IFD stands for Idealization-Frustration-Demoralization. The term was coined by semanticist Wendell Johnson (1906-1965) and has been re-popularized by modern psychologists and self-help writers. Johnson, also a consulting psychologist, believed that IFD disease was the most common malady that kept people from achieving happiness or contentment.

The basic idea behind IFD is that most of us live in a mental landscape of abstract absolutes—ideals. We set vague goals for ourselves such as “I want to be happy”, “I want to be a success”, or “I want to be in love.” These phrases are absolutes, not very good for appropriate goal-setting, and they are what begin the IFD process. In the world of absolutes, you’re either ‘happy’ or you’re not, a ‘success’ or a failure. And how do you know which one you are if you have nothing but a vague idea to identify it with?

Once we are in the IFD cycle, we encounter:

  • Idealization: We compare what is present in our reality to a picture we’re holding in our mind.
  • Frustration: Reality doesn’t match up to how we think things should be.
  • Demoralization: Judgment is passed on what is, and the object of frustration is stripped of worth.

Something happens as a setback to our plans, and we suddenly feel like the whole thing is a bust, a complete waste of time. Then, eventually, after going through a wave of negative emotions we either move to a new situation or change our mind about the current situation, and the entire IFD cycle starts over again.

This is a common experience. It is also counterproductive and stands in the way of what could otherwise be an attitude of contentment or happiness that forwards our goals.

The IFD cycle can also be applied to most of the ways we relate to the world around us, including relationships. We hold our loved ones to standards we have in our minds rather than relating to them as they are. This leads to disappointment and stands in the way of real intimacy.

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