What Is Rationalization Psychology And How Can I Benefit from It?

By: Nicola Kirkpatrick

Updated February 09, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Avia James

Are You Constantly Rationalizing Your Actions? It Could Indicate A Larger Issue
Discover How To Change Your Default Defense Mechanism With A Licensed Counselor.
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Life can be hard. Relationships can be heartbreaking. How do you manage the hurt, anger, and fear that can come with not getting what you want? Rationalization can provide an answer, but you may not like the long-term effects of doing it habitually. Long-term usage of rationalization psychology can be viewed as an unhealthy coping strategy, but why is that? Learning what rationalization is, why we find it so appealing, and the damage it can cause can help you understand the nuances of mental health, and how you can set yourself up for success in the future.

How Do We Define Rationalization In Psychology?

What is this thing called rationalization that seems to make life so much more bearable? Dorland's Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers 2007 defines it as:

'an unconscious defense mechanism by which one justifies attitudes and behaviors that would otherwise be unacceptable.'

Breaking down this rationalization psychology definition can help you understand it even better. Look at the term 'defense mechanism. What does that mean, exactly? Encyclopedia Britannica defines this term as:

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Rationalization makes you feel more at ease because it resolves this cognitive dissonance. You may feel less anxiety because the rationalization helps you explain to yourself why what you did or what happened to you resulted in a positive outcome.

Rationalization can make you feel mentally relaxed, normal, and appropriate. In that sense, rationalization probably doesn't sound like such a bad idea, especially when you believe you have no control over the situation.

What Can You Accomplish Through Rationalization?

Rationalization can serve a variety of purposes. It can:

  • Protect your self-esteem
  • Help you put worries behind you
  • Help you move out of an unhealthy situation
  • Improve your mood
  • Give you the courage to face life again after a devastating blow
  • Help you succeed when the odds are against you

Sounds pretty positive, right? It actually can be, at least in small doses and in relatively insignificant situations. Why, then, would a counselor suggest you learn how to stop rationalizing? It's because there's a downside to rationalizing as well.

The Downside Of Rationalization

Rationalization can cause us problems in life, even though we feel better at the moment we do it. Consider the effects of rationalization in the following instances:

You Tell Yourself You Aren't Hurt

Hiding your emotions from yourself can have long-term negative effects. Healthy and reasonable emotions can help you move on from unhealthy situations. When you explain away your hurt feelings, you stay stuck in situations that cause you psychological and physical harm. For example, if you tell yourself you don't feel pain when your spouse abuses you, this can enable the abuse to continue.

You Use Faulty Logic To Tell Yourself Something Negative Is Better In The Long Run

Some unpleasant occurrences do result in positive outcomes. Having surgery is usually painful, but sometimes it's the only way to survive a devastating illness or injury. However, some things never result in positive outcomes no matter how long you wait. Telling yourself, you don't need to study because you'll be better off if you don't graduate anyway probably amounts to a massive rationalization that can keep you from realizing your dreams.

You Focus On Your Accomplishments Without Acknowledging Your Failures

It's wonderful to be positive, of course, but deluding yourself into thinking you've never, ever failed can give you a false sense of self-importance. You feel you're far superior to others, which may hinder your social relationships. It can rob you of the ability to feel compassion for others, too. You don't need to wallow in self-disgust. However, it is important to see yourself realistically so that you can have more satisfying relationships. Also, recognizing that you've made mistakes can help you understand what you need to work on next.

Are You Constantly Rationalizing Your Actions? It Could Indicate A Larger Issue
Discover How To Change Your Default Defense Mechanism With A Licensed Counselor.

Source: cdn.pixabay.com

Rationalization makes you feel more at ease because it resolves this cognitive dissonance. You may feel less anxiety because the rationalization helps you explain to yourself why what you did or what happened to you resulted in a positive outcome.

Rationalization can make you feel mentally relaxed, normal, and appropriate. In that sense, rationalization probably doesn't sound like such a bad idea, especially when you believe you have no control over the situation.

What Can You Accomplish Through Rationalization?

Rationalization can serve a variety of purposes. It can:

  • Protect your self-esteem
  • Help you put worries behind you
  • Help you move out of an unhealthy situation
  • Improve your mood
  • Give you the courage to face life again after a devastating blow
  • Help you succeed when the odds are against you

Sounds pretty positive, right? It actually can be, at least in small doses and in relatively insignificant situations. Why, then, would a counselor suggest you learn how to stop rationalizing? It's because there's a downside to rationalizing as well.

The Downside Of Rationalization

Rationalization can cause us problems in life, even though we feel better at the moment we do it. Consider the effects of rationalization in the following instances:

You Tell Yourself You Aren't Hurt

Hiding your emotions from yourself can have long-term negative effects. Healthy and reasonable emotions can help you move on from unhealthy situations. When you explain away your hurt feelings, you stay stuck in situations that cause you psychological and physical harm. For example, if you tell yourself you don't feel pain when your spouse abuses you, this can enable the abuse to continue.

You Use Faulty Logic To Tell Yourself Something Negative Is Better In The Long Run

Some unpleasant occurrences do result in positive outcomes. Having surgery is usually painful, but sometimes it's the only way to survive a devastating illness or injury. However, some things never result in positive outcomes no matter how long you wait. Telling yourself, you don't need to study because you'll be better off if you don't graduate anyway probably amounts to a massive rationalization that can keep you from realizing your dreams.

You Focus On Your Accomplishments Without Acknowledging Your Failures

It's wonderful to be positive, of course, but deluding yourself into thinking you've never, ever failed can give you a false sense of self-importance. You feel you're far superior to others, which may hinder your social relationships. It can rob you of the ability to feel compassion for others, too. You don't need to wallow in self-disgust. However, it is important to see yourself realistically so that you can have more satisfying relationships. Also, recognizing that you've made mistakes can help you understand what you need to work on next.

