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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

The Four Horsemen

As a child, my dad practiced the religious faith of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sharing information in the form of written and illustrative works with me, I enjoyed the vivid imagery of biblical-themed content.

In particular, I was captivated by material representing the books of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation. One story that remained in my mind was that of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse described in Revelation 6. Addressing these figures, one source states:

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are a group of mythical riders described in Chapter 6, verses 1-8 in the Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse of John, the last book of the New Testament. The Horsemen each ride on a colored horse—white, red, black, and pale (green)—and represent various dramatic qualities. Regarding three of the Horsemen, there is a basic consensus as to their meaning, with red symbolizing war, black symbolizing famine, and pale representing death and disease. The rider of the white horse is more controversial. Some consider him to represent Christ, while others believe he symbolizes the Antichrist.

Although there remains some dispute about the rider upon the white horse, what remains clear is that the riders represent an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which G-d destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom. The story symbolizes the end of life as it’s currently known.

I recall finding the story both frightening and fascinating when required to study from a little blue book, The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, and other resources when I was young. Leaving behind my religious teachings later in adulthood, I was introduced to the Four Horsemen of professional wrestling.

Though I wasn’t a fan of Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, and Tully Blanchard—collectively known as the Four Horsemen—three of my Marine Corps buddies were devoted fans. Because we remained close to one another in Okinawa, Japan, we referred to ourselves by the wrestling moniker.

Unlike the biblical characterization of riders who bring about universal change, at worst, my friends and I handed out traffic citations, arrested military personnel and their dependent family members, and contributed to a fair amount of hate and discontent as military police patrolmen.

Much later in life, after having earned a graduate degree in counseling, I discovered yet another attribution concerning the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse when learning about the Gottman Method for working with couples.

From this perspective, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling are destructive riders upon horses. Noteworthy, contempt is said to be the worst of the horsemen and serves as the number one predictor of divorce.

Presently, I think about how the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse apply to the practice of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Though not a biblically-referenced concept attributed to this psychotherapeutic framework, there are four elements of self-disturbance which may benefit the reader’s knowledgebase.

To understand these unhelpful riders, it may be useful to briefly address the ABC Model:

Activating event – What occurred

Belief about the event – What you told yourself about (A) that resulted in (C)

Consequence of one’s belief about the event – What you felt (emotion or bodily sensation) about what happened and what you did (behavior)

Disputation of the self-disturbing belief about the event – How you might challenge (D) what you told yourself (B) and which led to (C)

Effective new belief to replace the self-disturbing belief – What effective new conclusion you can tell yourself rather than using unhelpful or unhealthy narratives (B)

REBT posits that activating events don’t result in unpleasant responses, forming an action-consequence connection. Instead, it’s our unproductive assumptions which lead to unpleasant outcomes, creating a belief-consequence connection.

According to one source:

Within REBT activating events can generate up to four core irrational beliefs. These are demandingness, awfulising, frustration intolerance, and global evaluations. Demandingness is an absolute expectation of events or individual behaviours (e.g. the beliefs that events absolutely must be congruent with one’s expectations), awfulising is the extreme exaggeration of the negative consequences of a situation (e.g. it is terrible, even catastrophic that events do not live up to expectations), frustration intolerance rejects beliefs of coping ability (e.g. the belief that one cannot tolerate or survive a certain event), and global evaluation beliefs imply that humans and complex life events can be rated or judged at solely good or exclusively bad (e.g. that a person or the world is wholly bad in the face of expectations not being met).

Whereas contempt is the most destructive rider within the Gottman Method, I tend to write the most about demandingness. Use of statements such as should, must, or ought are common with this sort of rigidity.

To illustrate each of the horsemen pertaining to irrational beliefs, consider the following:

Demandingness – “I must perform perfectly!”

Awfulizing – “It would be awful if I didn’t perform perfectly.”

Frustration tolerance – “I can’t stand not performing perfectly!”

Global evaluations – “Life isn’t worth living if I can’t perform perfectly.”

Each of these self-disturbing riders is unhelpful enough on their own. Still, it isn’t uncommon for people to combine them. Consider the following personally-apocalyptic irrational beliefs trampling through your mind:

“I must perform perfectly, because it would be awful if I didn’t! Why even try if I can’t achieve perfection? I can’t stand making mistakes! In fact, life isn’t worth living if I can’t perform perfectly!”

Keep in mind that the activating event isn’t want results in detrimental consequences such as unpleasant emotions (e.g., sorrow), uncomfortable bodily sensations (e.g., tightness in the chest), or unproductive behavior (e.g., giving up without even attempting to accomplish a task).

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as they pertain to irrational belief, are what cause these consequences. Therefore, a helpful strategy is to dispute these chaotic riders in order to achieve a preferred outcome that better serves your interests and goals.

Likewise, it may be advantageous to practice unconditional acceptance for those matters in life over which we have no control and little influence. Also, it’s worth knowing that this isn’t inevitably an easy or comfortable process.

REBT practitioners often promote this psychotherapeutic technique as one that helps you get better, not necessarily feel better. Still, if you’re willing to take personal ownership in regards to your reactions to activating events, this psychotherapeutic technique can be incredibly rewarding.

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—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, 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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