• Deric Hollings

What a Pity


I once knew a person, whom I’ll refer to as Rosco, who owned an American Pit Bull Terroir—commonly referred to as a “pit bull” or colloquially known as a “pity” or “pitty” by some. As far as Rosco was concerned, his pity was part of the family.

To many others, this breed of animal is largely responsible for a disproportionate number of violent attacks on other animals and humans. Pitties are commonly blamed for their behavior, rather than defaulting to the merits of a nature vs. nurture debate.

Personally, I don’t have a dog in this discussion. I come from an ignorance-informed perspective on this matter.

I’ve never owned a pity, don’t foresee ever desiring to do so, and I remain agnostic in regards to the ongoing debate as to whether or not these animals are fit for domestication. Who knows?

Even Rosco, with his subjective views related to this topic, couldn’t speak on behalf of all pit bull owners. Nonetheless, I observed the environment in which Rosco’s animal was raised and the doggo was treated with compassion.

Moreover, Rosco couldn’t possibly serve as the voice for all other pity owners, because there are far too many unknown variables for him to possibly know when it comes to whether or not these puppers are a threat to the community.

Perhaps there is no way of accurately analyzing the matter with any meaningful validity or reliability. Still, that doesn’t stop others from attempting to do so. There are some people—perhaps due to fear, disgust, or anger—who loathe pitties.

It doesn’t matter what statistical data is presented that may suggest other common household animals also pose danger, because a segment of the United States (U.S.) population generalizes, labels, and bases their actions off of an emotively-based forgone conclusion—pit bulls = bad.

Perhaps the premise employed by some people is flawed. Using a logical approach to this topic, I suspect the notion looks something like the following inference:

Premise 1: If pit bulls are dangerous, we must limit availability to them.

Premise 2: Some U.S. states limit availability to pitties.

Conclusion: Pit bulls are dangerous.

Still, there may be another factor at play, known as myside bias—a tendency to evaluate or generate evidence and test this information in a manner that supports one’s own opinions. This may be understood as a subclass of confirmation bias.

An example of myside bias would occur with a polling question that asks participants, “Given the dangers of pit bull ownership, do you think they should be outlawed?” The predetermined answer is implied in the question.

As well, another factor may be at play. The availability heuristic—an effect that operates on the notion that if something can be recalled, it must be important, or at least more important than alternative ideas or opinions.

An example of how this heuristic works is when media sources focus heavily on pit bull attacks while neglecting to demonstrate how dangerous pets such as German Shepherds, reptiles, and primates are said to be. A person may reasonably conclude—based on available, though skewed data—that pitties are a public menace.

So, what does Rosco and his doggeroni have to do with psychotherapy?

When practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I use disputation with clients in order to challenge flawed logic, assess myside bias, and examine the usefulness of one’s availably heuristic.

Questioning these processes isn’t a common experience for a number of people with whom I work. Therefore, this skill is taught in-session and practiced in the everyday lives of my clients.

REBT uses the ABC Model to demonstrate how it isn’t the fact that things happen to us which leads to being upset, sad, fearful, or other forms of discomfort. Rather, it’s what we tell ourselves about these events which leads to self-disturbance.

This model is constructed 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)

Suppose Rosco told me, “I can’t stand these anti-pity people, because my dog never hurt anyone, and they better not come for my pity.” If I saw Rosco as a client, I would assist him at arriving to what is known as the critical (A)—discovering what about the action he considers most disturbing.

Maybe Rosco tells me, “I’ve watched all these media sources talking about how dangerous pit bulls are and I strongly disagree.” This serves as the (A)ction in the ABC Model.

Not always are clients readily able to identify what (B)elief causes unpleasant, unhealthy, or unhelpful emotions, bodily sensations, or a ruminating thought cycle that leads to a host of additional A-B-C events.

Therefore, I find it helpful to assist people with identifying what they think the outcome of an (A)ction is before discussing these (C)onsequences. This is akin to an A-C-B process.

Once my clients are familiar with how this REBT technique works, they are able to properly arrange the steps. The A-B-C formula may then be used outside of sessions.

Rosco tells me that when watching media coverage on the dangers of pitties, he feels tightness in his chest, his heartbeat begins pounding, and his head becomes hot. This is an accurate use of feelings-based language from a sensory aspect.

Rosco further tells me he feels angry and afraid, which is proper use of feelings-based terminology regarding emotions. However, if Rosco said, “I feel like these people just don’t understand,” that’s a thought and not a feeling.

