Earlier today, when working out, I heard the song “Catfish” by Emilio Rojas. In part, the track states, “I can’t believe this shit could happen to me,” as I paused my training to laugh at my own expense.
In the late ‘90s, when the Internet was still in its infancy, I participated in an online chatroom called ATLiens Chat. Hip hop fans from across the world would meet up and discuss various topics, often leading to breakout chatting sessions using ICQ.
It was at that time I met a woman whom I’ll refer to as PJ, though not her real name. PJ was knowledgeable about all five elements of hip hop and I enjoyed introducing her to music of southern rappers from the United States while she put me on to international emcees.
After a time, we exchanged local area network phone numbers, email addresses, and postal mail addresses. This is how people communicated prior to social media and smartphones.
In a matter of years, PJ and I expressed romantic interest in one another, never having met in person. It may seem odd to some people that individuals who are essentially strangers could develop affection for one another.
I get it. Still, my perception of reality at the time was that PJ and I were well-suited for one another. Shared photos, telephone conversations, and exchanged care packages were evidence of my interpreted experience.
Given the name of this blogpost, a perceptive reader can guess how things turned out with PJ. Due to the advancement of technology, people were eventually able to view one another in real-time using videoconferencing software.
No longer was communication between PJ and I impeded by archaic means. It was at that time I learned that PJ wasn’t who I thought she was. I couldn’t believe this shit could happen to me!
Back then, I was unfamiliar with the term catfishing, which one source defines as “a deceptive activity in which a person creates a fictional persona or fake identity on a social networking service, usually targeting a specific victim.” Long before social media, I was catfished.
Still, I don’t claim victimhood from having been deceived by PJ. However, in my ignorance, I reasoned that I was upset to learn she wasn’t who she said she was.
Prior to my understanding of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I thought that betrayal from PJ caused the reaction of sorrow, anger, and embarrassment. I maintained that an action-consequence connection was self-evident.
What I failed to realize, and what I’ve since learned through use of REBT, is that there was a belief-consequence connection that resulted in my mood. Because I believed PJ shouldn’t mislead me, when she eventually did I experienced the consequences of my flawed belief.
When working with clients, I demonstrate this process through use of the ABC Model. I think of this as an event chain: Action –> Belief –> Consequence.
By understanding how we disturb ourselves—and it isn’t necessarily actions occurring in the world which cause our emotions, bodily sensations, thoughts, or behavior—we can take ownership of the role we play in the event chain. We can then do something about our consequence.
I couldn’t change PJ’s behavior, because I have little control or influence over others. The action of PJ catfishing me took place and there’s little I could’ve done in that regard.
What then could I do about my sorrow, anger, and embarrassment? I suppose one could deny the way one feels, though I wonder how useful that strategy is. It wasn’t as though I could convince myself nothing happened.
This is where disputing the unhelpful or unhealthy belief that caused a reaction could have been beneficial. I could have reasoned that while I’d prefer not to be duped, people frequently mislead each other.
I likely told myself something like, “I should be the exception to deception,” “PJ shouldn’t have deceived me,” or, “I can’t stand being lied to, so others should tell the truth.” While I may’ve demanded such things, PJ wasn’t obligated to obey my directives.
Moreover, it wasn’t true that I couldn’t believe PJ deceived me. In actuality, I struggled with believing that I fell for the okey-doke.
Was I more upset with her or myself? More importantly, why was I upset? Instead of deceiving myself by saying, “I can’t believe this shit could happen to me,” I could’ve said, “I can’t afford to believe the shit I’m telling myself.”
True, I would’ve liked to have been given special treatment by PJ, though I wasn’t entitled to any particular conduct. I may’ve preferred not to be deceived, though I wasn’t owed the privilege of honesty.
And was it true that I couldn’t tolerate deception? I’ve been lied to countless times throughout my life. Of course, I could stand being hoodwinked even if I didn’t like it taking place.
Disputation of my irrational beliefs leads me to conclude that while I prefer to be treated in a particular way, others are at liberty to treat me according to their own values, desires, or rules. I don’t have to like or love that this is true, though it’s more useful to accept it.
If I maintained a condition such as, “I will only accept PJ as long as she doesn’t disappoint me,” this rigid decree would lead to further disturbance. By unconditionally accepting that PJ would behave according to her own ambitions, I’d no longer experience sorrow, anger, and embarrassment.
In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, I didn’t know of REBT. Therefore, I disturbed myself with beliefs related to PJ—losing time I will never recoup. Now, I know better.
Instead of reflecting on the past and having a shitty attitude when reminded of PJ in a song, I now laugh. This all reminds me of a joke: What do you use to catfish on the Internet? Clickbait.
Have you been deceived before? You don’t have to suffer from the beliefs you have about an event. If you’d like to change the consequences of your self-disturbing narrative, I may be able to help.
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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