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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Rigid Terms of Service

Using Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I help clients challenge unhelpful and unhealthy beliefs such those of the should, must, or ought variety. For example:

· I should never be cheated on.

· Others must respect me.

· Life ought to be easy.

These statements can also occur in a different form, though using similar demands. For example:

· You have to understand me.

· Wilhelmina better not lie to me.

· Rupert’s gotta’ return my call.

Albert Ellis, creator of REBT, was said to have stated, “There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.” He also described these rigid beliefs as “musterbation” and “shoulding” on oneself.

I think it’s important to note that not always are these types of statements inappropriate. What matters is how one is impacted by adherence or attachment to these self-generated contractual terms.

Are your should, must, or ought statements simply guidelines to which others will hopefully follow—with flexibility, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness if not? Or, do demands upon yourself and others function as laws never to be violated—with extreme consequences if so?

Perhaps thinking of these self-proposed narratives as terms of service (TOS) may better illustrate my point. Though sometimes called “terms of use,” “services agreement,” or “terms and conditions,” let’s look at how three top tech companies approach TOS.

Apple’s policy states, “You also agree that you will not use these products for any purposes prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the development, design, manufacture, or production of nuclear, missile, or chemical or biological weapons.” (Wait, what?)

Google’s rules require, “If you don’t agree to the new terms, you should remove your content and stop using the services.”

Microsoft clearly advises, “By downloading or using the application, or attempting to do any of these, you accept these terms. If you do not accept them, you have no right to and must not download or use the application.”

These TOS policies are required for use of products and they unwaveringly express should, must, and ought terminology. Additionally, per one source, “The terms of service agreement can provide your business with a framework for terminating or restricting a user’s access when the agreed-upon contract has been violated.”

How does any of this relate to REBT?

When TOS policies are administered a person is given a precise description of terms (e.g., don’t make nuclear weapons with your iPhone). Informed consent to use a product allows you to choose whether or not you agree or disagree to use or stop using products and services.

We don’t always express our TOS when interacting with others. I may think someone should not violate my demands; yet, have I expressed this requirement to others?

Moreover, when my must statement has been issued, am I open to the possibility of the other person choosing to disagree or stop engaging with me? How about you? Are violations of your TOS policies—expressed or not—causing you distress?

People tend to think the answer is yes. You tell Artimisia she shouldn’t divulge your secret to anyone and when she does you consider the infringement worthy of anger.

In REBT, this is referred to as an A-C connection—an (A)ction-(C)onsequence process. However, REBT considers the wisdom of Epictetus—a Greek Stoic philosopher who stated, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

It isn’t that Artimisia transgressed against your TOS which leads to anger. Rather, you likely told yourself she should, must, ought not do so—and when you tell yourself she violated your rule, you disturb yourself into an angry disposition.

This is the result of a B-C connection—a (B)elief-(C)onsequence interplay. Ellis constructed the ABC Model to demonstrate how this process works.

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)

The ABC Model also uses (D)isputation of unhelpful beliefs in order to lead to more (E)ffective new beliefs. In the current blog entry, I won’t get into the nuances of how disputation works.

If you would like a more in-depth understanding about my approach to REBT, I invite you to review a blog entry I posted entitled Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). For now, let’s look at how a TOS perceived violation is framed:

(A) – You inform Bufford not to smoke cigarettes in your presence, though he does so anyway.

(B) – Your TOS is something like, “Bufford should respect my wishes, and because he doesn’t, Bufford doesn’t respect me. I can’t stand this motherfucker!”

(C) – As your TOS (rigid belief) is violated, you feel as though your head is on fire, your fists begin to tighten, sweat rolls down your forehead, and your heartrate becomes faster and more pronounced—all bodily sensations. You relate this experience to being angry—a “feeling” (emotion). You then slap Bufford’s cigarette out of his mouth and challenge him to mutual combat—behavior.

In the scenario, one may understand how unhelpful and unhealthy beliefs—TOS—act as catalysts for consequences. After all, it wasn’t that Bufford smoked in your presence which led to a consequence.

We may hope others will respect our wishes. Still, the reality of the matter is that there are approximately 7.96 billion people on the earth, virtually all with individual TOS.

It’s not that we all have to respect one another, because declaring so is nothing more than a TOS in and of itself. Rather, we can substitute rigid terms for those that better serve our goals.

Suppose you maintain a goal for less conflict, more flexibility, and to simply allow petty slights to occur. Notice, I didn’t say “to not allow petty slights to disturb you,” because I’m not promoting an A-C connection.

We can allow mild annoyances, relatively insignificant disappointments, and even perceived infractions of our desires to occur. I’m guessing you’ve been disappointed before and have built up resiliency for further missteps of others.

Unlike Apple, Google, or Microsoft—whereby you may not be able to interface with software without agreeing to the TOS—you can offer descriptions of what you want without prescribing how others must behave.

What do you think about an REBT approach to life? Could this technique benefit you?

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues 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.

I work closely with people by not only helping to dispute unhelpful beliefs, though by inviting my clients to consider healthier alternative ways of framing their experience. If this sounds like something in which you would be interested, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

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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