Updated: Sep 21
As a matter of demonstration—though not to provide therapy within the limits of this blog entry—consider imaginal exposure. Using this technique, one can imagine a potentially stressful situation and continue working though it until “you really don’t feel much anxiety anymore.”
Sound simple enough? Now, imagine someone mispronouncing your name. To work up the stress necessary to perform a meaningful experience, really do it up.
For instance, my name is Deric. People misspell it as Derick, Derek, Derrick, etc. It’s been pronounced as Der-ick, D’rick, Dehr-rick, and so forth and so on.
I’ve lived long enough, experienced a wide range of events, and have practiced acceptance to the point whereby I understand that others make mistakes. I, too, make my fair share of errors. Such is the way of life.
How has your name been misspelled? Has it been mispronounced? How might you react to these mistakes?
Does mispronunciation of your name lead you to correct others, take to social media and call out people for their imperfection, or worse—pettily post phonetic pronunciation of perfectly proclaimed preference (e.g., My name is Deric [Deh-ruhk])?
Imagine being that petty.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” or so I’m told Juliet pondered.
Still, there are people within the world who choose to disturb themselves with rigid demands and extreme beliefs regarding such trivial matters. For the sake of discussion, I present the case of petty Betty.
Betty maintains the irrational belief that mispronouncing her name is a form of racism. With this flawed heuristic, Betty demands that others not mispronounce her name, because she considers such behavior to be a microaggression.
Moreover, Betty uses her extreme perspective to conclude that moral relativism is justified—the idea that a reasonable answer to a microaggression is to respond with a macroaggression—so she may use physical action when verbal expression is perceived as being violent.
Betty is petty af.
Practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I use disputation with clients in order to challenge flawed logic, assess the utility of rigid demands, and examine flexible alternatives to extreme beliefs. This is a more active measure than an imaginal exposure exercise.
Questioning these processes isn’t a common experience for a number of people with whom I work. Therefore, this skill is taught in-session and practiced in the everyday lives of my clients.
REBT uses the ABC Model to demonstrate how it isn’t the fact that things happen to us which leads to being upset, sad, fearful, or other forms of discomfort. Rather, it’s what we tell ourselves about these events which leads to self-disturbance.
This model is constructed 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—this creates a B-C connection. Though not always, these beliefs tend to manifest as should, must, or ought statements.
Suppose Betty tells herself, “Others must pronounce my name correctly, because mispronunciation is akin to violence and erasure of my identity, and I couldn’t stand it if others disrespected me in such a manner.”
The issues related to Betty’s self-narrative are as follows:
1) When Betty states to herself, “Others must pronounce my name correctly,” she has established a prescription of the world rather than simply describing what she desires.
Betty’s rigid must statement isn’t one others must obey. She isn’t a totalitarian ruler of the universe. Sure, Betty may prefer that others pronounce her name as she wishes, though no one is obligated to fulfil this desire.
2) When Betty convinces herself that “mispronunciation is akin to violence and erasure of my identity,” she’s established an extreme belief.
Is it true that mispronouncing a word equates to violence? If I say po-tay-toe and you say po-tah-toe, do I have a moral imperative to punch you in the face? Let’s call the whole thing off!
Or, we can approach this matter as rational human beings and admit that syllables from one’s mouth do not equate to violence, though some people may suggest otherwise. Likewise, I cannot Thanos a person simply by uttering a name improperly.
Rather than in issue #1—where Betty assumes the role of a deity-like figure—here in issue #2, it’s as though Betty bestows godlike power to others. She convinces herself that people can erase her existence by calling her Bay-tee rather than Beh-tee. Such is not the case.
3) When Betty reasons, “I couldn’t stand it if others disrespected me in such a manner,” she’s used low frustration tolerance (LFT).
Simplified, LFT is said to occur when “we avoid our problems instead of facing them.” Are you familiar with sayings such as, “I can’t stand it,” “I can’t even,” or, “I literally cannot,” in relation to a person simply not wanting to deal with an issue? That’s LFT.
Betty has successfully convinced herself that if others do not obey her commands related to perceived disrespect, she will be devastated—perhaps beyond repair. The narratives we tell ourselves are often those we believe.
Rather, Betty could tell herself that this isn’t the first time her name has been mispronounced, nor is it likely to be the last. If she’s historically been able to endure mild annoyances, she probably can tolerate similar name mispronunciations in the future.
Of course, as a self-determined and autonomous human being, Betty can simply choose to disturb herself. If she chooses to do so, she’s not a victim of circumstance—Betty is volunteering for that unhelpful or unhealthy role.
Can you think of other examples of petty Betty behavior? I can.
· Demanding others change sport mascots, because you disagree with a particular representation
· Prescribing to others the pronouns they must use for you
· Believing you’re entitled to preferential treatment on the basis of an immutable characteristic
· Expecting others to excuse your poor behavior, due to a physiological or psychological condition
· Expecting an entire culture to change, because you substitute an ‘X’ in place of gender-specific terms
· Canceling a popular author because she doesn’t affirm your ideological perspective
· Rewriting the history of the United States to fit a biased narrative that places all people of a particular race or ethnicity as villains, largely lacking context
· Putting forth a long march through the institutions agenda as a means of subverting the status quo with which you disagree
· Castigating an entire swath of people within society who critically analyze authoritarian practices of government entities, only to find out a year later that those critical analyses weren’t baseless
· Labeling a social media account as stochastic terrorism, because the profile simply shows how radical opinions of some people are
· Demanding to speak with a manager, because someone messed up your order at a restaurant
People choose to be petty every single day. Are you tired of being petty like Betty?
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how irrational beliefs impact your life in an unhelpful way, 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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