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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Stoically Existential

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

It’s relatively easy for me to highlight mental and behavioral health examples in rap. Rigid and extreme attitudes are commonly expressed through use of should, must, or ought statements within the musical genre.

For example, in Skyzoo’s song “Bodega Flowers,” Aaria’s melodic chorus states, “I want flowers, but I don’t wanna tell you I want flowers. ‘Cause then you just gon’ get me flowers, ‘cause I want flowers. But I want you to gimme flowers, ‘cause you wanna gimme flowers. I shouldn’t have to tell you how much I want flowers.”

The rigid demand in this example is fairly straightforward. It isn’t simply that one wants flowers—as a matter of describing a desire. Rather, the chorus prescribes what it is the artist wants a person to do.

Think of it this way:

Description tells a person what is. Example: I would like flowers.

Prescription tells an individual what should be. Example: You should give me flowers.

Figuratively speaking, in the song, Skyzoo should want to give Aaria flowers, which is prescriptive in nature. From a Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) perspective, I would dispute whether or not such a prescription is helpful or healthy.

For more information about descriptive desire and how people disturb themselves with prescriptively rigid demands, I invite you to read my blog entry entitled Desire and Disturbance.

For more information regarding Hume’s Law—illustrating how one “can’t deduce an ‘ought’ from an ‘is”—I encourage you to watch a short video entitled “The Is / Ought Problem.”

When drawing connections between rap and REBT, I typically address elements worthy of dispute. Instances similar to the Skyzoo and Aaria example are in no short supply.

Still, for the current blog entry, I want to address two REBT elements that warrant more attention. Albert Ellis, creator of REBT, is said to have been influenced by stoicism. Per another source, Ellis also considered existentialism during the formulation of his theory.

Perhaps oversimplifying matters a bit, think of these concepts as follows:

Stoicism incorporates wisdom from philosophers such as Epictetus, who stated, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Stoicism uses four virtues: Wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.

Put simply, stoicism is said to teach “the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions.” For more information, you may want to watch this short video entitled “Stoicism explained in 3 minutes.”

For me, existentialism is a little more complicated to synthesize. It is said to explore “the problem of human existence and centers on the subjective experience of thinking, feeling, and acting.”

Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once declared, “Laugh at the world’s foolishness, you will regret it; weep over it, you will regret that too; laugh at the world’s foolishness or weep over it, you will regret both.”

In this quote, the notion that we have a choice in how we respond to matters is what stands out to me. For more information, a relatively short video entitled “Existentialism: Crash course philosophy #16” may help.

REBT uses stoic and existentialist concepts to demonstrate how each of us is empowered in how we respond to adversity. As well, this form of therapy promotes unconditional self-acceptance, other-acceptance, and life-acceptance.

Rather than deconstructing a rap lyric, as I commonly do, I find that the following intro to emcee Reverie’s song “Old & Bitter”—from an album with her brother Louden entitled Satori–stands on its own. See if you can detect the stoic and existential influence in her verse:

“I see how easy it is to become bitter as life goes on. Life is really crazy, it’s hard. Everybody goes through unbelievable shit, and it’s up to you—you decide whether you’re going to be consumed by the evil or let your experiences—and the knowledge you gain from those mishaps—lead you to have a brighter perspective. Or, you can just drown in your fuckin’ sorrows, man, it’s up to you.” – Reverie

Reverie’s backstory, in some ways reminiscent of my own, led her down the path of advocacy for mental and behavioral health. Given the range of existential topics expressed in her music, and her stoic fortitude, Reverie receives a tip of my REBT hat.

As a psychotherapist, and hip hop head from the old school, 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.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to serve 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.

If my approach to REBT sounds like something in which you may be interested, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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