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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Why is this Tiger Here?


According to one source, “The number of people killed in tiger attacks crossed the 100 mark in 2022, a significant increase compared to the previous years. Close to 500 people lost their lives in tiger attacks between 2014 & 2022.” Without villainizing the animal, it’s rational to admit that tigers are capable of killing people.


Likewise, one source reports, “There are more tigers in the state of Texas than in the wild.” Although I’m not suggesting that tiger-related deaths in Texas are of significant concern, I suggest that it’s not impossible for a tiger to kill a person in my home state.


Given this context, I invite you to consider the following thought experiment:


Imagine you’re out for a walk in a Texas park and you observe something out of the ordinary. Approximately 100 yards from you, you see a tiger. The animal has a fixed gaze and is looking directly at you. Cautiously, it begins advancing toward you. No one else is in the area and you’re nowhere near your vehicle. Now, the animal is 90 yards from you. It suddenly begins increasing its pace. It’s 80 yards from you. It lets out a bloodcurdling roar and begins sprinting. You have two legs, it has four. You’re not adapted to perform tiger-evading maneuvers; it’s evolved to hunt prey like you. Now, what do you imagine is going through your mind? Do you ask yourself, “Why is this tiger here?” It’s 60 yards from you. Perhaps you ask, “Where did this tiger come from? It’s now 40 yards from you. What do you do?


Each time I’ve presented this scenario to clients, people usual laugh or baulk. Why would a psychotherapist ask such a preposterous series of questions in regard to an unlikely scenario?


I typical use this imaginal exposure technique with clients who insist on exploring – and even with those who demand to know – why undesirable events have occurred. Using irrational beliefs, they disturb themselves into unpleasant emotional states. According to one source:


Imaginal exposure involves the repeated recitation of anxiety-provoking thoughts, images, or narratives. Through a process of habituation or inhibitory learning, the association between the thoughts and anxiety is thought to diminish resulting in decreased anxiety symptoms.


Although I don’t repeatedly introduce the tiger scenario as a means to evoke extinction (fading of non-reinforced conditioned response over time), I use this helpful tool with intention for clients to consider whether or not the quest to know the often unknowable is of service to their psychotherapeutic interests and goals.


Why did she abuse me as a child? Why did he cheat on me? Why did that person cut me off on the highway? Why doesn’t my boss respect me? Why are people engaged in war overseas? Why do we die when we aren’t ready to go? All the while, a tiger is closing in.


REBT theory uses the ABC model to illustrate how when Activating events (“Actions”) occur and people maintain irrational Beliefs about the events, these unhelpful assumptions – and not the actual occurrences – are what create unpleasant cognitive, emotive, bodily sensation, and behavioral Consequences.


When searching for answers which one may never receive – or which if answered, the responses may never justify undesirable events – self-disturbing beliefs often form. For instance, a person may unproductively believe, “That never should’ve happened to me, so why didn’t someone prevent it from occurring?”


Meanwhile, the tiger that represents consequences of one’s unfavorable beliefs is closing in. In this way, it isn’t the unwanted events which create a charging tiger; it’s one’s unhelpful assumptions which create a harmful outcome.


Therefore, from a psychological standpoint, people disturb themselves using a Belief-Consequence (B-C) connection. Of course, this isn’t to suggest that in the context of the naturalistic or physical world there is no Action-Consequence (A-C) connection.


If an actual tiger has selected you as its next meal and begins chasing you (Action), it’s rational to conclude that the average person would be terrified (Consequence), thus forming an A-C connection. These sorts of events do result in emotive outcomes within the natural world.


However, if the metaphorical tiger of your own creation presents as a threat, I submit that the Action with which you disagree doesn’t cause harm. Rather, your Belief about the event is what results in an unpleasant Consequence, thus forming a B-C connection.


Accordingly, asking, “Why is this tiger here?” has limited value. Instead, it may be useful to inquire, “Since I’m experiencing an emotional, bodily sensation, and behavioral outcome, what is it I’m telling myself?” Think about it.


Searching for the what promotes action toward protection from self-induced harm while examining the why may merely exacerbate the unpleasant experience of your own making. You don’t have to be a victim of a metaphorical tiger attack, because you can practice REBT.


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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