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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Denial

 

One of my favorite memes was created by artist KC Green, about which The Verge states:

 

The “This is fine” meme comes from KC Green’s 2013 webcomic “On Fire.” The meme rarely includes the final panels, in which the dog’s flesh melts from his arms and skull, like chocolate syrup running down an ice cream sundae. Instead, the meme serves, as we wrote earlier this summer, “as shorthand for when a situation becomes so terrible our brains refuse to grapple with its severity.”


 

One reason why I appreciate the graphic meme is because it adequately illustrates the experience of denial—refusal to admit the truth or reality of something. I think that burning to death while telling oneself that the situation is “fine” is a poignant example of denial.

 

More specifically related to my professional field, one source states, “In the psychology of human behavior, denialism is a person’s choice to deny reality as a way to avoid believing in a psychologically uncomfortable truth.” This clarification relates to irrational belief.

 

Through practice of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I dispute the four core beliefs which lead to self-disturbance:

 

·  Demandingness (e.g., I must be safe)

 

·  Awfulizing (e.g., it would be awful not to practice Stoicism when faced with immediate danger)

 

·  Low frustration tolerance (e.g., I can’t stand not being able to tolerate discomfort)

 

·  Global evaluations (e.g., anyone who can’t handle sitting in flames is weak)

 

Although REBT is in alignment with teaching of Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who stated, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters,” use of this psychotherapeutic modality doesn’t advocate placing oneself in imminent danger in order to practice high frustration tolerance (resilience).

 

Moreover, REBT isn’t about denying actual occurrences. To understand this point, consider the ABC model promoted by REBT practice:

 

Activating event (“Action”) – What occurred

 

Belief about the event – What you told yourself about (A) that resulted in (C)

 

Consequence of one’s belief about the event – What you felt (emotion or bodily sensation) about what happened and what you did (behavior)

 

Disputation of the self-disturbing belief about the event – How you might challenge (D) what you told yourself (B) and which led to (C)

 

Effective new belief to replace the self-disturbing belief – What effective new conclusion you can tell yourself rather than using unhelpful or unhealthy narratives (B)

 

Disputation has a number of meanings. One, it involves the process of disputing— to call into question or cast doubt upon something. Two, it refers to debating or challenging something. Last, it concerns an intellectual exercise in defense of a thesis or hypothesis by use of logic and reason.

 

Noteworthy, when employing the ABC model, I don’t dispute an activating event. For instance, if I encountered the memetic little dog in a burning room I wouldn’t dispute the situation by stating, “It really is a fine occurrence when sitting this burning room” (Action).

 

This is because the ‘D’ in the ABC model refers to Disputation, not Denial. Likewise, I wouldn’t suggest to the doggo that the heat which melts off his face (Consequence) is actually cold, because that, too, would serve as the function of denial.

 

Practice of REBT acknowledges, and doesn’t deny, activating events and consequences. To better understand this point, consider what I stated in a blogpost entitled Chain Link:

 

REBT theory uses the ABC model to illustrate how when Activating events (“Actions”) occur and people maintain irrational Beliefs about the events, these unhelpful assumptions – and not the actual occurrences – are what create unpleasant cognitive, emotive, bodily sensation, and behavioral Consequences.

 

Therefore, from a psychological standpoint, people disturb themselves using a Belief-Consequence (B-C) connection. Of course, this isn’t to suggest that in the context of the naturalistic or physical world there is no Action-Consequence (A-C) connection.

 

In the physical world, fire is hot and if one sits in a burning room (Action), one’s face may melt off (Consequence). Pretending as though this isn’t the case is a form of denial.

 

Consequently, if I was to stumble across a pupper in a burning room and he told me, “This is fine. I’m okay with the events that are unfolding currently,” I’d dispute his delusional belief.

 

However, if he chose to practice denial thereafter, by suggesting, “That’s okay, things are going to be okay,” I’d recognize that the self-determined and autonomous canine would suffer the outcome of his B-C connection. At that, I’d leave the room before my face melted.

 

Although I’m morally, ethically, and legally obligated to intervene on behalf of a client posing an immediate suicide threat, I’m not bound to protect cartoon animals. The important takeaway is that A-C connections in the real world are taken into consideration when practicing REBT.

 

This is why I also appreciate KC Green’s revision to the original meme. Per The Verge:

 

But in the past couple months [2016], as the world seemed to collapse beneath the weight of terrible news, Green was inspired to create “an alternate take” or a “parallel universe.” In the update, the dog screams “This is not fine!” As the dog extinguishes the flames, he continues, “There was no reason to let it last this long and get this bad. They shot a gorilla for godssake.”


 

One imagines the gorilla reference related to the killing of Harambe, may he rest easy. In the revised meme, the dog arguably takes appropriate action after having initially used denial by attempting to extinguish the fire and eventually fleeing from danger.