With my approach to REBT, words matter. Therefore, I encourage my clients not to misuse “feel,” “feeling,” or others sensory- and emotion-related terms.

Rosco concludes that the (C)onsequences he experiences are impacting his chest, heartrate, and head, as well as causing fear and anger. This is generally how those unfamiliar with REBT think life works.

An (A)ction occurs and a (C)onsequence results, forming an A-C connection. Rather than using this flawed dynamic, which doesn’t lead to empowerment, allow us exercise ownership over that which we may control—ourselves.

Using REBT, clients are encouraged to consider how their (B)eliefs play a role in the event chain. Think of this chain as (A)ction plus (B)elief equals (C)onsequence: A+B=C.

After asking clarification questions, Rosco concludes of his (B)eliefs about the (A)ction, “Others must not cause me distress, and if they do, I don’t think I can bear it.” There are three key points worth identifying in Rosco’s admission:

1) When Rosco tells himself others must not cause him distress, he’s using a rigid should, must, or ought statement that others may not know Rosco has prescribed for the world to obey.

2) When Rosco tells himself, “I don’t think I can bear it,” he’s exercising an extreme form of low frustration tolerance (LFT). Since the words we use matter, Rosco is telling himself he’s literally incapable of tolerating a violation to his demanding prescription of the world (i.e., “Others must not cause me distress.”).

3) Rosco admits to himself that there is little-to-no room for an exception to his prescriptive rule (i.e., “[…] and if they do […]”), which suggests that Rosco has exercised a foregone conclusion. He anticipates violation of his rigid and extreme beliefs, and as a result disturbs himself.

Having gathered information about what is truly causing Rosco discomfort, the event chain may now be disrupted. This is done by (D)isputing the irrational (B)elief that causes an unpleasant (C)onsequence.

It’s important to understand that when using REBT, we do not (D)ispute the (A)ction, because these are events, occurrences, and experiences that happen and which are often out of our control.

For more information about how little control we actually have in life, I invite you to read my blog post entitled Circle of Concern.

Also worth noting, we do not (D)ispute the (C)onsequence, because it wouldn’t prove helpful to challenge this element of the event chain. Can you imagine someone asking, “Is it true that you feel tightness in your chest?”

Therefore, (D)isputation of Rosco’s self-disturbing (B)elief system is in order. This is the event chain point of focus. For the current blog post, I won’t demonstrate how (D)isputation works.

For more information about how I approach (D)isputing, I invite you to read a blog post I wrote entitled Disturbing Democracy.

Through (D)isputation, a person may arrive at an (E)ffective new belief. As a formula, think of it as follows: A+B=C÷D=E.

This healthier, perhaps more helpful, belief can then be substituted into the event chain. The objective is to produce an outcome that better serves one’s goals.

For instance, Rosco may say that rather than disturbing himself into a fearful and angry disposition, he’d rather experience compassionate sorrow for the distress of others. This is the definition of having pity for someone—not the kind of pity that will greet you at the door when you arrive home.

As a formula, think of an REBT goal as follows: A+B=C÷D=E < A+E=C. In Rosco’s case, suppose his A-B-C process results in the following preferred event chain:

(A) – Rosco watches multiple media sources talking about how dangerous pit bulls are.

(E) – He tells himself, “While I’d prefer that people didn’t demonize my dog, the world doesn’t have to obey my wishes. I wish more people were better informed about pit bulls, and yet, it isn’t my responsibility to educate them. I guess some people deserve pity for hatin’ on pitties.”

(C) – Rosco is able to shrug off ignorance related to the opinions of others. He no longer feels tightness in his chest, a pounding heartbeat, or a hot head. Likewise, Rosco isn’t afraid or angry. Rather, his ability to pity others results in Rosco experiencing a healthier, helpful disposition.

I have little doubt someone may read this blog entry and disagree. After all, why shouldn’t they?

I’m not advocating for mythical safe spaces, rigidly demanding that others adhere to my standards of social change, or declaring that an entire swath of one group is bad, wrong, evil, or otherwise.

What I’ve outlined herein relates to personal responsibility and accountability, self-focus, Stoicism, and acceptance. These aren’t necessarily popular traits among some people within the sociopolitical landscape—which sometimes appears more as a hellscape—at the moment.

It’s not always easy to look at ourselves and ask, “How might I be causing my own discomfort?” or, “What role do I play in how I feel?” Still, for those willing and able to employ use of this REBT technique, you won’t have to contribute to your own suffering.

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

Photo credit, fair use


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