The dragons I identified are (notice that they are quite interrelated):
- I am not lovable.
- I am worthless without a partner and/or lots of friends.
- I am incomplete as a single person.
- There is a soul mate out there for me. I have to design my life so that I can find him.
These dragons are rather familiar to me and, I suspect, to many others as well. The difference now is that I realize how much they are driven by internalized singlism and our culture of coupledom. Essentially, these dragons are undermining my sense of self-worth and preventing me from fully accepting myself as a single person.
REBT offers some useful approaches for addressing these thoughts. The following dragon taming tools are adapted from Paul Hauck’s book Overcoming Jealousy and Possessiveness, two self-defeating emotions that stem from self-worth issues. Self-worth issues do not have to lead to full-blown neurotic jealousy to create problems, so they warrant taking a closer look. The idea behind REBT is that our emotional pain “comes from our own words, our thoughts, our self-talk” (46). We create the painful statements ourselves; the dragons are home-bread. Hauck continues:
Those painful statements can give you great emotional pain, such as feelings of depression, guilt, inferiority, anger, fear, or jealousy. […] Thinking logically and rationally can protect you from any of those emotions every time you decide to think sensibly instead of hysterically.
Dragon Taming Tools
These tools can help us think logically and rationally whenever we have created painful statements and the dragons are causing mischief.
Dispute your beliefs that you are not lovable and thus worthless
While it is very nice to be loved, Hauck points out that as adults we can survive without love. It can be our preference to have people in our lives that love us. To avoid feeding the dragons, we need to take care not to turn this into a demand (“I must have love!”). Furthermore, nobody has the right to judge our worth, including ourselves. We are worthy simply by the fact that we have been born.
Learn never to blame, rate, or judge
Blame leads to anger either against ourselves or others. To avoid this destructive feeling – anger – we need to learn not to blame ourselves and not to blame others (50). Hauck gives these details:
By self-blame I mean rejecting faults in yourself and also rejecting yourself totally as a human being. That leads invariably to feelings of (1) guilt, (2) inferiority, and (3) depression.
Other blame occurs when you reject unacceptable behavior in others and then reject them as human beings. That act leads to feelings of (1) anger, (2) resentment, (3) hatred, and (4) often superiority and conceit.
To overcome this blaming-game, we can learn to not judge ourselves or others but rather judge only our actions (60). We might have done something bad (or self-defeating), yet this does not make us a bad person. Also, reminding ourselves of the following can help:
Everyone in the world has a perfect right to be wrong, stupid, inconsiderate, and imperfect. That’s not a nice way to be, but people have a right to be human. (49-50)
We all do things that we later regret. That’s unfortunate but it’s simply human. By stopping to beat up ourselves and others over this, we can move beyond self- and other-rating.
Start your life now and stop waiting for a soul mate
Modern society has created the myth of the soul mate. There is no perfect match out there, so move on and start enjoying your life – with or without a partner (and there’s no soul either: when you die, you’re dead, so enjoy life while you can!). This myth perpetuates the idea that we are incomplete without a partner, not a full adult. It also suggests that we cannot truly be happy unless we find “our other half.” What nonsense! (as Albert Ellis would probably say). Happiness requires work on our part, not a cure-all partner. To expect a magical change in our lives simply from one person is absurd and puts too much of a burden on that person. Kay Trimberger identified six building blocks of a happy life as a single (or for anybody, really). Leading a satisfying life can be a helpful anti-dote to the dragons.
The most important suggestion Hauck has, slightly adapted: We have the right – even the obligation – to accept ourselves despite all our dragons that have set up camp feeding us self-defeating thoughts. It will take some time and lots of thought disputing to tame those dragons and turn them into pets. They will still try to hijack our thinking, so we need to remain vigilant. The payoff is immense, though: self-acceptance is the foundation of a happy life.