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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

I Can't Take It


 

For those readers who are unfamiliar with Texas history, the following information serves as context pertaining to this blogpost:

 

On Oct. 2, 1835, a small group of rebellious colonists in what is now South Texas defied Mexican rule with the memorable battle cry: “Come and take it!” The dare referred to a small brass cannon, but it became a declaration of Texas’ independence and grit as famous as “Remember the Alamo.”

 

Grit may be defined as unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger. One imagines that early Texans – accounting for their human fallibility and given retrospective criticism that may be leveled against them – understood the utility of determination when faced with adversity.

 

When practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) in my personal and professional life, I advocate the principle of endurance in the face of suffering. This component of REBT is known as high frustration tolerance (HFT).

 

To better understand this element, consider the ABC model. According to REBT theory, when an undesirable Activating event occurs and a person Believes something unhelpful about it, the assumption about the event then leads to an unpleasant Consequence (e.g, revulsion).

 

One of the major irrational beliefs people tend to use relates to low frustration tolerance (LFT). If this form of self-disturbing assumption had its own narrative, it would be something along the lines of, “I can’t take it!”

 

As an example, a Texas student attending a public university encounters anti-Semitic (“antisemitic”) speech—that which is hostile or prejudiced against Jewish people (Activating event). REBT maintains that from a psychological perspective, there is no Action-Consequence (A-C) connection.

 

Therefore, it isn’t a person’s exposure to antisemitic speech (Activating event) that results in an uncomfortable cognitive, emotive, bodily sensation, or behavioral Consequence (e.g., revulsion). Rather, the ABC model illustrates a Belief-Consequence (B-C) connection.

 

As such, a Texas student attending a public university encounters antisemitic speech (Activating event) while unproductively Believing, “I can’t take hearing bigoted sentiment,” and because of this unhelpful assumption the person experiences LFT-generated revulsion (Consequence).

 

One glaring error with use of LFT narratives is that when the mind communicates this helpless message to one’s brain and body, unfavorable psychological and physiological reactions then follow. I suspect you have some familiarity with this sort of experience.

 

For instance, if I told you that you couldn’t take it if you lost a relative to sudden death, and without disputing the veracity of my claim, your brain would likely send a signal to your gut while instructing your muscles to react as a means of self-preservation. How does this consequence manifest in practical terms?

 

With use of an LFT narrative, you may then become fearful, experience nausea, and flee from my presence – all because you convinced yourself that you literally couldn’t take what I told you. You may also then remain subject to unwelcome thoughts about my intentions regarding the matter (e.g., is he going to keep reminding me about death when I don’t want to think about it?).

 

Whereas LFT informs a person that something is intolerable, HFT calls for tolerance and acceptance of matters an individual considers undesirable. In this way, LFT fosters victimhood while HFT promotes grit.

 

Revisiting the example of a Texas student who’s exposed to antisemitic speech, Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently issued an Executive Order that states:

 

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas, by virtue of the power and authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the State of Texas, hereby direct all Texas higher education institutions to do the following:

 

1. Review and update free speech policies to address the sharp rise in antisemitic speech and acts on university campuses and establish appropriate punishments, including expulsion from the institution.

 

2. Ensure that these policies are being enforced on campuses and that groups such as the Palestine Solidarity Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine are disciplined for violating these policies.

 

3. Include the definition of antisemitism, adopted by the State of Texas in Section 448.001 of the Texas Government Code, in university free speech policies to guide university personnel and students on what constitutes antisemitic speech.

 

One obvious problem with Governor Abbott’s authority in this regard, vested in him by the Constitution, is that the First Amendment clearly states:

 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 

A state law that infringes upon federal protections presents an interesting legal conundrum. Since I’m not a legal professional or expert, I’ll set aside speculative predictions about the Executive Order at this time. However, and for the record, I oppose infringements upon free speech.

 

On the same day Governor Abbott signed the Executive Order, he issued the following statement:

 

Antisemitism will not be tolerated in Texas.

 

Today, I issued an Executive Order to fight the increase in acts of antisemitism at Texas colleges & universities.

 

Texas stands with our Jewish students.

 

We will ensure our college campuses are safe spaces for the Jewish community.

 

Infringements of the First Amendment aside, what stands out to me is Governor Abbott’s assurance that “college campuses are safe spaces” for one group over other groups. One wonders where similar protections were for men and disabled veterans during my time at the University of Texas at Austin (2012-2014), yet I digress.

 

Regarding safe spaces, in a blogpost entitled Therapeutic Safety, I stated:

 

I’ve been asked if therapy is “safe.” I’ve also received inquiry about whether or not Hollings Therapy, LLC utilizes a “safe space” model.

 

If one is asking whether or not psychotherapy at Hollings Therapy, LLC offers a “safe space” in which none of your irrational thoughts and maladaptive behaviors will go unchallenged, then the answer is no. If your definition of a safe space is one “intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations,” then the answer is no.

