The Dangers of Dogmatism

By Kristene A. Doyle, Ph.D.

Dogmatism has been defined as the unfounded positiveness in matters of opinion; arrogant assertion of opinions as truths. Throughout history, and certainly in more recent times, we have example after example of dogmatic belief(s) resulting in unfortunate outcomes. We see it in our government, in our religion, and in our relationships. When we hold dogmatic beliefs, we essentially close our minds to alternative perspectives and opinions. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy suggests that irrational beliefs are dogmatic in nature, inconsistent with empirical reality, illogical, and impede individuals from achieving their goals. Dogmatism gets individuals into trouble when they ignore evidence that does not support their line of thinking, when individuals engage in confirmatory bias (filter out evidence that goes against one’s beliefs), and when individuals are unable to tolerate conflicting perspectives.

Think about your past or present relationships. Think about your occupational history. Can you recall a time when dogmatism, either on your part of that of a partner or work colleague, resulted in discord? With dogmatism comes rigidity. Rigidity in one’s thinking is likely to result in maladaptive emotional and behavioral consequences. Individuals who uphold dogmatic beliefs and do not allow alternative explanations will often find themselves experiencing anger when there are discrepancies between their expectations and reality.

The healthier alternative way of thinking that REBT proposes is a flexible, more preferential philosophy about life. We all can have our opinions- it’s when we elevate them to dogmatic demands that we find ourselves in trouble. When I am in session with an individual who is holding a belief dogmatically, and it is evident that this is having a negative consequence on his/her relationships, I often ask: Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy? I encourage you to check in with yourself from time to time. Keep your preferences and honor them. Just make sure you don’t sneak them up to the level of dogmatism.

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