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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings


Updated: Nov 25, 2022

How disturbing!

In 2011, a meme was created that featured a man riding a bicycle and who crashed after placing a stick in the front wheel, symbolic of self-destructive (dysregulated) or self-sabotaging action. The simplicity of the image applies to many instances in which people exhibit self-disturbing behavior.

I imagine someone saying, “Deric, I’ve heard of self-destruction and self-sabotage but what is self-disturbance?” I’m glad you asked, imaginary person. Read on.

REBT and self-disturbance

When practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I encourage clients to consider the wisdom of Stoic philosopher Epictetus who stated, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

To demonstrate how this occurs, REBT uses the ABC Model. This allows one to dispute irrational beliefs which lead to self-disturbed consequences.

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)

(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—B-C connection. As a formula, think of it as follows: A+B=C÷D=E.

Conceptualizing self-disturbance this way, REBT techniques demonstrate how we upset ourselves. More importantly, this method teaches people how to stop disturbing themselves.

In the current blog entry, I won’t get into the nuances of how disputation works. If you would like more in-depth understanding about my approach to REBT disputing, I invite you to review blog entries listed under the Disputation portion of my blog.

How we disturb ourselves

Albert Ellis, creator of REBT, is noted as having stated, “There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.” In my blog entry entitled Should, Must, and Ought, I expand upon these self-disturbing demands.

So, what is self-disturbance? From an REBT perspective, the irrational, unhelpful, or unhealthy beliefs we tell ourselves cause the consequences we experience.

Yes, I’m drawing a direct line to not only highlight correlation; I submit that there is a causative effect between what we tell ourselves and how we subsequently feel. Think of it this way:

It is beCAUSE I tell myself disturbing narratives that leads to the EFFECT of uncomfortable feelings.

This cause and effect relationship is the B-C connection. See if you can identify the belief-related causal link in the following examples:

· “I placed a stick in my bicycle wheel, so I wound up falling off my bike. Now, my knee hurts.”

· “I told a person who doesn’t share my values that he should respect me, so he intentionally disrespected me. Now, I’m upset.”

· “I feel sick, because I ate too much chocolate cake and ice cream. Now I’m nauseous.”

· “I suspect that there was election meddling, something I believe mustn’t happen, and because my political candidate didn’t win, now I’m irate.

· “I drank too much alcohol last night, so now I’m hungover. My head hurts!”

· “I ought to do things perfectly, so when I make mistakes I feel awful.”

It isn’t uncommon for people to rationalize or justify their use of self-disturbing narratives (e.g., “I just want to perform well on tests, so that’s why I hold myself to an unreasonable standard.”). Do you, too, explain away your self-disturbance?

My question is how do these disturbing prescriptions of how the world, should, must, or ought to function serve you or others? Have you ever JUSTified your behavior in any of the following ways?

· “I’m hard on my children, because I just want them to have a better life than I did.”

· “I just want there to be no racism in the world, so I antagonize people I think are racist.”

· “I’m intolerant of mistakes from my employees, because I just want our team to perform well.”

· “I just can’t stand the thought of history repeating itself, so I’m taking action to prevent others from behaving in a manner with which I disagree.”

· “I go through my romantic partner’s phone, email, and social accounts; because I just want to make sure no cheating is occurring.”

· “I just want to promote change in society, so I’m actively combatting ideas I detest.”

Accepted as correct until proved otherwise, this reverse engineering of JUSTified self-disturbing behavior may seem rational. The logic may even follow:

Premise 1: People should never offend me, otherwise I will consider them threatening.

Premise 2: Philbert’s words offend me.

Conclusion: Therefore, Philbert is a threat.

As a result of this self-disturbing narrative, based largely on an impractical premise, you may reach an unreasonable conclusion. With this assumption, you may treat Philbert in a manner unbefitting his perceived offense.

Suppose Philbert has offended you by uttering syllables from his mouth with which you disagree. Unable to control his behavior, and by misapplying a demand instead of a desire, you now consider your longtime friend a threat to your existence.

Let’s try another example:

Premise 1: My partner must never lie to me, because distrust creates an intolerable relationship.

Premise 2: My partner, Wilhelmina, lied to me.

Conclusion: Consequently, I can’t stand to be with this untrustworthy person.

In this instance of self-disturbance, which is predicated on the virtually impossible notion that people don’t lie to one another, you reach a logical—though irrational—conclusion. Perhaps Wilhelmina lied concerning a detail about which she has completely forgotten.

She may not have intentionally deceived you, yet the determination is made nonetheless—she’s proven imperfect and violated your rigid and inflexible demand, and is thus unworthy of a relationship. Moreover, you lie to yourself about your own ability to tolerate distress.

Try as we may to JUSTify our irrational beliefs, our minds will believe the lies we tell it. And beCAUSE we lie to ourselves, the EFFECT could be something we may regret when we later come to our senses.

This is the essence of self-disturbance.


In the meme that reflects an individual who ultimately self-disturbs, it’s understandable how one may laugh at the implication. After all, who would willingly risk danger?

From an REBT perspective, the laughs may transform into lessons when we’re able to comprehend how often we disturb ourselves with irrational beliefs. However, these unhelpful and unhealthy narratives don’t have to throw us from a metaphorical bike.

There is a way to learn how physics work, just as there is a method for understanding how not to disturb ourselves or use nonsensical justification that reinforces our self-disturbing actions. So, again I ask, how does disturbing yourself serve you or others?

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, 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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