Ain't Nothin' to It
Fuck yo couch!
In my youth, a step-uncle who was also into hip hop music informed me of a new rap duo called K-9 Posse. Group member Vernon Lynch Jr. was said to be related to Eddie Murphy and my favorite track from the duo’s self-titled album was “Ain’t Nothin’ to It.”
Many years after attending a backyard barbecue, at which I won a dance-off to that jam, I was pleased to discover another of Eddie Murphy’s relatives, the late Charlie Murphy, as he was featured on Dave Chappelle’s program Chappelle’s Show.
In a notable skit entitled “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories,” Charlie spoke of a time when the late Rick James apparently once dug his dirty boots into Eddie Murphy’s brand new suede couch. To me, what made the story so funny is that James verified the account by stating:
“Yeah, I remember grinding my feet in Eddie’s couch.” When asked by an off-screen voice, “You remember why you did it?” James replies, “‘Cause Eddie could buy another one.” The skit continues with Chappelle impersonating James, stating, “Fuck yo couch, nigga! Buy another one, you rich motherfucka! Fuck you couch, nigga, fuck yo couch!”
The skit represents one example of disrespect after another that was all apparently true, as corroborated by James. While pretentious betters who value clapter over lowbrow humor may scoff at Charlie Murphy’s story, I don’t enjoy the smell of my own farts so much that I can’t appreciate the skit.
More than once as a child I was disciplined for placing my shoes on the couch. It was considered disrespectful to track filth from outdoors and through the house, let alone to place one’s soiled footwear on furniture meant to be sat upon.
Though I had lapses in judgement and simply forgot many of the rules to which I was subject, there were painful consequences to the behavior I exhibited. Ultimately, I learned the rules and no longer disregarded mandates of the household in which I lived.
In my home, if I’d even dreamed of grinding my dirty footwear into the couch, I’d wake up and apologize all the same. As a method of self-preservation, fuckin’ up the couch was a nonstarter.
Ain’t nothin’ to it
As I learned about and began practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I better understood the prescriptive statements by which I was raised. Should, must, and ought-type demands were accompanied by swift consequences when violated.
· You should not put your shoes on the couch, and if you do you won’t be able to sit down, because your ass will be too sore.
· You must obey every rule of the house, or else you’ll be crying yourself to sleep tonight.
· You ought not to tell anyone about what goes on in this house, otherwise you may not survive the punishment you’ll receive when I’m released from jail after you turn me in.
Conditioned to a binary choice, reinforced by physical and emotional pain, I learned to present the appearance of obedience. I say “appearance,” because I was a fallible child and couldn’t possibly achieve perfection associated with the ever-changing landscape of orders I was issued.
Still, much like the decree issued by K-9 Posse, I was raised under the expectation of, “Ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it.” Having intimately spoken with people since I began coaching other kids in a children’s home during the ‘90s, I realized my upbringing wasn’t too uncommon.
Broadening my scope of knowledge to a global scale, by way of free travel associated with military service in the United States Marine Corps (USMC), I better understood the worldwide phenomenon of child abuse.
Though I’m aware some people don’t like framing the treatment they endured as relating to abuse, as my stepmom used to say, “I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout you, lest it’s you.” If what I say doesn’t apply, good for you.
While I could cite research, expand upon psychological literature, or synthesize data from qualitative accounts regarding this matter herein, I don’t intend on writing extensively about child abuse. Rather, from an REBT perspective, I want to address statements which drive behavior.
Case study: Jane
Suppose I saw a client named Jane Doe. Jane has been referred for mental health treatment, because Child Protective Services (CPS) has intervened on behalf of her child.
Jane tells me that when her child recently put his shoes on the couch, after Jane repeatedly attempted to correct his behavior, Jane “snapped” at her son, John. Jane explains that every time John disobeys her, she experiences a “slow simmer” and then a sudden “boiling over” effect.
Jane mistakenly subscribes to a belief many of us were taught throughout our lives—that an Action leads to a Consequence. John places his shoes on the couch for the umpteenth time (Action) and Jane becomes angry (Consequence).
However, using the REBT ABC Model, I demonstrate to Jane how the Action-Consequence connection is incorrect. Rather, there is a Belief-Consequence relationship of which Jane may be unaware. Here’s how it works:
Action – After years of reprimand relating to dirtying the couch with his shoes, John again is caught grinding his footwear into the couch. Not only this, the seven-year-old looks Jane in her eyes while he does it and loudly declares, “Fuck yo couch!”
It isn’t as though John doesn’t know better. Jane can’t recall how many times she’s used positive and negative reinforcement, as well as positive and negative punishment with John.
Add to this the fact that John has the audacity to stare at Jane while using profane language when behaving in such a manner. This is quite a scenario.
When working with clients, I find it useful to summarize the Action considered most impactful to the individual. This is called the critical A(ction).
Though she considers all the provided information to be relevant, Jane settles on the part of the Action she finds most disturbing. Jane’s critical A is:
John intentionally disrespects Jane by soiling the couch with his dirty shoes and using profanity towards her, especially when he knows this behavior is unacceptable.
