Photo credit, artist: Gary Larson, fair use
Do you ever have days in which you experience some undesirable event and conclude that your circumstance is terrible, horrible, awful, unbearable, disastrous, or unending? At times, it may certainly seem as though the situations we face lead to suffering.
What do you do in times of despair? I know that in the past I’ve contributed to an already unwelcome occurrence by telling myself how horrendous I thought matters were, thus fashioning a mental and emotional maze within I was trapped.
In fact, as I type this blogpost, a service repair technician is assessing my air conditioning (AC) unit. He just informed me that with parts and labor, I’m looking at several thousand dollars to fully resolve an indoor AC coil issue.
For context, I purchased a brand new outdoor AC unit less than two years ago from the same company currently addressing the problem. No one mentioned anything about a coil.
Many years ago, I may have told myself how intolerable an experience like this would’ve been. After all, it isn’t as though I wouldn’t have evidence to support my claim.
I likely would’ve reasoned that the repair company should’ve told me about the issue that apparently was a problem when the new unit was installed. I might’ve also told myself that the cost of living mustn’t be so high.
Additionally, I probably would’ve added that life ought to be easier than it is. As though the situation wasn’t already unfavorable, what would I have gained by telling myself demanding narratives in the form of should, must, and ought statements?
I likely would’ve disturbed myself into a miserable state of affairs. This condition includes emotions (e.g., anger), bodily sensations (e.g., a burning sensation in the gut), behavior (e.g., snapping at others), and more unhelpful thoughts (e.g., “This will never end”).
At times like this, I appreciate Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). This isn’t merely a psychotherapeutic method I utilize in my professional life, because I’m putting it to use as I type.
When searching for a photo to represent this post, I came across a blog from another individual. Using a comic strip from Gary Larson, the blogger presumably added insight by writing, “It’s not the event which causes the feeling … It’s how you think about it!”
This is the essence of REBT, which uses Stoic philosopher Epictetus’ notion, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” To illustrate this axiom, REBT uses the ABC Model:
Action – What occurred
Belief – What you told yourself about (A) that resulted in (C)
Consequence – What you felt (emotion or bodily sensation) about what happened, what you did (behavior), and even what other cognitions (thoughts) resulted
Disputation – How you might challenge (D) what you told yourself (B), which led to (C)
Effective new belief – What (E)ffective new beliefs you can tell yourself rather than using unhelpful or unhealthy narratives (B)
The point of the ABC Model is to frame an occurrence so that a person can know what belief causes a consequence. Though it’s natural to think in terms of an Action-Consequence (A-C) connection, REBT maintains that we disturb ourselves with a Belief-Consequence (B-C) connection.
Once an individual understands the self-disturbing belief, disputation of the unhelpful narrative takes place. In psychology, this is known as cognitive reframing—per one source, “[I]dentifying and then changing the way situations, experiences, events, ideas, and/or emotions are viewed.”
Perhaps you’ve heard of cognitive framing, though have also heard of cognitive restructuring, and you wonder if there’s a difference between the two. Citing the aforementioned source:
Cognitive reframing can refer to almost any conscious shift in a person’s mental perspective. For this reason, it is commonly confused with both cognitive restructuring and cognitive distortion […] Reframing is the general change in a person’s mindset, whether it be a positive or negative change. Restructuring is the act of therapeutically changing one’s mindset to strengthen oneself—meaning that it always has a positive connotation. In this way, cognitive restructuring is a particular instance of cognitive reframing.
Personally, I think that whether one is reframing or restructuring, it makes little difference to me. My AC is in disrepair, I’m being quoted more money than expected to remedy the issue, and I’m not concerned with semantics in regards to what nuanced cognitive process I’m using.
Therefore, the important takeaway herein is that in order not to disturb myself, I can challenge the unproductive belief that leads to my unpleasant consequence of this assumption. Let’s set up my situation using the ABC Model, as though I’ve disturbed myself:
Action – Less than two years ago, I purchased a brand new outdoor AC unit from company X. Recently, I contacted the company, because my AC has struggled to keep my home cool. Today, a representative from company X has informed me that repairs to my indoor AC unit will require an expensive replacement part.
