Like it or not, most of us are being exposed to at least one main religious belief system from a very early age. Like everything else that occurs in our early childhood, religious beliefs will shape our development, meaning they will impact our personality, self-image, motivation and desires, behaviors and affectivity.
Although I do believe everyone is entitled to their own belief system and that there are objective pathological situations in which these beliefs are not to be challenged, I also consider it useful to acknowledge the kind of influence religious beliefs can have on the individual’s inner dynamic and interpersonal relationships.
When it comes to bold life choices, there’s always a win some, lose some situation. Personal Development is one such choice. You deliberately make a decision to change yourself in order to live a more authentic and purposeful life. Most of the time, this process involves changing the way you think or behave, and emotional changes soon follow as a result of the first (or often even guide the process by letting the individual know how close they are to their goal, their Authentic Self and the life they want).
I’m an advocate of Critical Thinking and Assertiveness. Thus, I am a huge supporter of the freedom of thought and the freedom of speech. Freedom of thought includes the right of all human beings to refer to whatever belief system they consider as valid (what valid is, that’s another topic). Furthermore, one is entitled to act upon one’s belief – receive information, be in touch with others that share the specific belief system, engage in common actions and maybe even try to convey the message towards people outside the main belief group. As you’ve probably noticed, this kind of right (like anything that has to do with assertiveness) revolves around the individual and relations are created based on similarities and shared purpose. However, we all step outside the circle so to speak, and come in contact with various people whose views on life do not resemble our own.
Skepticism is great. In fact, I believe skepticism can be seen as foundation for knowledge. Gathering knowledge is not all about gaining information from different sources, it’s also (or mainly, I should say) about the quality of the information we assimilate.
We live in an era of information, it jumps towards us from every corner, screen, piece of written paper, speaker or human mouth. But not everything we are exposed to is knowledge material in what regards the quality of the data we’re being fed. So we need to be selective in order to achieve a level of assimilated information that is also rational, valid, scientific. As I’ve mentioned previously in my article about Cognitive Distortions, deformed thought processes create a misleading model of reality in our minds and therefore, the relationships we build based on this premise, lack authenticity.
Let’s start by clarifying what cognitive distortions are. The short and direct answer is that cognitive distortions are errors that occur in one’s thinking process. They happen automatically, became cognitive patterns due to the context in which we grew up and developed psychologically and emotionally. We’ve learned them somehow and they have become our automatic responses to the outside world and can even be detected in the relationship we have with ourselves. One more thing, they are independent of our intelligence level. Smart people can exhibit cognitive distortions. It’s not a matter of lacking intelligence, but rather being blind to something attached to us so well, that the need to observe it does not enter our awareness unless something specific happens. I would say that we start paying attention to our thought patterns either when we deliberately choose to go through a personal development process in a cognitive-driven manner or when the way we live our lives does not satisfy us anymore and try to search for ways to change it. Once we learn that by changing our thinking we can trigger desirable changes into our lives, we focus on improving our cognition.
Yes, let’s ponder on this a bit.
My hypothesis is that many of us have hummed Everything but the Girl’s song “Missing” back in the 90s. So most of you will remember the chorus: “And I miss you, like the deserts miss the rain”. Aw, it’s about missing your love interest so badly, just like the desert misses the rain, cause it gets so little of it. Oh, wait. Critical thinking cap on. Deserts don’t quite miss the rain, do they? More rain would mean…ahm… less or no desert. 😀 Let’s go with no desert.
When I use the phrase “critical thinking” – and this happens a lot, considering that I am a psychotherapist that relies on cognitive methods when assisting clients to achieve well-being – I often discover that many people are not familiar with this syntagma and even less individuals understand the actual meaning of it.
Some of them choose to act as if they know and understand the term, so it’s not always obvious that we lack the basis in our work and that it would be better to go back to square one and clarify what it means to be a critical thinker. Most people I’ve come in contact with assume it has something to do with criticism and therefore, at first, perceive my method as a way of learning to cast critical remarks about different aspects of life – They think I’m demonstrating a way to criticize communication, activities, thinking. At first, they look at me a bit skeptical, because there it is, in front of them, this psychologist that is supposedly an ideal relational entity, trying to convince them to use a method that seems less than moral, in the sense that being critical is at core an aggressive behavior. And they would be right. But that is not what I’m trying to convey.