Because Jane tends to think in an A-C fashion, she concludes that the Action leads to a Consequence.
Consequence – Regarding Consequences of their self-disturbing beliefs, I invite clients to forego misuse of the word “feeling,” such as saying, “I feel some type of way.” It’s not only lazy, it’s inaccurate.
When the mind tricks the body, I find it useful for clients to get in the habit of identifying how their thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of their lives. Jane challenges herself by addressing each of these items.
She describes a rapid heart rate, sweaty forehead, tingling in her arms, queasiness in her stomach, and warmth throughout her body. Jane identifies this occurrence as relating to anger.
Jane tells me that during that moment, her thoughts became “loud” and it’s as though she’s underneath a waterfall created by each droplet representing a new statement in her mind. Jane expresses that unlike the refreshing experience of a waterfall, the event is like boiling water.
Overwhelmed by the episode, Jane charges towards John and physically assaults him. The behavioral element of a Consequence isn’t always present, though for many of the clients with whom I’ve worked in incarcerated settings, it’s rarely absent.
Jane forgot her ABCs
Unlike humor associated with childhood, regarding how Big Bird sang his ABCs by pronouncing the entire alphabet as a single word, I don’t laugh at clients when they skip the ‘B’ in the ABC process. Rather, I remind them that it’s A-B-C-D-E, not A-C-and-done.
It’s not uncommon for clients to say, “Deric, I wasn’t thinking anything,” when asked about the Belief about an Action. People are used to thinking in A-C connection terms.
Therefore, I assist with teaching the ABC Model by familiarizing clients with Belief structures. It may be worth mentioning that thoughts and Beliefs aren’t necessarily the same thing.
I could think, “If sugar is bad for teeth, why is toothpaste sweet? Doesn’t it encourage a person to seek out sweets?” There is no emotional connection to my thought.
However, to some people, a Belief is something worth dying for. As well, it’s important to emphasize that Beliefs do not require evidence in order to be accepted.
When working with Jane, I would challenge her to explore what it is that led to the descriptive Consequence she described. It likely wasn’t something as simple as, “That John, I tell ya, he knows better than to misbehave.”
Rather than effortlessly saying, “I don’t know what I was thinking,” or, “I didn’t Believe anything,” Jane spends her money and time wisely in our session. She pushes through the discomfort of assessing her Belief structure and comes up with the following:
Belief – Jane thinks, “He shouldn’t act out,” “John ought to know better,” “He better behave,” and so on and so forth. While these are proper should, must, and ought-type statements, I wonder if they’re enough to evoke Jane’s Consequence associated with these narratives.
Briefly highlighting how it very well may be true that John isn’t supposed to act out, how he may know better, and given the fact that Jane’s son is misbehaving nonetheless, I ask what Belief Jane can identify that generates the visceral Consequence she’s identified.
I observe as Jane then shifts in her seated position, begins fidgeting with her hands, and her shoulders begin to tense upwards. Jane is experiencing an emotive response while considering what she truly told herself about John’s behavior.
Finally, Jane says:
“You know, Deric, when he looked at me…looked me dead in my eyes, as though we was calling me out, and said, ‘Fuck yo couch,’ I lost it. I mean, I didn’t see him as a child at that point. It was like my son was an adult. He was challenging me. He was telling me, ‘What you gonna do about it, bitch? I run this house!’ It reminded me of my ex and how he controlled and abused me, and how I let him. I’ve never forgiven myself for staying with that man. I’m not about to let my son become his dad. No fucking way!”
Now that’s a narrative which evokes the memory of pain and invokes the unpleasant Consequence Jane brings to session. Saying to herself, “Gosh darn, John shouldn’t soil the furniture,” doesn’t have as significant an impact.
Rather than simply thinking about how poorly her son is behaving, Jane’s Belief is that her son will become like his father and stomp all over her. John expressing, “Fuck yo couch,” while driving his filthy shoes into the sofa is representative of Jane being trampled by her ex.
Jane Believes she is in danger of future mistreatment unless she can stop her son’s behavior. Again, there doesn’t need to be actual evidence in order for a Belief to exist.
I’m told an alarming number of people have faith in some outrageously inconceivable things. At any rate, there are a number of matters Jane can choose to process from her poignant Belief.
I assist Jane in summarizing the Belief she chooses to work on in our session and she settles on: “John must never disrespect me like his father used to, because if he did I don’t think I could bear it!”
There are three notable elements of Jane’s Belief worth addressing. First, it’s an absolute and inflexible prescription (“must never”) that doesn’t allow for anything other than perfection.
Second, it makes the error of projecting John’s dad’s behavior onto the seven-year-old, which represents use of an unreasonable standard given the dissimilarity in age, experience, and wisdom. Though he may share DNA, John is not his father.
Lastly, Jane’s Belief reveals low frustration tolerance (LFT; e.g., “I don’t think I could bear it!”). When telling herself she can’t stand the experience, Jane’s mind Believes the narrative and sends the signal of distress throughout her body.
