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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings



If you’re anything like me, and I hope for your sake that you aren’t, you may sometimes experience difficulty with being able to center yourself in the moment. Unlike some psychotherapists who promote an unattainably questionable brand of living, I favor a pragmatic approach.


Having practiced Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) for a number of years, I’ve not yet mastered the ability to completely liberate myself from all instances of self-disturbance. I still experience fear, anger, sorrow, disgust, and other unpleasant emotions.


Likewise, it’s not beyond me to feel discomfort in my body. Sometimes, my shoulders tense up, my breathing becomes shallow, my fists tighten up, and my body feels heavy.


As well, I’d be lying if I said I never snap at others, avoid obnoxious gatherings, throw my hands up when technology glitches, or over-exaggerate physical reactions to communicate my displeasure with annoying circumstances. Besides, above all things, I’m a fallible human being.


Of this, I’m reminded of a 1960 interview featuring the late Albert Ellis who founded REBT. When asked if Ellis was happy, he responded:


I think I can honestly say that I am one of the relatively few people in the United States, and perhaps in the entire world, who has not had a seriously unhappy day for the last twenty-five years. I find it almost impossible to feel intensely unhappy, hostile, or upset for more than literally a few minutes at a time. I really would have to start working myself up to be unhappy: I’d have to work hard at, to practice again, disturbing myself.


I’m not Ellis. As such, I practice REBT imperfectly in both my personal and professional life. Although I don’t needlessly disturb myself for lengthy periods of time—as I did before learning of REBT, I still experience unhappiness, hostility, and upset for longer than I appreciate.


When self-disturbed, I find it incredibly difficult—if not outright impossible—to employ the techniques of rationality. To better understand what I may sometimes experience, perhaps the reader could benefit from the following hyperbolic description:


Imagine being blindfolded and placed in a room with an uncertain number of people surrounding you. It’s hot, voices rise and fall, and someone begins spinning you around in circles—over and over, creating confusion and disorientation.


You’re afraid. Your body feels light and your legs begin to slightly tingle. You’re losing your footing, though somehow still standing upright—spinning around and around. One voice within the room begins asking you questions and within the recesses of your mind you scramble in search of an answer.


Another voice asks a separate question. More voices chime in—some asking questions, some offering statements, and some speaking gibberish. Ineffectively, you try to remember how you got here. Where was it you were going in the first place? You’ve lost sense of time and place.


Though you try to come to a stop from your centrifugal spin of chaos, your arms are suddenly too heavy to move and your legs don’t seem to be responding to sensory commands. You can barely think, let alone focus on your emotions, bodily sensations, or behavior. It’s as though you exist though you aren’t intact enough to remain present.


Given the aforementioned scenario, would it be practical to require that a person be able to perform rudimentary math equations, engage in basic logical and reasoned assessments, or sort through a step by step approach for returning to one’s baseline mode of operation? No.


This is when grounding may be useful. Although there’s a process called “earthing,” which involves coming into contact with the Earth using one’s bare feet—literally grounding a person to the environment—in this post I’m referring to a similar practice of redirection without need to remove one’s shoes and socks.


According to one source, “Grounding is a technique that helps keep you in the present and helps reorient you to the here-and-now and to reality.” Grounding oneself in the environment or into the body is a method to disrupt unhelpful mental, emotional, and behavioral experiences such as the aforementioned scenario.


This technique is designed to momentarily distract from unpleasant psychological distress and create space from the distressing feelings (emotions and sensations) and behavior associated with irrational beliefs which cause self-disturbance.


Drawing from a list of 30 examples listed by one source, herein I’ve selected an exercise I find helpful:


Describe what’s around you


Spend a few minutes taking in your surroundings and noting what you see. Use all five senses to provide as much detail as possible.


“This bench is red, but the bench over there is green. It’s warm under my jeans since I’m in the sun. It feels rough, but there aren’t any splinters. The air smells like smoke. I hear kids laughing and dogs barking.”


This example briefly takes you out of psychological chaos and centers you into the environment. Now, let’s briefly explore a grounding exercise that places you within your body rather than wallowing in disarray of the mind. Per one source:


Sitting comfortably, take a deep breath in through the nose, and out through the mouth. As you breathe out, close the eyes. Notice how the body feels right now. Starting at the top of the head, gently scan down through the body, noticing what feels comfortable and what feels uncomfortable. Remember, you’re not trying to change anything, just noticing how the body feels as you scan down evenly and notice each and every part of the body, all the way down to the toes.


If an opportunity presents itself, I prefer both environmental and body scans to disrupt calamity similar to the aforementioned scenario. Once you achieve separation between beliefs and consequences of your beliefs, your emotions, body sensations, and behavior have an opportunity to calm down.


After this occurs, you can reengage the productive process of disputing unhelpful beliefs and practicing unconditional acceptance. Thankfully, there are hundreds if not thousands of grounding exercises available for free on the Internet.


While perhaps not many people can claim to live a quarter century free from lengthy periods of self-disturbance, such as Ellis claimed to have, we can allow ourselves an opportunity to momentarily severe the connection between unpleasant consequences and the beliefs which generate them.


Importantly, after we experience a brief reduction in chaotic turmoil, we then reengage the techniques of REBT. It may be tempting to simply check out (ground) and avoid problems indefinitely. However, doing so may not serve our interests and goals in the long run.


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





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