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3 More Common but Toxic Beliefs and Their Antidotes

Will kindness really overcome unkindness?

To reiterate what I’ve written about recently, it’s amazing how many smart, forward-thinking people subscribe to ideas and worldviews that subvert their happiness—and the well-being of their friends and families. If you cling to any of the following ideas, you might be surprised to know they may secretly be major obstacles in the path of your happiness:

1. “Kindness will overcome unkindness.”

The events that follow an action will weaken or strengthen the likelihood it will occur again. In behavioral psychology, this is called the "Law of Effect" and states that behavior varies as a function of its consequences. Hence, if you are nice to someone when he or she treats you badly, you are basically teaching that person it's okay to continue being unkind. Instead, if you act especially pleasant and helpful only in response to other's considerate and respectful behavior, a positive pattern will be more likely to develop.

So, here are the "antidotes" for this toxic belief. Keep in mind:

  • The meek shall inherit the earth because the aggressive people of the world will trample their face into it!
  • Despite the Biblical decree, if you always turn the other cheek all you'll end up with is a completely sore face.
  • Do not reward behaviors in others that you wish to eliminate.
  • Learn to speak up assertively.
  • Do not reward unkind behavior from others.
  • If someone treats you badly, say so - do not smile and pretend it's okay.

2. “Keep your feelings to yourself.”

People who carry a guarded attitude into their intimate relationships usually miss out on much of the joy that comes from honest sharing and deep sense of making a true connection with another person. What's more, extremely private people often have a feeling of self-alienation because one of the best ways to acquire self-knowledge is by revealing yourself to others.

Of course, I am not advocating indiscriminate self-disclosure but rather rational, emotional risk taking with people you'd like to be closer to.

Consider these "antidotes" for this venomous view:

  • People who are a puzzle to others are probably a mystery to themselves.
  • Close friendships are based on personal revelations and shared information.
  • Selective self-disclosure is necessary to build true intimacy.
  • People who are accepted as people think they are, instead of who they really are, often feel phony and insecure.
  • Very private people usually live in emotional prisons they create for themselves.

3. “To change you must understand the reasons for your behavior.”

Unfortunately, many therapists are still trained in the old school approaches of analytic or dynamic psychotherapy that traces back to Freud and his disciples. Hence, people who find themselves in the care of these clinicians will often undergo extensive and costly, “psycho-archeological” excavations into their past, or their "unconscious," in an effort to provide insight that is believed to be essential for progress and positive change.

The fact is, however, that insight is not sufficient nor even necessary for lasting therapeutic benefits. Thus, focusing on making specific changes in thought and action in the "here and now" instead of dwelling on the "there and then" has been proven the most effective way to go.

To illustrate this very important point, consider that when penicillin entered the market in the 1940's it's mechanism of action - how it cured infections - was poorly understood. What's more, the cause of most infections was similarly shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding. For instance, some doctors of that time believed that pneumonia was caused by an imbalance of the body's fluids. This "humoral disequilibrium" was corrected by the introduction of penicillin. Other doctors believed pneumonia was caused by the body's electrical balance being disturbed and, because of its electromagnetic properties, penicillin restored the body's natural, electric balance. Still other physicians thought that pneumonia was due to an infectious germ that penicillin killed.

Still, no matter what a doctor believed the cause of pneumonia was - fluids, electricity, or germs - if he or she administered penicillin to the patient, the patient usually got better. Thus knowing WHAT to do was far more important than knowing WHY the patient was ill.

Similarly, today, many therapists believe that most psychological problems (i.e., anxiety, depression, OCD, substance abuse, etc.) are caused by early childhood experiences and the dynamics of one's family of origin. Many others believe they're caused by neurochemical imbalances. Still others maintain they're essentially conditioned behavioral responses that are learned and reinforced by certain social patterns.

Nevertheless, regardless of what a therapist's pet theory is about the root cause of psychological distress, if he or she uses scientifically proven methods (like CBT) rather than unproven analytic or dynamic therapy, most people will benefit quickly--often without the use of medication.

  • To sum it all up, and deliver the “antidote” for this poisonous preconception, to change your life it is necessary to do something in the present rather than trying to figure out the past.

Check out these three other toxic beliefs and antidotes through this link:…

For even more toxic beliefs and their antidotes, read "Don't Believe It For A Minute!: 40 Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy."

Remember: Think well, Act well, Feel well, Be well!

Copyright Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

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