What is Explanatory Style

“If we have a bias toward pessimism and feel that things are beyond our control, “it” always happens to us and we think it is personal and permanent, then changing the way we perceive the events in our life is a great place to start therapy.”  Susan Wallace

Our explanatory style is how we choose to explain our interactions with people and events in our life.  The more often something happens to us, and the more often we think in a set way then the more it becomes part of how we respond to the adversity and challenges in our life.  This response is called our explanatory style.  There are two types—

Two types of Explanatory Style

  • Optimism is the belief that how you respond to events does matter and your behaviour can make a difference.
  • Pessimism is the belief that when faced with a challenge that there is little you can do to change things.  One bad experience or dead end is proof that all efforts will only lead to repeated failure.

Explanatory style spans three dimensions—

  • internal/external
  • stable/unstable and
  • global/specific.

Internal versus external describes whether or not an individual believes that they have control or influence over events that touch their lives.

Stable versus unstable describes whether or not an individual believes that events are fixed or whether they will change over time.

Global versus specific describes whether or not an individual’s generalizes the events taking place and explains the events as having the power to colour other events.

Optimistic _______________ Pessimistic

Internal ____  Locus of control_  External

Unstable _______________ Stable

Specific  _______________ Global

Impersonal _______________ Personal

Temporary _______________ Permanent

Discover your Explanatory Style

Martin Seligman, one of the co-founders of Positive Psychology, has suggested a simple way to discover your explanatory style is to ask three questions—

  • Is it permanent?
  • Is it pervasive?
  • Is it personal?

Permanent, describes the belief that bad things always happen.  “This always happens to me.”

Pervasive describes the belief that misfortune effects everything and bleeds into everything.  “Nothing I do is ever right.”

Personal describes the belief that the individual is to blame.  “It’s all my fault.”

Download the free PDF worksheet here

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