Source: cdn.pixabay.com

You Tell Yourself Everything Will Work Out Fine

Making good decisions requires understanding the challenges you're facing. The truth is that everything doesn't always work out fine. If you start with an attitude that nothing bad can happen no matter what you do, it's too easy to stand by when actively trying to change something would create a more positive result. If you've already done all you can, then it is time to relax.

How You Can Benefit from Learning Not To Rationalize

As stated before, rationalization isn't always harmful. So, don't worry that you have to completely stop doing it in all situations and with all feelings. Instead, focus on when and how you would benefit if you learned not to rationalize as a knee-jerk response.

Not Rationalizing Gives You More Reliable Information

When you lie to yourself by rationalizing, you not only hide your feelings and motives from yourself. You also may hide other valuable information. Without this information, it's hard to make the best decisions. If you look at the complete picture clearly and reasonably, you can consider what will be the best action to take given the situation.

Avoiding Rationalization In Important Matters Can Protect You

There's nothing wrong with rationalizing something insignificant if it makes you feel better. For example, if you tell yourself your 30-minute workout will make up for eating what you want at a holiday feast, you're probably lying to yourself. But if you usually eat healthy foods and reasonable portions, overeating once probably won't have disastrous effects. However, if you have severe diabetes, this lie could end up making you very sick, putting you in a diabetic coma, or even possibly ending your life. That's because, in this situation, what you eat each day is a critical matter.

Recognizing And Accepting Your True Emotions Can Improve Your Health

One problem with rationalizing away your awareness of your true emotions is that you don't manage them healthily and maturely. Instead, you can tend shuffle them off to a corner of your mind that you then try to ignore. If the emotions are strong ones, though, all your faulty logic probably won't eliminate them. That's a pretty bad thing, too. Hidden emotions can make you mentally unhealthy and can even damage your physical health. Recognizing, understanding, and working through unpleasant emotions can free you from their destructive power over your health.

How To Make Changes

Once you see how rationalization might not always be beneficial for you, it makes sense to do something to stop doing it so much. It isn't easy to go from rationalizing your every thought, feeling, and behavior to seeing life through a clearer lens.

Recognize Your Rationalizations

The first thing you need to do is to learn to recognize when you're rationalizing. If you're good at rationalizing, you may do it without even realizing you're doing it. However, to have all the information you need to make better decisions, you need to think about the truth of what you're saying. Only then can you consciously choose whether to go along with your rationalization or rethink the situation.

Accept Unchangeable Truths

Some things you simply can't change, even after recognizing you're rationalizing your thoughts and feelings about them. Events and situations that happened in the past are what they are. You can't go back and change them. What you can do is learn to accept those things as a part of your history and learn to move beyond them.

Are You Constantly Rationalizing Your Actions? It Could Indicate A Larger Issue
Discover How To Change Your Default Defense Mechanism With A Licensed Counselor.

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Change What's In Your Power To Change

As you examine your rationalizations, you might find that there are some situations you have the power to change. If you are that person who's living with an abusive spouse, you don't have to live that way. You can take actions that will get you out of that situation. What's more, you can change the way you think about it and respond to it so that you can choose better relationships in the future. There are many kinds of situations where we feel stuck. But, when you understand your power to do things differently to create a better situation for yourself, you can live a happier, more satisfying life.

Whether your rationalizations are keeping you in a dangerous situation or keeping you from realizing your full potential, you can get help with making these changes. Licensed counselors at BetterHelp.com can guide you through a new mental process that allows you to recognize and make decisions about your rationalizations. When you do, you can live your life with true authenticity and greater freedom.

Counseling can be a beneficial therapeutic tool if you need guidance and advice about struggles in your life. In fact, a study published in Telemedicine and e-Health found that mobile-enabled therapy cost only almost half of traditional therapy, had significantly reduced wait times, and resulted in significant symptom remission in almost half of all participants. Additionally, symptom improvement was reported alongside high levels of satisfaction with the affordability and convenience of internet-delivered mental health.

There are many benefits to online counseling compared to traditional therapy. One is that online counseling platforms offer a plethora of different tools and resources that can be tailored for your specific situation. If you are unsure about seeing a mental health professional in person, you can connect with a uniquely qualified and trained counselor through video conferences or phone calls. Additionally, you can schedule sessions depending on your schedule and at your convenience. You can continue sessions for as long as you need them.

Read below for just a few testimonials from individuals who are going through similar concerns and struggles:

“Patrick is a very kind-hearted and intuitive therapist. It's not difficult to see that he has a very clear understanding of what approach to take with his clients, even after only having worked with them for a short time, and he always seems to know what to say. His methods always feel very individualized and engaging. He challenges me and my irrational through processes that I have held onto for so long. He's supportive, patient, very intellectual, and empathetic. He possesses all of the really great and clearly, finely cultivated traits that you would hope to see in a therapist. It's very apparent that he cares deeply about his clients and their growth. He really has given me a sense of hope that I feel I haven't had in quite a long time.”

“I am so grateful to have had Lisa as my therapist. I was and am still dealing with intimacy issues that stem from years of childhood trauma. I have been carrying this baggage for years and I still am. After only two months of working with Lisa, I feel a lot of that baggage being lifted and my perspective has changed considerably. Lisa is not only empathetic but also rational. She affirms your feelings while giving a logical explanation as to why you feel the way you do. It helps validate my feelings and makes me feeling more accepting of them that I’m not just irrational. I would recommend her.”


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