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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Tolerating Tomfoolery

A number of years ago, before I ever heard of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I had a friend who I’ll refer to as “Bosco.” Working closely with one another in the field of nuclear security and spending a significant amount of leisurely time together, Bosco came to know me fairly well.

Call it what you will, high-strung, autistic, obsessive compulsive, or anxious—all labels used for me by coworkers at the security site—my behavior was considered to be outside the ordinary standards of conduct. This earned me the nickname “Cool Breeze” by one security guard, no doubt using antiphrasis—saying the opposite of what is actually meant.

Yet another guard referred to me as “Twist Off,” which unfortunately caught on with other security personnel. Bosco seemed to enjoy highlighting his observation of my reactive behavior through engagement of tomfoolery—foolish or silly behavior—because I would routinely twist off in relation to him.

In the above-featured photo, the living room of my apartment appears uncluttered and orderly. My living arrangement wasn’t modified to look that way all for the sake of a picture, because I kept my residence in pristine condition.

The DVDs were sorted alphabetically, military challenge coins were organized according to geographic location coinciding with my time in service, my remote controls were arranged in a particular manner, and there was rarely any trace of dust present on my furniture.

From time to time during or after Bosco’s visits to my home, I would notice various items which were out of place. A DVD beginning with the letter ‘E’ would protrude from the section with films starting with the letter ‘L.’ As well, the remote control order would be swapped.

Coffee table coasters may be inverted, challenge coins were turned upside down, and candles would be mysteriously turned a quarter in either direct from their original orientation. The rare time when I was unable to detect these changes while Bosco was still present served as a distinctive source of delight for Bosco.

Particularly, my friend seemed to relish in how upset I would become each time my items were moved. One may think that after the first dozen times or so the altered setting of my home would be anticipated and expected, thus leading to less distress.

However, back then, I didn’t know about what was truly causing my emotional and behavioral reaction. I mistakenly subscribed to the Action-Consequence (A-C) connection, thinking that some event occurred and as a result I would twist off—overreact in an emotional or behavioral manner.

I was wrong. To disprove the supposed causation narrative supported by an A-C connection, consider that I didn’t become upset until I learned of Bosco’s tomfoolery after the fact.

It wasn’t Bosco swapping out remotes that upset me, because I was largely unaware of when he was rearranging items in my home. That rules out the action portion of the equation, because Bosco’s behavior didn’t cause my reaction.

I suppose a discerning reader may object by saying, “Deric, the action in this case is you seeing the aftermath of Bosco’s tomfoolery.” Very well, let’s examine this hypothesis. Is it true that my observation of the aftereffects from Bosco’s hand caused me to react in a particular way?

No. Even if Bosco got up in the middle of a visit, walked over to my DVDs, and began rearranging the movies—all while I watched him doing it, such an event would not serve as the cause of my consequence.

Rather, my attitude about Bosco’s behavior would better explain my reaction. When telling myself some rigid demand like Bosco shouldn’t, mustn’t, or oughtn’t to alter the orderliness of my home, I formed a Belief-Consequence (B-C) connection.

Because my inflexible prescription about how Bosco must behave when visiting my home was violated, I experienced an unpleasant emotional and behavioral reaction. Using this REBT perspective, I could then take personal ownership of my response and improve my outcome.

At this point, I imagine the aforementioned perceptive reader arguing, “Well, Bosco really should’ve obeyed the rules of your home, because that would’ve been the decent thing to do. I mean, what else do you expect—to let anyone act however they want when visiting you? Be realistic!”

While it’s true that I may prefer for houseguests to honor the rules of my home, they aren’t contractually bound to do so. If some event takes place that I think is genuinely concerning, I can merely request that the person leave my residence.

In the event someone refuses to leave upon my request, there are legal steps I could take thereafter. However, none of these drastic measures applied to Bosco’s tomfoolery.

What my friend relished in was the fact that when he performed an action I responded through use of a B-C connection. As such, I voluntarily submitted control to Bosco and he could easily invoke the process of my own self-disturbance.

Suppose I never reacted to Bosco’s tomfoolery, thus depriving him of the satisfaction related to seeing me twist off. Presume I actually behaved in a manner worthy of a sincere nickname, “Cool Breeze.”

I didn’t have to like or love my friend’s behavior. All the same, if I learned to tolerate and accept the tomfoolery, I likely would’ve enjoyed life within my own head and body, at home, when with company, at work, and in general.

Bosco could’ve rearranged every DVD, resorted challenge coins, and scattered remote controls, all while I changed my belief and didn’t suffer an uncomfortable consequence. How much enjoyment would Bosco have experienced if his behavior didn’t have the intended effect on me?

Alas, I can’t go back in time and re-experience the days when I lived in my old apartment. What I can do is choose to learn from the past, apply the lesson in this moment, and get better moving forward.

Whether or not you will do the same is up to you. You have options. What will you do? Will you pretend as though the A-C connection is causing you to be victimized?

Will you hold others accountable for the beliefs within your mind? Will you earn a detrimental nickname from others when they routinely witness how easily or quickly you upset yourself when events unfold which are out of your control? You have options.

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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