How Our Mental Attitudes Have Become More Selfish

So many factors are contributing to our self-centered attitude of living today…. we’re all a combination of good, bad, and ugly, but that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with things. There’s a growing concern that we must all consider ourselves in greater than merely personal terms.

If you were to ask most of us if we could name three times when we felt our thoughts were more self-absorbed than compassionate, you’d probably get a blank stare; however, if you ask a member of the New York public schools, you may get a response. This is how education about mental health is getting under way–students at some 60 school districts around the City are currently being trained in how to spot signs indicative of mental illness, from anxiety and depression to bipolar disorder and even schizophrenia. The hope is that students at more schools will be trained by the end of the summer or soon afterward.

In the meantime, there is an entire field of mental health called cognitive behavioral therapy, and many of the behavioral interventions associated with CBT were developed by the late, great psychologist, Albert Ellis. His ideas about the role of thoughts in our lives are still applicable today.

“I believe that people with mental illness are people,” he once said. Ellis, it should be said, believed that the thoughts that we had were as important as the thoughts we didn’t have, but that we could control how the thoughts affected us. He believed that there was a connection between thoughts and feelings, and that the way someone experienced themselves can be affected by the feelings in their head.

Ellis wrote:

“Sometimes there is a strong connection between thoughts and feelings; other times they’re separate. The thing is to realize the importance of each, and to avoid judging each other too harshly when that connection is less obvious. I hope that one day we can all learn to be patient and consider ourselves in each other’s company as people rather than as mental objects.”

Ellis was a believer, then, that it was possible for people to change what went through their mind; and his approach to helping people affected by mental illness was not dissimilar from the approach of other mental health professionals today.

Ellis believed that we can’t fix our thoughts, only our reaction to those thoughts; but he believed that thoughts alone could be changed. And if we could change our thoughts, we too could change how we reacted. When Ellis was alive, however, his ideas about changing someone’s mind might have been considered radical.

A New Mindset

Today, we would be considered extremists if we claimed that thoughts can be removed by mere physical force, as Ellis did. Indeed, the physical act of physical force and thought (or in the case of the New York school system, words and music) are linked. The body (or its mechanical parts) is not the enemy of thought, but the enemy of thought itself.

So, too, is our emotional reaction to a thought. You can choose to not care, or you can choose to care and react in ways that are more productive. There might be no better approach to helping someone who is feeling fearful, because when fear enters the equation, you are no longer thinking about what to do, then you become overwhelmed by the overwhelming feeling of fear and end up reacting in a way that makes you feel paralyzed.

Perhaps there is little point in our trying to change our emotional experiences because that requires the conscious awareness of them and the ability to act differently. We are so accustomed to reacting to our emotional experiences, rather than acting for the sake of being a better person on some given day, that they are virtually a given, as opposed to something that we must consciously decide to do on a moment’s notice with a clear conscience.

If you’re wondering what thoughts mean, here are some words to help you think through the concept . They’re all the words that used to be able to be said in the same sentence in our English language. The word does not mean it in its current meaning, nor is it a part of our English language that we might choose to remove or change.