 

The final panels of the comic strip reveal the outcome of both A-C and B-C connections. When the room caught fire (Action) and the dog became hot (Consequence), this physical result then served a psychological chain of events which the doggo initially denied.

 

However, as fire from the room increased and the pupper realized that he was in danger (Action), he Disputed rather than Denied his Belief by asking, “What the Hell is my problem,” and, “What the fuck was I even thinking?”

 

Moreover, the dog rationally admitted to himself, “There was no reason to let it last this long and get this bad!” With this Effective new belief, the dog fled to safety after his efforts to extinguish the flames failed.

 

In the final panels, the dog faced the consequences of his inaction, as well as his subsequent action. Things truly didn’t need to (demandingness narrative) get that bad. Perhaps the valuable lesson moving forward is not to practice denial in the first place.

 

Sometimes when working with clients, people use faux-Stoic phrases without first working through the ABC model or practicing unconditional acceptance (UA). Averting discomfort it takes to truly practice REBT, an individual may passively state, “It is what it is.”

 

Although this expression represents proper use of Stoicism, unearned wisdom without understanding why matters are beyond one’s control or influence isn’t what I promote through practice of REBT. Therefore, I encourage people to show their work.

 

Demonstrating how to adequately apply the ABC model and practice UA may lead to a person concluding, “It is what it is.” However, the phrase serves as denial when one merely hurries to a desired conclusion when not disputing irrational beliefs or truly practicing acceptance.

 

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—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, 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

 

References:

 

Graver, M. (2021, June 15). Epictetus. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/ENTRIES/epictetus/

Gtarocks50dude. (2014, June 28). Rest easy. Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Rest%20Easy

Hollings, D. (n.d.). Blog – Categories: Disputation. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/blog/categories/disputation

Hollings, D. (2024, April 2). Chain link. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/chain-link

Hollings, D. (2022, May 17). Circle of concern. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/circle-of-concern

Hollings, D. (2024, January 7). Delusion. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/delusion

Hollings, D. (2022, October 31). Demandingness. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/demandingness

Hollings, D. (2022, March 15). Disclaimer. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/disclaimer

Hollings, D. (2023, September 8). Fair use. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/fair-use

Hollings, D. (2024, April 2). Four major irrational beliefs. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/four-major-irrational-beliefs

Hollings, D. (2024, April 1). From where you’re at. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/from-where-you-re-at

Hollings, D. (2023, October 12). Get better. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/get-better

Hollings, D. (2023, September 13). Global evaluations. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/global-evaluations

Hollings, D. (2024, February 24). High frustration tolerance. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/high-frustration-tolerance

Hollings, D. (n.d.). Hollings Therapy, LLC [Official website]. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/

Hollings, D. (2023, May 18). Irrational beliefs. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/irrational-beliefs

Hollings, D. (2023, September 19). Life coaching. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/life-coaching

Hollings, D. (2023, January 8). Logic and reason. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/logic-and-reason

Hollings, D. (2022, December 2). Low frustration tolerance. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/low-frustration-tolerance

Hollings, D. (2023, October 2). Morals and ethics. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/morals-and-ethics

Hollings, D. (2023, April 24). On truth. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/on-truth

Hollings, D. (2023, September 15). Psychotherapeutic modalities. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/psychotherapeutic-modalities

Hollings, D. (2022, March 24). Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/rational-emotive-behavior-therapy-rebt

Hollings, D. (2022, November 1). Self-disturbance. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/self-disturbance

Hollings, D. (2022, October 7). Should, must, and ought. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/should-must-and-ought

Hollings, D. (2022, May 28). Stoically existential. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/stoically-existential

Hollings, D. (2022, November 9). The ABC model. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/the-abc-model

Hollings, D. (2022, December 23). The A-C connection. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/the-a-c-connection

Hollings, D. (2022, December 25). The B-C connection. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/the-b-c-connection

Hollings, D. (2023, February 16). Tna. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/tna

Hollings, D. (2022, November 15). To don a hat. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/to-don-a-hat

Hollings, D. (2022, July 11). Unconditional acceptance. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/unconditional-acceptance

KC Green. (n.d.). K C Green Dot Com Dot Com [Official website]. Retrieved from https://kcgreendotcom.com/index.html

KC Green. (n.d.). On Fire. Gunshow [Image]. Retrieved from https://gunshowcomic.com/648

KC Green. (2016, August 3). This Is Not Fine [Image]. The Nib. Retrieved from https://thenib.com/this-is-not-fine/

Plante, C. (2016, August 3). The man who created ‘this is fine’ now says ‘this is not fine.’ The Verge. Retrieved from https://www.theverge.com/2016/8/3/12368634/this-is-fine-dog-meme-update-sequel-kc-green

Texas Health and Human Services. (n.d.). 530.003 How to deal with clients who threaten to harm themselves or others. Texas Department of State Health Services. Retrieved from https://www.dshs.texas.gov/hivstd/policy/policies/530-003

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Denialism. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denialism

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Harambe. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harambe

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