Belief – I tell myself about the action, “This is some bullshit! Company X could’ve told me about the damaged part when they replaced the other unit, because the technician is telling me it’s likely been an issue for many years. Now, I’ve gotta’ come up with thousands of dollars when they should’ve factored the coil into the original price. I shouldn’t have to pay for something I was previously assured wouldn’t be a problem, yet here I am. I can’t stand when things like this happen!”
Consequence – Because of my uncompromising belief, I experience anger, a burning sensation in my gut, I become irritable when interacting with others, and my thoughts continue racing as I layer new self-disturbing beliefs.
I suspect that while reading the rubbish my past mind would’ve generated, it’s reasonable to conclude that my situation is terrible, horrible, awful, unbearable, disastrous, or unending. However, that’s an A-C connection way of thinking and it isn’t entirely accurate.
As verbose as it is, my self-disturbing B-C connection is what creates suffering—not the action. This is where the wisdom of Public Enemy group member Flavor Flav is appreciated.
On the group’s 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet, Flavor Flav was featured on a song entitled “Can’t Do Nuttin’ for Ya Man,” in which he stated, “It was you that chose your doom. You built the maze you can’t get through. I tried to help you all I can. Now, I can’t do nuttin’ for you, man.”
If I were to allow my mind the ability to build a maze of unhealthy belief, I’d get stuck in misery of my own making. Likewise, if the healthier process of belief-disputing were to be intentionally ignored, there’s little I could do to help myself out of the labyrinth of anguish.
Therefore, I choose not to disturb myself. I suppose if I were once again in school, an educator would require that I show my work. Precisely how did I go from an inflexible belief to a flexible and effective new belief?
At this point, I’ve practiced REBT for years. I can solve a problem without showing my work. Truly, I resolved this matter within the first three paragraphs of this post. Still, not showing my work wouldn’t be particularly helpful for you, dear reader.
The drastically condensed version of disputing I immediately employed when beginning this blogpost—as the AC technician was still in my home—essentially unfolded in a limited number of logical and reasonable disputation questions. Some of them are as follows:
Is it true that I can’t stand when things like this happen? Surely, I’ve faced adversity and disappointment before. If I made it through past moments of displeasure, can I also tolerate the unpleasantness of this moment?
Though the coil may have been in a state of disrepair for years, how can I blame company X when it’s my responsibility to tend to matters within my home? Moreover, isn’t it possible that when the indoor unit was last inspected, the coil situation wasn’t as bad as it is now?
What mechanical item within my home is immune from malfunction? Also, what utility is there in irrationally demanding that these items shouldn’t break at inconvenient times?
Furthermore, why hold company X liable for their offered assurance concerning my unit when it’s virtually impossible to conclude that my system wouldn’t again malfunction. Additionally, is it possible that they misspoke or that I misheard them?
As well, why label this situation “bullshit” when the bullshit at present is what I believe about the action? What part of Flavor Flav’s message don’t I understand, as he stated, “It was you that chose your doom. You built the maze you can’t get through”?
Aside from the ABC Model, REBT considers unconditional acceptance (UA). This useful tool includes unconditional self-, other-, and life-acceptance. “Unconditional” means no conditions such as, “I’ll only accept this AC situation if things go my way.”
Using both Disputation and UA, I know that the Action isn’t terrible, horrible, awful, unbearable, disastrous, or unending. However, my Belief about the event creates a maze of self-deception in which I become trapped by framing the occurrence in the worst possible terms.
Therefore, I can free myself from mental torment by acknowledging the truth and cognitively reframing by use of an Effective new belief. My situation is tedious, not terrible. It’s a hassle, not horrible. It’s annoying, not awful.
Truly, it’s unfortunate, not unbearable. It’s disappointing, not disastrous. And it’s undesirable, not unending. Perhaps most importantly, I can stand this and much, much more. Besides, in the words of my late stepmom, “This, too, shall pass.”
Dear reader, perhaps you’re reading this post while trapped in a mental and emotional maze of your own design. Unlike Flavor Flav’s suggestion, “I tried to help you all I can. Now, I can’t do nuttin’ for you, man,” 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 the world’s foremost old school hip hop REBT psychotherapist, 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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