, or open expressions of anger or rage? Are your thoughts rational when you think that you can maintain a healthy relationship while pursuing only those things that make you feel good? What is right or wrong without having an absolute morality? You may question how this absolute standard is set. This will be defined and explained in more detail in the next chapter.
Susan is a seventeen-year-old growing up in a family that does not teach morality. Susan and her friends have classroom discussions with teachers and counselors saying that sexual activity is appropriate if both people are consenting and safe sex is practiced. Through the media and discussions with other students, Susan concludes that the act of oral sex is not considered sexual due to this act not involving penetration. Susan really loves her boyfriend and decides this is a way to remain a virgin and show her boyfriend she loves him.
Can you relate to Susan or Susan’s parents in this example? If you have watched the news and special reports on television, you have been informed that this example has occurred among many teenagers. Many boys and girls believe they are keeping their virginity by engaging in oral sex. They perceive the social custom to be that oral sex is not sex. Where have you heard this before? This is an another example of moral relativism. The conclusion made by Susan was not based on rational thought processes. If Susan understood that her actions were in direct opposition to an absolute moral code that defines acts of love and intimacy, she would make more rational choices. If her parents developed clear behavioral expectations based upon specific virtues, she would be faced with the responsibility of making a decision either to respect her parents’ view on morality or not. This is not to say that Susan would not have engaged in a sexual relationship. Her choice needed to be based upon her knowing that this behavior had consequences and was not endorsed by her parents or the other systems of care in her life. She and her boyfriend would need to learn what virtues should guide their decisions, and develop behavior expectations based upon these virtues. These expectations would need to align with their parents’ expectations in these same areas. Her thought that oral sex was not sex was easily adopted, since she did not have an absolute morality to challenge this view. As you see, irrational thoughts can be used to justify behavior and avoid responsibility. The person who thinks in morally relative terms would experience difficulties recognizing the hurt that he would cause another person.
The abuse that children suffer within their families also contributes to their irrational thinking. Do you see how the thoughts and actions of parents can contribute to their children’s adopting the same thoughts and behavior patterns? More than three children die each day as a result of child abuse in the home. In 1998, approximately 1100 children died of abuse and neglect. Most of the children who die are under the age of 5; 38 percent of the children are under the age of 1. This is the leading cause of death for infants and young children. This includes falls, choking on food, suffocation, drowning, residential fires, and motor vehicle accidents. Almost one-half of all substantiated cases of neglect and abuse in a family are associated with a parent’s alcohol or drug abuse. As mentioned previously, people with addictions are grounded in irrational thoughts.
Children can act in horrific ways because of the irrational thoughts they develop from negative verbal messages, sexual and physical abuse, and moral relativism.
Brendan Smith was sixteen years old when she killed two people and injured nine. She had decided to shoot a 22-caliber rifle across the street from her house onto the entrance of Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California, on January 29, 1979. She discussed how her violence grew out of an abusive home. She claimed that her father beat and sexually abused her for years. She stated, “I had to share my dad’s bed 'til I was fourteen years old.” She went on to say that her father bought her a gun for Christmas when she asked for a radio. Brendan was the original school rampager.
On September 2, 1996, fourteen-year-old Barry Loukaitis broke into algebra class at the Frontier Junior High School in Moses Lake, Washington, with a high-powered rifle and shot three students and their teacher. Two of the students and the teacher died. Students recalled that Barry shot one of the students with whom he was always having a conflict. Barry’s mother suspected that one of the songs that Barry listened to had driven him to commit the crime. The father suggested that the family had three generations’ worth of depressive illnesses in the family. Barry’s mother told the jury that she treated her son as a “confidant” and told him everything. She went on to say that this included plans to kill herself in front of her ex-husband and his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, 1996. He had been an honor student at school.
The hurt in families is being broadcast in the media more and more. The media is also endorsing acts of abuse. Do you know that there are people in academia who endorse pedophilia? In the April 22, 2002, edition of U.S. News & World Report, John Leo wrote an article entitled, “Apologists for pedophilia.” Larry Constantine, a Massachusetts family therapist and sex book writer, stated that children “have the right to express themselves sexually, which means they may or may not have contact with people older than themselves.” Wardell Pomeroy, coauthor of the original Kinsey reports, stated that incest “can be sometimes beneficial.” Minnesota sociologists included pedophile sex with those “intimate relations that are important and precious.” There are propedophilia rationalizations still being made today. Some of these rationalizations include the following statements: “Children are sexual beings with the right to pick their partners.” “The quality of relationships, not age, determines the value of sex.” “Most pedophiles are gentle and harmless.” “The damage of pedophilia comes mostly from the shocked horror communicated by parents, not the sex itself.” A new controversial book called Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex by author Judith Levine, contains a foreword by former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders. One report said that this book plays down the dangers of pedophilia and that Levine thinks this is a good time to endorse “some priest-boy sex.” The report discussed how the “disorder of the intellectual world” trickles into the popular culture, including the school system. Tom O’Carrol has been asked to address the international sex convention in Paris regarding the private rights of pedophiles and their children partners. His pedophile book is on a course list at Cambridge University. If more people in society find this to be acceptable behavior, pedophilia will be a morally acceptable behavior. Does this sound like rational thinking to you?
Jay Krunszyinsky has provided relationship advice and insight to others by helping them to recognize and repair hurtful relationships in his roles as a Juvenile Probation Officer, Case Manager, Therapist, Behavioral Specialist Consultant and Administrator for numerous human service agencies. He holds a Masters degree in Counseling and is a Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner and Abuse Investigator for the state of Pennsylvania. With the horrors of daily news as a backdrop, Jay Krunszyinsky brings experience and education to his relationship book that is based on a solid belief in the teaching of right and wrong, good and bad, love, honesty, truth and respect. With his relationship advice, Krunszyinsky blasts the “Feel-Good” morality that leaves children to determine right and wrong by social customs and adults lost in a world of addictions, violence, and abusive behavior.
Krunszyinsky's relationship book also speaks to each person in a relationship as to how his or her subtle hurtful behavior can wound the soul as much as physical or sexual abuse. This book about relationships outlines how negative messages, codependency, perfectionism, and other factors can cause individuals to miss developmental milestones and act in hurtful ways. He addresses how a person can evaluate his or her ability to show love, respect, and honesty in each developmental stage and ways to acquire the skills to demonstrate these three virtues in each stage. Krunszyinsky outlines how an adult can help a child gain these vital relationship skills in each stage of life. In writing this relationship book, Krunszyinsky hopes to change a trend where adults are engaging in immature behavior and hurting others at an increasing rate.