Recognize Unhelpful Thinking – Demands

By Charles A., former SMART Recovery Facilitator

The focus of this article is to learn to recognize common ways of thinking that lead to emotional upsets and, as a result, unwanted behaviors… such as addiction.

Once you are aware of what constitutes unhelpful thinking, it becomes easier to recognize when these thoughts occur and work to change your thinking.

There are common ways of thinking that can create upsets and cause you to act in ways that provide you with little to no benefits.

Demands, which is insisting that certain conditions SHOULD or SHOULD NOT exist.

There are three very common demands, “Three Major Musts”, that we’ll cover a bit later.

Overgeneralizing, or the thinking that leads you to making sweeping over-generalizations about yourself, others or life based on a small amount of evidence, usually a single event.

Blaming; this includes damning yourself, others, or the world.

Awfulizing, or thinking that most any undesirable situation or discomfort is 100% bad.

And a thing called Low Frustration Tolerance

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at Demands, and what Albert Ellis called the Three Major Musts. 

For our purposes here, we’ll look at these in a common and brief way (and not by the full explanations.)

The First Major Must
I must do well in everything I do and have the approval of everyone significant in my life, or I am inadequate and unlovable.

The Second Major Must
Others must treat me with respect and consideration at all times, or they are damnable people and should be punished.

The Third Major Must
Life should give me everything I want, nothing I don’t, be easily enjoyable and hassle-free or my situation is terrible and I cannot be happy.

Note that each of these demands are conditions we believe MUST be met, instead of thinking in preferring ways, such as “I would prefer I do well” or “I prefer that this person approve of me.”

Note that when these demands are made, certain conditions are attached to them, such as “I MUST do well, OR, I’m no good.” , “People MUST treat me well, OR they’re no good”, and “Life MUST be easy OR the world is no good.”

Let’s look at each of these demands a bit more closely.

In the first major must, notice your self-worth is attached to meeting the impossible demand that you MUST do well at all times and never fail.

Again, this demand is “I MUST do well and win approval from others OR I’m no good.” With this demand, you need to perform perfectly and be approved of in all situations to simply consider yourself a worthwhile person.

Who could possibly perform well or win the approval of everyone significant to them 100% of the time?

The first major must therefore holds your self-regard and happiness as hostages to meeting impossible conditions by believing that “I’m no good” simply because I didn’t do well or win someone’s approval.

Demanding that you do well 100% of the time leads to frustration, and the avoidance in taking healthy risks.

The belief that you’re no good in not winning the approval of others can lead you to unhealthy behaviors such as people-pleasing, and you may be spending more time being concerned about what others think rather than being focused on your own life and well-being.

The second major must is that “others must treat me with respect and consideration at all times, or they’re no good” puts impossible conditions on those around you. 

It’s unlikely that all others in your life will consider you first and above all else.  So this demand or “must” can lead you to see others as “no good” simply because they don’t meet the impossible expectations you have set for them to hold you above others (or even themselves) in their actions.

The third major must is “life must give me what I want, nothing I don’t, be easily enjoyable and hassle-free, or my situation is terrible” just doesn’t align itself with what actually happens in life.

It’s unlikely that life will roll out the red carpet, just for you, each day.  Here again, an impossible expectation is set that cannot be met, and when life doesn’t meet the demand you believe the world is “no good.”

The alternative to making these demands is to think in preferring or wanting ways. 

It’s likely that you want to do well and win the approval of significant people in your life.  You likely prefer to be treated with respect and consideration by others (and who doesn’t?). And you probably prefer life doesn’t throw curveballs at you.

The difference here is what you think and do when situations are not as you prefer.

When events don’t turn out as you would like does this really mean that you’re no good, or others are no good, or that life is no good?

Of course not!

So what can we do to lessen the upsets we create for ourselves when we engage in this sort of thinking?

The common technique to challenge this sort of thinking is to dispute the unhelpful thoughts when making these sorts of demands.

Take the ABC Crash Course and learn to challenge those old ideas, like Demandingness.



26 Sep 2017

Personal choice and empowerment

Read More
26 Mar 2021

An Open Letter to Men Who Struggle with Sexual Maladaptive Behaviors

Read More
13 Mar 2012

ABCs With JvB

Read More