This would explain the acute symptoms Jane experienced as a Consequence of her Belief. Having properly identified her self-disturbing Belief, Jane can now get back to the basics and say her ABCs.
Do-re-mi, A-B-C, 1-2-3:
Action – John intentionally disrespects Jane by soiling the couch with his dirty shoes and using profanity towards her, especially when he knows this behavior is unacceptable.
Belief – Jane tells herself, “John must never disrespect me like his father used to, because if he did I don’t think I could bear it!”
Consequence – Jane experiences a rapid heart rate, sweaty forehead, tingling in her arms, queasiness in her stomach, and warmth throughout her body. She becomes angry and the thoughts supporting her unhelpful or unhealthy Belief rain down on Jane as she charges towards John and physically assaults him.
Once ABCs are established, I ask clients about what goal towards which they would like to work. We don’t try to eliminate the unpleasant Action, because it’s in the past. I’m not a time traveler, nor are my clients.
An astute reader may say, “Wait a minute, Deric, why are you working with Jane in the present about a past experience? You can’t change the past, right?” I welcome critical thought.
While it’s true that Jane cannot revisit the past and change the Action or Consequence at a historical time, she can alter the residual Consequential symptoms in the present. For instance, she may be ruminating over her son’s behavior while in session and still experiencing the effect of her Belief.
Likewise, Jane can learn from her past experience so that when young John inevitably makes mistakes and behaves poorly in the future Jane can react in a more helpful way. Jane can learn to change her beliefs in pursuit of a healthier outcome.
Additionally, I invite clients to consider realistic goals. For instance, Jane wanting to feel joy when her son fucks up the coach doesn’t seem practical. Therefore, aiming to experience annoyance or frustration may be preferable to rage and aggression.
Using REBT, I assist clients with Disputing their unhelpful or unhealthy Beliefs. By doing so, they may adopt Effective new beliefs which better serve their interests and goals. This completes the A+B=C÷D=E formula.
In the current blog entry, I won’t dive into how disputation works. If you would like more in-depth understanding about my approach to REBT disputing, I invite you to review entries listed under the Disputation portion of my blog.
UA, I wanna go…
During my time in the USMC, we sang a cadence about wanting to go on unauthorized absence (UA). It went something like:
They say that in the Marine Corps the pay is mighty fine
They give you a hundred dollars then take back 99
UA, I wanna go… but they won’t let me go… ho-ohh-ohh-ooohhh-ohh-ohm [home]
Rather than escapism sung of during my military service, UA from an REBT perspective addresses LFT. Unconditional acceptance of this kind relates to unconditionally accepting oneself, others, and the world.
This is arguably one of the quickest methods of moving from an impactful Consequence to a less disturbing outcome. Though UA takes time to learn and implement, once it’s understood it can be used with virtually any Action.
Note, I’m not saying it’s easy. Then again, neither is suffering underneath a metaphorical boiling waterfall. One might want to opt for the military’s UA in that event.
Briefly explaining REBT use of UA to Jane, I would invite her to consider that while John’s behavior is unpleasant, he isn’t his Actions. Fucking up a couch isn’t the same as a fucked up individual on a couch.
Accepting John as a flawed human being—and doing so without a condition—could result in a drastic reduction in self-disturbance. On the other hand, if Jane says to herself, “I’ll only accept John if he obeys me every time,” she will burn in agony underneath a waterfall of Consequence.
The pushback I imagine receiving from Jane is, “Deric, if I were to just accept John’s behavior, he’d ruin the sofa and everything else in the house. I don’t have money to replace it like Rick James said Eddie Murphy did.”
I would encourage Jane to consider that she can accept “John as a flawed human being,” which doesn’t mean she approves of his behavior. She doesn’t have to like or love the child’s Actions, though acceptance of the person and not the behavior is what can lead to fewer disturbances.
When Jane conflates John’s behavior with his dad’s—attaching herself to the illusion of control by declaring, “I’m not about to let my son become his dad”—she becomes her own scalding hot waterfall torturer. “Ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it”? I suggest otherwise.
By accepting John without condition Jane can set healthy behavioral boundaries, practice helpful conditioning and punishment techniques, and refrain from behavior that leads to CPS intervention. She may be displeased with John’s behavior while accepting his fallibility as a person.
I’m not intentionally being Pollyannaish. I realize that John may very well grow up one day and say, “Yeah, I remember grinding my feet on my mom’s couch.” When asked why he did it, John could plausibly state, “‘Cause she could buy another one.”
Likewise, this blog entry isn’t meant to serve as a nonsensical social media post in which 5-easy-steps are offered through impractical advice. I don’t give advice. Rather, I’m promoting the use of a harm reduction strategy when it comes to child abuse.
By understanding that our irrational and extreme Beliefs about Actions cause Consequences, we can alter how we interface with the world. Not only can this help those who fulfil the role of caregivers and parents, it could change the lives of the children influenced by those adults.
On “Ain’t Nothin’ to It,” one of the rappers states, “Push real hard to achieve your goals.” Whether by use of the ABC Model or UA, I hope the reader is able to achieve goals relating to healthier and more helpful Consequences.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, and hip hop head from the old school, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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