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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Shame Attacking

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

**Carrie spoiler alert**


In the 1976 film Carrie, “Carrie White, who lives with her fanatically religious and unstable mother Margaret,” is told by her mother, “They’re all going to laugh at you,” when preparing to attend a prom date. As it turns out, Carrie’s mom was right, because the bullied adolescent was mercilessly mocked at prom.

During an infamous horror scene, as Carrie’s peers laughed at the teen when pig blood was poured on her, the voice of Carrie’s mom could be heard repeatedly saying, “They’re all going to laugh at you.” Laughter quickly turned into torturous screams as Carrie’s classmates were then burned alive as a result of her supernatural powers.

The laughter of others perceivably led to Carrie’s drastic response, or so one is led to believe. Practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I suspect otherwise.

Carrie Forgot Her ABCs

REBT uses the ABC Model to dispute irrational beliefs with which we disturb ourselves. Understanding the ABC formula of REBT is necessary to practice this technique.

(A)ction – The (A)ction that occurred

(B)elief – What you told yourself about the (A)ction that resulted in a (C)onsequence

(C)onsequence – What you felt (emotion or bodily sensation) about what happened and what you did (resulting behavior)

(D)isputation – How you challenge what you told yourself (Belief) about the (A)ction

(E)ffective new belief – What new effective belief (EB) you can tell yourself about the (A)ction—one that may better serve your interests or goals

People frequently maintain that an action (A) leads to a consequence (C). Classmates laughing as Carrie stands drenched in pig blood (A) is said to lead to anger (C). However, REBT maintains that rather than an A-C connection we disturb ourselves with beliefs (B). This forms a B-C connection.

In this case, Carrie’s classmates laugh as she stands covered in pig blood (A) and Carrie thinks about what her mom stated, “They’re all going to laugh at you.” Still, this surface-level thought isn’t enough to evoke a violent response fueled by anger.

It is therefore worth exploring what underlying narrative Carrie likely used that could elicit such a hostile reaction. In a scene when Carrie’s mom expressed concern for others potentially laughing at her daughter, Carrie twice used her superpower against her mom as the classic rink-rink sound effect could be heard—indicating the formation of growing tension.

One may surmise that during that time Carrie likely said something to herself like, “My mother shouldn’t be this concerned, and because she’s becoming ever controlling, I don’t think I can stand this anymore.” This belief highlights two REBT elements.

First, rigid and extreme attitudes are often fueled by should, must, or ought statements. Of these, 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.”

Second, REBT highlights how low frustration tolerance (LFT) can enhance the severity of self-disturbance. When telling oneself, “I can’t stand it,” which is an LFT narrative, one may actually believe the message—that whatever it is one supposedly can’t stand is literally intolerable.

During the prom scene, Carrie possibly told herself something along the lines of, “People mustn’t laugh at me, as it harkens back to the loss of control I had earlier in the evening with my mom, and I don’t think I can stand it,” (B) and as a result of this unhelpful belief she disturbs herself into an angry disposition (C).

Therefore, it isn’t that Carrie stood covered in pig blood (A) that led to anger (C). Rather, what Carrie told herself (B) about the event (A) led to the emotional disturbance (C) and behavior that resulted in the homicide of her classmates (C).

Had Carrie remembered her ABCs, she likely could have disputed (D) her irrational beliefs (B), which may have resulted in a healthier, more helpful effective belief (EB). Perhaps the outcome of Carrie’s REBT practice would have been preferable to rink-rink action. Who knows?

Shame Attacking

When working with clients, I find it worthy to differentiate guilt from shame. Guilt (from inside) is something I take credit for, as shame (from outside) is something others assign credit for.

Regarding shame and REBT, one source states, “[S]hame attack assignments are valuable as they challenge our desire to conform to social standards, as well as our need for the approval of others.” Per a separate source:

Shame attacking exercises are behavioral exposure assignments that have people perform behaviors that they fear or experience shame about doing. Perhaps the title shame attack is a misnomer, as people often experience social anxiety about doing these behaviors. The exercise has three goals. First and most important, is to provide experiences that proves that you can act against your emotions, survive the discomfort, and behave as you planned despite unhealthy negative emotions. Second, it convinces you that even if people dislike or disapprove of you for your behavior, it is not awful and you can stand their disapproval. Third and least important, it teaches us that most people do not even notice what we do, and we exaggerate the disapproval and reject we expect.