 

My justification for this stance doesn’t regard contrarianism—opposition to or rejection of popular ideas for the sake of disagreement or antagonism. Rather, I rely on research and other critiques to inform my stance. According to one source that promotes the notion of a “classroom of disagreement”:

 

The students need to be safe in the sense that they, as individuals, are respected and not harassed, but a classroom ought never to be ‘intellectually safe’, as this would prevent students from learning and developing new understanding, which is the overarching purpose of education.

 

Similar to the function of education, one aim of REBT is to psycho-educationally challenge the self-disturbing B-C process in order to attain HFT. Therefore, infantilizing people with LFT narratives, maintaining that an A-C process has power over them, isn’t something I advocate.

 

In February 2024, one Duke University student critiqued safe spaces by asserting the following:

 

[T]he “safe space” is an unfortunate oxymoron. A safe space doesn’t necessarily signal community and comfort, but rather censorship and anxiety. From my perspective, safe spaces are merely platforms for groupthink, absent of the diversity and disagreement that often leads to intellectual growth. You are safe if you follow the pre-ordained discussion checklist. But if you deviate from the norm, not only have you made the “safe space” unsafe, but now you yourself are also unsafe in the “safe space.” Safe spaces function under the guise of protection from harm, but they functionally shelter students from genuine truth and disagreement while simultaneously stoking anxiety about openly voicing opinions. 

 

I concur. Sheltering people – whether in a classroom or therapy session – does little more than extend the naivety of youth. Such behavior reinforces self-disturbing LFT beliefs by convincing a person that one is unable to bear the discomfort of reality while expanding the pseudo-protective environment of one’s childhood, wherein authority figures generally offer safety from hardship.

 

In 2015, journalist Greg Lukianoff and psychologist Jonathan Haidt were featured in The Atlantic with their seemingly prophetic article “The Coddling of the American Mind.” In it, the authors stated:

 

The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.

 

Almost a decade after the article was written, Texas now officially endorses LFT narratives – apparently having learned little from rebellious Texas colonists who boldly declared to tyrannical authority, “Come and take it!” My, how far this state has strayed.

 

Understandably, the balance between liberty and perceived harm is a delicate matter. After all, freedom isn’t safe. In the words of el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, “The price of freedom is death.” Addressing the fragility of equilibrium regarding liberty and safe spaces, one source opines:

 

The tensions around safe space will continue as part and parcel of the democratic values that institutions espouse. If higher education institutions want to continue to promote diversity and inclusivity, while also upholding the values of free speech and academic freedom, policy makers will have to continue navigating these conflicts.

 

Referencing similar diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) policy, another source states, “In 2023, Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 17 into law.” Senate Bill 17, upon which the law was based, reads as follows:

 

Texas hosts world class public institutions of higher education that are as diverse as the state itself. However, certain diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices are polarizing and work against the goal of inclusion. C.S.S.B. 17 prohibits public institutions of higher education from establishing or maintaining DEI offices, officers, employees, or contractors that perform the duties of a DEI office. The bill also prohibits requiring related training.

 

Almost one year following Governor Abbott’s approval of the law, he now appears to support DEI policy – as long as his actions offer special protections for Jewish people. One wonders whether or not his 2023 HFT stance would be more helpful for building grit than Governor Abbott’s current support of LFT.

 

At any rate, I will continue to challenge self-disturbing B-C narratives in order to promote HFT. For those who value the irrationality of an A-C perspective, fostering an LFT response, you are more than welcome to unhelpfully claim victimhood of this sort.

 

Thankfully, early Texas colonists aren’t alive to witness what is becoming of my state. What’s next, nanny state authorities requiring pornography websites to institute age-verification measures and display health warnings on their pages? Oh, wait…we’re already there.

 

Remember the Alamo!

 

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:

 

Abbott, G. [@GregAbbott_TX]. (2024, March 27). Antisemitism will not be tolerated in Texas. Today, I issued an Executive Order to fight the increase in acts of antisemitism at Texas colleges & universities. Texas stands with our Jewish students. We will ensure our college campuses are safe spaces for the Jewish community [Tweet]. X. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/GregAbbott_TX/status/1773045887440191773

AEI. (n.d.). Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Albert Ellis Institute. Retrieved from https://albertellis.org/rebt-cbt-therapy/

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Governor Greg Abbott. (2024, March 27). Executive Order no. GA-44. Governor of the State of Texas. Retrieved from https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/press/EO-GA-44_antisemitism_in_institutions_of_higher_ed_IMAGE_03-27-2024.pdf

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Kamali, S. (2021, April 5). Malcolm X: Why el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz matters. The Revealer. Retrieved from https://therevealer.org/malcolm-x-why-el-hajj-malik-el-shabazz-matters/

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