Emotional Wellbeing


Mandy Kloppers

Do you think in dysfunctional ways?

Do you think in dysfunctional ways?

It’s safe to say that we probably all hold some type of dysfunctional attitude at some time in our lives. Dysfunctional attitudes are also called “rules for living” by therapists and usually take the form of “if this…then that”.  Many of us hold rules for living that we don’t consciously acknowledge, yet these ‘rules’ impact upon what we do immensely.

  1. Dysfunctional attitudes lack flexibility

Dysfunctional attitudes are often rigid and generalised and involve concepts like “always, never, must, should, have to, need to…”.

2. Dysfunctional attitudes are self limiting

When you ‘buy into’ dysfunctional thinking, it becomes harder to reach your goals. For example: thinking along the lines of: “I believe that I must never fail so I withdraw and don’t try at all” will ultimately allow self limiting thoughts to override potential opportunities.

3. Often focused on approval

Dysfunctional attitudes often focus on approval from others, achievement or/and control. Many of the situations we cannot control in life lead us to developing dysfunctional attitudes when we would be far better off accepting the status quo. For example – we may have romantic feelings for someone and feel insecure about how they feel about us. Instead of dealing with the situation and asking the person directly, which takes bravery, we tell ourselves they don’t care and we pull away or we tell ourselves they do care and behave inappropriately.

4. Often related to various roles

Eg: I must be perfect, I must get it right every time, I must be loved, I must be accepted, I must gain respect.  Ask yourself WHY you “must”?? Who says? Where’s the rule book stating this? Challenge this type of attitude as it only serves to create personal pressure and stress. Replace must and should with “could”.

5. Dysfunctional attitudes are linked to self experience

Sometimes we have a rule for living such as: I feel bad if a rule is broken but good if successful. This rule for living ensures that our pleasure comes from an external source and this is a precarious way for us to feel good about ourselves. When we receive approval from others, it feels good and makes us feel successful but the best strategy to use is to find ways to feel good about yourself without approval from others. Approval from others should be a bonus, not a necessity. Dysfunctional attitudes begin to form when we are very young and become reinforced over time due to our childhood experiences and subsequent life experience.

6. They are linked to basic hopes in the future

Example: If I am loved then I will be happy; If I am successful then I will be worthy – a somebody rather than a nobody.

7. Often culturally reinforced

Example: We should be individualistic and achieve; women should always be loving and caring.

Further common examples of dysfunctional attitudes:

People will probably think less of me if I make a mistake (mind reading – there is no evidence for this thought)

If a person asks for help, it’s a sign of weakness (this is not a fact)

If other people know what you are really like they will think less of you. (there is no concrete evidence for this and no doubt there will be at least one example in your life of someone knowing you well who still loves and cares for you).

I cannot trust other people because they might be cruel to me (over generalised).

To be happy I must be admired, respected. I must show others that I am competent.

I must always try hard. I must avoid making mistakes and never be seen to fail.

I have to achieve things to maintain my sense of self worth.

To feel good about myself I have to have others’ admiring attention.

You are more likely to have dysfunctional attitudes if you have not received recognition from your parents, have been made to feel less than or not good enough in some way ( a common cause is from parents who offer conditional love to children – eg. only when they gt good grades at school, uni etc)

How to challenge dysfunctional attitudes:

Remember that thoughts aren’t facts – learn to challenge your thinking and look for the evidence.

Look for other ways to view a situation. What would a friend say?

Look at the advantages and disadvantages of possessing a dysfunctional attitude.

Work on loving and accepting yourself. You are worthy just being you, you don’t need to DO anything to be valuable.

Mandy X


If you would like to know more – here is a Dysfunctional Attitude Scale to help you estimate the level of your dysfunctional attitudes:


This questionnaire lists different attitudes or beliefs which people sometimes hold. Read each statement carefully and decide how much you agree or disagree with the statement. For each of the attitudes, indicate to the left of the item the number that best describes how you think. Be sure to choose only one answer for each attitude. Because people are different, there is no right answer or wrong answer to these statements. Your answers are confidential, so please do not put your name on this sheet.

To decide whether a given attitude is typical of your way of looking at things, simply keep in mind what you are like most of the time.

1 = Totally agree 2 = Agree very much 3 = Agree slightly 4 = Neutral 5 = Disagree slightly 6 = Disagree very much 7 = Totally disagree

  1. It is difficult to be happy unless one is good looking, intelligent, rich, and creative. _____
  2. Happiness is more a matter of my attitude towards myself than the way other people feel about me. _____
  3. People will probably think less of me if I make a mistake. _____
  4. If I do not do well all the time, people will not respect me. _____
  5. Taking even a small risk is foolish because the loss is likely to be a disaster. _____
  6. It is possible to gain another person’s respect without being especially talented at anything. _____
  7.  I cannot be happy unless most people I know admire me. _____
  8. If a person asks for help, it is a sign of weakness. _____
  9. If I do not do as well as other people, it means I am a weak person. _____
  10. If I fail at my work, then I am a failure as a person. _____
  11. If you cannot do something well, there is little point in doing it at all. _____
  12. Making mistakes is fine because I can learn from them. _____
  13. If someone disagrees with me, it probably indicates he does not like me. _____
  14. If I fail partly, it is as bad as being a complete failure. _____
  15. If other people know what you are really like, they will think less of you. _____
  16. I am nothing if a person I love doesn’t love me. _____
  17. One can get pleasure from an activity regardless of the end result _____
  18. People should have a chance to succeed before doing anything.  _____
  19. My value as a person depends greatly on what others think of me. _____
  20. If I don’t set the highest standards for myself, I am likely to end up a second-rate person. _____
  21. If I am to be a worthwhile person, I must be the best in at least one way. _____
  22. People who have good ideas are better than those who do not. _____
  23. I should be upset if I make a mistake. _____
  24. My own opinions of myself are more important than others’ opinions of me. _____
  25. To be a good, moral, worthwhile person I must help everyone who needs it. _____
  26. If I ask a question, it makes me look stupid. _____
  27. It is awful to be put down by people important to you. _____
  28. If you don’t have other people to lean on, you are going to be sad. _____
  29. I can reach important goals without pushing myself. _____
  30. It is possible for a person to be scolded and not get upset. _____
  31. I cannot trust other people because they might be cruel to me. _____
  32. If others dislike you, you cannot be happy. _____
  33. It is best to give up your own interests in order to please other people. _____
  34. My happiness depends more on other people than it does on me. _____
  35. I do not need the approval of other people in order to be happy. _____
  36. If a person avoids problems, the problems tend to go away. _____
  37. I can be happy even if I miss out on many of the good things in life. _____
  38. What other people think about me is very important. _____
  39. Being alone leads to unhappiness. _____
  40. I can find happiness without being loved by another person.______


Dysfunctional Attitude Scale form A

Ten items are reversely coded (2, 6, 12, 17, 24, 29, 30, 35, 37 and 40) for example, if for question two, you scored 1 (you would add 5 to your score).

The total score is the sum of the 40-items with a range of 40–280. The higher the score, the more dysfunctional attitudes an individual possesses (Weissman and Beck 1978).





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