Whether due to an effect such as the imaginary audience—a “belief that people around are eagerly watching or listening” to our every move or word—or an actual audience, as was the case with Carrie, it is our perception of what others think with which we disturb ourselves. Behavior of the audience is the (A)ction and our (B)elief about the audience is what leads to a (C)onsequence.

REBT psychotherapists encourage clients to practice unconditional self-acceptance. Suppose the crowd is actually laughing at you. Are you able to tolerate the experience, or do you allow LFT and self-disturbing beliefs to produce shame, fear, anger, and so on?

As one REBT practitioner states, “Our discussions will prepare you for this discomfort but sooner or later you have to do the uncomfortable behaviors and keep doing them to maintain your therapeutic gains.” This is where use of homework is paramount.

I’ve found a resource with many shame attacking exercises which I consider to be helpful and perhaps you will, too. Feeling Good: The website of Dr. David Burns lists 100 shame attacking exercise examples which include:

· Sing loudly and sincerely on a busy street corner

· Wear really silly clothes

· Go to bookstore and ask if they have any books on the social impact of farting

· Say “Hello” to somebody in a different language

· Yawn loudly while walking past people

· Risking being rejected when you make a request from another person

The last example reminds me of a story about Ellis that if done in the current era may lead to raiding, doxing, mobbing, brigading, review-bombing, swatting, canceling, or some other form of group bullying, likely because unchecked irrational beliefs and LFT of petulant activists results in damaging reputations and property, much as Carrie burned an auditorium of her fellow students. Nothing like a fiery but mostly peaceful protest, amirite?

In his young adulthood, Ellis was said to have been “painfully shy around women and devised a program to change his behavior.” As one source states, “He went to Bronx Botanical Garden every day that month, and whenever he saw a woman sitting alone on a park bench, he would sit next to her, which he wouldn't dare do before. He gave himself one minute to talk to her, calming his fears by saying silently to himself, ‘If I die, I die. Screw it, so I die.” Per a separate source:

Dr. Ellis approached 130 women that summer! About 30 of them walked away at contact! He spoke in varied lengths to the remaining 100 about a number of diverse topics. Of the ones he spoke to, only one agreed to go out with him and she never showed up to their date! However, Dr. Ellis was freed from his crippling social anxiety. He experienced his feared consequence firsthand, which enabled him to realize that it wasn’t really awful. In fact, this experiment resulted in some very enjoyable conversations!

Though Ellis used his self-negotiated homework assignment to inform the clinical modality that eventually became REBT—helping people to conquer a so-called need for love—I can imagine some people overlooking his contributions and retrospectively judging him according to standards of today.

This sort of historical demonization is currently popular. At any rate, Ellis was said to have “fought strongly for equal rights for women,” and I find value in shame attacking exercises that address real issues.

I’m reminded of a shame attacking exercise I conducted before I ever knew what REBT was. Newly employed in an undercover asset protection role, I stood out like a pig blood-covered adolescent on prom night.

Seeking guidance from a fellow loss prevention associate—I’ll call her Ximena—I was informed of how she largely went undetected by members of the general population. Ximena told me to let go of my military past behaviorisms, “loosen up a bit,” and every once in a while do something unexpected.

I shadowed Ximena from a distance and observed as she intentionally got too close to perpetrators, demonstrating her unexpected technique. Sometimes she would pick her nose; sometimes she would pick a wedgie.

Whatever she had to do which would signal to the other person, “I don’t work here,” was how Ximena mastered her craft. It wasn’t the imaginary or actual audience (A) that previously kept me from performing these socially unacceptable techniques.

Rather, it’s what I told myself about how others may have perceived me (B) that led to embarrassment (C). Ximena taught me how to shame attack. With more exposure to what I thought would be shameful situations, the better I became at blending in.

Who cared if they were all going to laugh at me? I’d rather pick a wedgie and be thought uncouth than to be singled out as a “nark,” which is precisely what Jesse James called members of my team when Ximena and I had an opportunity to meet him:


Understanding that even if people laugh at you, you can tolerate the event may serve as an effective belief (EB). Sure, it may be more comfortable if people don’t make fun of you, though if or when they do you won’t necessarily have to go into full rink-rink mode and burn them where they stand.

Likewise, using this technique, you can stop allowing others the power to shame you. Or, as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz once stated about those who attempted to shame him for his criminal past, “To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace. I formerly was a criminal. I formerly was in prison. I’m not ashamed of that. You never can use that over my head. He’s using the wrong stick. I don’t feel that stick.” (Starting at around minute 14:47)

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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