There is no spoon
Though I maintain that any franchise content following the first instalment of The Matrix (1999) isn’t worth my time or interest, I appreciate the philosophically complex topics addressed in the initial critically acclaimed science fiction film.
Particularly, I enjoy the scene in which the protagonist, Neo, engages in dialogue with a child about spoon-bending:
Neo: [Observes child apparently bending a spoon with an assortment of other bent spoons spread out before him]
Child: “Do not try and bend the spoon; that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.”
Neo: “What truth?”
Child: “There is no spoon.”
Neo: “There is no spoon?”
Child: “Then you’ll see it is not the spoon that bends; it is only yourself.”
Neo: [Proceeds to bend a spoon]
How REBT works
When practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I encourage clients to consider the wisdom of Stoic philosopher Epictetus who stated, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
This is akin to spoon-bending.
To demonstrate how this occurs, REBT uses the ABC Model. This allows one to dispute irrational beliefs that lead to self-disturbed consequences.
The ABC Model is framed as follows:
(A)ction – What occurred
(B)elief – What you told yourself about (A) that resulted in (C)
(C)onsequence – What you felt (emotion or bodily sensation) about what happened and what you did (behavior)
(D)isputation – How you might challenge (D) what you told yourself (B), which led to (C)
(E)ffective new belief – What (E)ffective new beliefs you can tell yourself rather than using unhelpful or unhealthy narratives (B).
REBT maintains that rather than an A-C connection we disturb ourselves with beliefs—B-C connection. As a formula, think of it as follows: A+B=C÷D=E.
In the current blog entry, I won’t get into the nuances of how disputation works. If you would like more in-depth understanding about my approach to REBT disputing, I invite you to review blog entries listed under the Disputation portion of my blog.
How demandingness works
For the sake of the current blog entry, I’d like to highlight how demandingness works. Per one source, “Demands can be conceptualized as rules of life that include inferences, evaluations, and/or philosophical beliefs with words related to ‘should,’ ‘ought,’ or ‘must.”
It’s one thing to say, “I would like others to treat me well.” This statement simply expresses a desire. If or when our desires aren’t fulfilled, we may be annoyed, disappointed, or mildly frustrated—indicating that our hope for something didn’t come to fruition.
In this regard, keeping our minds open to the possibility that inflexible beliefs aren’t preferable is how one can mentally bend around a spoon.
It’s another matter altogether to say, “Others must treat me well!” This declaration implies a rigid demand. When our demands aren’t something to which others adhere, we may disturb ourselves into seemingly intolerable resentment, irrational anger, or bitter revulsion.
Try as we may, we cannot bend actual spoons with our minds.
While a desire reflects description, a demand represents a prescription. Understanding how we prescribe the world with should, must, or ought statements is the key to comprehending the B-C connection.
When we use demands in place of desires, the following outcomes are likely to result:
· “I shouldn’t be disrespected,” though because someone violates your prescription to the universe you end up physically assaulting or battering the individual.
· “You better not lie to me,” and when a person inevitably breeches your trust you distance yourself from an otherwise committed relationship.
· “The world must be safe,” and when life proves to be anything other than predictably secure you develop an irrational fear of dying.
· “I gotta’ ace this test,” and if you receive anything less than a perfect score you harshly judge yourself as unworthy of forgiveness.
· “The government ought to perform in my best interest,” and when the incredibly flawed system continually demonstrates its imperfection you violently burn down a neighborhood.
· “You need to treat me with dignity,” and as it turns out not everyone agrees with your stance so you demand to speak to the manager.
· “I require a man to be six-feet tall, earn a six-figure income, and have six-pack abs in order to date me,” and when members of society fail to meet your superficial standards you go on social media tirades about systemically toxic masculinity.
· “It’s my obligation never to offend anyone,” and when you realize people exist in this world who are offended that members of your race exist at all you subscribe to racist rhetorical authors and demand that your family members and friends read anti-racist nonsense.
· “Healthcare is a human right,” and when the society in which you live is governed by the Constitution that not once supports this claim you disturb yourself into depression.
· “It’s imperative that people not consume marijuana,” and when 4:20 of 4/20 rolls around you experience disgust with the bombardment of weed memes flooding your social media feed.
Through disputation of these irrational beliefs, you can replace unhelpful or unhealthy beliefs with effective narratives that better serve your interests. In essence, you bend yourself and not the spoon.
To help you understand how replacement of unnecessary demands can help you, I offer the following syllogisms:
Unhealthy demand –
Premise 1: Silence is violence, because we must be vocally anti-racist to stop bigotry.
Premise 2: I didn’t confront a person expressing racism in a YouTube comment section.
Conclusion: Therefore, I’m a racial bigot.
The logic follows, albeit flawed, so telling yourself this conditional axiom will inevitably lead to suffering when your condition isn’t met. When we apply rigid rules to life, discomforting consequences will likely follow.
Suppose that instead of demanding, you use a desire. You can say that you desire a great number of things though when you don’t get what you would like, you may simply shrug off the usual outcome and continue on with your life. Here’s how it goes:
Healthy desire –
Premise 1: I wish to be the type of person who doesn’t actively support bigotry, though I’m aware not everyone shares my perspective.
Premise 2: Someone in a YouTube comment section expressed racist views.
Conclusion: Hence, I realize a bigot would be intolerant of such an outlook, so I simply chose not to engage.
Though I’ve worked with people throughout the years, attempting to persuade them to adopt a healthy desire versus an unhealthy demand framework, some people simply refuse to give up their unhelpful should, must, and ought statements.
When you realize that an (A)ction doesn’t lead to the (C)onsequences you experience—though it is the (B)eliefs you use that cause you to become disturbed—you can free yourself from the bondage of demandingness by disputing irrationality.
I’m not attempting to persuade you to bend a spoon with your mind; that’s impossible. When you realize the truth—that it is your mind and not the spoon that can bend—what will you not be able to accomplish from that point on?
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, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging 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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