The irrational and rational

With Christmas just around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about social gatherings and how people's heightened emotions during this time can lead to behaviour that often makes no sense and complete sense at the exact same time. In fact, our most profound revelations will often come from the seemingly irrational. This is particularly true when we consider individuals living with schizophrenia, where the importance of the irrational becomes remarkably clear.


Unveiling the complexity of schizophrenia

Schizophrenia, a complex mental disorder, often manifests as a mosaic of voices and personalities within an individual's mind. Psychologists, in their pursuit of understanding and helping those living with this condition, have come to appreciate that these 'different voices' are not mere chaos but rather a person's unique way of expressing their innermost needs and fears. In essence, what might initially appear as irrational is, in fact, a deeply personal language, rich in meaning.

Understanding the "irrational"

The term "irrational" can be misleading. What may seem irrational on the surface is often a manifestation of thoughts and emotions that have yet to be fully comprehended. This brings us to a crucial point – the irrational is only irrational when it's not understood. The human mind is a tapestry of thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and sometimes, the threads connecting them are elusive. To truly appreciate the importance of the irrational, we must endeavour to uncover the meaning behind it.

Finding meaning in the unconventional

So, how can we translate what initially seems irrational into meaningful insights that aid in decision-making and daily life? Let me offer an example to illustrate this concept:

Imagine a person diagnosed with schizophrenia who frequently hears voices, some comforting, others distressing. At first glance, these voices may appear as irrational, disjointed, and chaotic. However, a perceptive psychologist can work with the individual to identify patterns in these voices. They may discover that the comforting voices often surface when the person is feeling overwhelmed or anxious, while the distressing ones emerge during moments of self-doubt.

Through such exploration, it becomes evident that these voices are the mind's way of expressing deep-seated emotions. The comforting voices offer solace during distressing times, and the distressing ones signal areas where the person requires support or healing. This insight provides a valuable resource for the individual and their therapist to navigate their mental landscape more effectively.

It's essential to recognise that many behaviours, no matter how perplexing they seem, often carry a profound rationale once we peel back the layers of understanding.

Everyday puzzling behaviour

Imagine a scenario where an individual, John, who has always been meticulous about his work, suddenly starts missing deadlines and producing subpar results. This self-sabotaging behaviour almost leads to him being fired and raises many eyebrows amongst his colleagues and supervisors. To them, John's behaviour seems entirely irrational. After all, he used to be the embodiment of diligence and excellence.

Uncovering the rationality

Instead of jumping to conclusions about John's inexplicable behaviour, a perceptive colleague decides to have a conversation with him. What they discover in this dialogue is illuminating. John is going through a challenging period in his personal life. His elderly parents have fallen seriously ill, and he's shouldering the responsibility of caring for them.

As John opens up about his struggles, it becomes evident that his behaviour is a direct response to his overwhelming circumstances. He's sacrificing his work performance to ensure his parents receive the care and attention they desperately need. There is also a 'part' of him that perhaps wants to be fired so he can conserve his energy and change focus. The previously self-imposed pressure to excel at work was his way of providing for his family, but now he's reallocating his time and energy toward a different, deeply meaningful purpose.

Understanding the rationality

In this scenario, what initially seemed irrational – a decline in work performance – was, in fact, a perfectly rational response to a significant life event. John's actions were driven by his love and commitment to his family, which took precedence over his career ambitions during this challenging time.

What does Jung say?

My little articles are rarely complete without a nod to the influential – and my favourite – psychoanalyst, Carl Jung. For Jung, the irrational was not a sign of mental instability but rather an essential path to self-discovery and individuation. He encouraged individuals to confront the darker, less rational aspects of themselves, believing that in doing so, they could find profound meaning and insight.

Managing your own "irrational" behaviour

For those who find themselves in a state of heightened emotion or confusion and worry they may be acting "irrationally," here are some tips:

  • Self-awareness: Take a moment to reflect on your thoughts and emotions. Recognize when you might be reacting emotionally rather than rationally. Self-awareness is the first step in addressing irrational behaviour.
  • Pause and breathe: If you feel overwhelmed or emotional, take a step back. Deep breathing exercises or a short break can help calm your nerves and regain a sense of composure.
  • Seek support: Don't hesitate to reach out to friends, family, or a mental health professional if you're struggling with irrational behaviour. Talking to someone you trust or seeking professional guidance can be immensely helpful.
  • Journaling: Keep a journal to document your thoughts and emotions. Writing down your feelings can provide clarity and insight into what's driving your behaviour.
  • Problem-solving: If you're facing a challenging situation, focus on problem-solving rather than reacting impulsively. Break the issue into smaller, manageable steps and work on one at a time.

Useful resources

  • 'Emotional Intelligence' by Daniel Goleman is a fantastic book that dives deep into the importance of self-awareness and emotional control. It can help you navigate your emotions with more finesse.
  • 'The Miracle of Mindfulness' by Thich Nhat Hanh is a beautiful exploration of mindfulness and how it can help you find peace in the chaos of everyday life.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Twickenham TW1 & Richmond TW9
Written by Natasha Kelly, BA (Hons) MBACP
Twickenham TW1 & Richmond TW9

Natasha is a counsellor based in London and online. Her passion lies in helping individuals build meaningful connections and foster strong rapport. With a deep understanding of human emotions and interpersonal dynamics, she has worked as a primary school teacher and as a freelance writer on mental health.

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