I think the material here can really help any of us understand ourselves better – I think you will be glad you read it…
A guy named Albert Ellis developed some ideas about therapy (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) years ago that I think have some great tools mixed in. Perhaps one of the ones that I have found most useful in counseling and in my own personal life are some of the tenets of REBT, or Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (he was kind of covering his bases with that name, wasn’t he?)…
Here is the part that I have found the most useful… and I think nearly everyone will appreciate the value of this:
Here is how most of us interact with our own emotions:
There is an emotion. We typically think of it as an emotional consequence (C) in our lives: anger, frustration, despair, anxiety… etc.
We generally think that the emotion is the Consequence of an Activator (A)…
Here are some examples simple examples of how this looks:
- You are cut off in traffic suddenly by a vehicle in front of you. You feel really angry about it.
- Someone says something critical to you. You feel crushed and devastated for a day thinking about it.
- You have an argument with your spouse. Later, after thinking about it, you feel panic and despair.
- Things just generally seem really bad for you right now. You feel suicidal-ly depressed.
Think about what triggers the emotions in you. What creates strong feelings? Anything you wish you didn’t feel?
Activator equals Consequence. A=C. Right?
Sorry, but it isn’t the whole story.
The truth is that the activator doesn’t equal the consequence… that is merely what we tell ourselves, and what we think we experience.
But we miss most of what is really happening…
- What if the car that cut you off was an ambulance? Even though it is really the same circumstance, you wouldn’t actually be angry, would you? The reason? What you think about being cut off by an ambulance is different from being cut off by a Lexus.
- There are people who get criticized all the time – how do they handle it without being so destroyed? What makes the words so hurtful? What if they are the words of a 3 year old? Suddenly even “I hate you” carried much less weight. Why? And why does it matter if we find out that person just had a really rotten day? Men, why can you be criticized all day and work and let it roll off your back, but if your wife asks about the simplest thing, sometimes you feel rejection and strong anger! (check http://chrismlegg.com/2010/09/10/loving-your-wife-with-limited-resources/ for the possible Beliefs involved here)
- If you spend time ruminating about all the worst possible consequences of what might have happened because of the conflict between you and your spouse, you will imagine divorce, being alone, without options and worse. But those things aren’t at all likely to happen just because of a spat. So why such strong feelings?
- If you really think that there is no hope for things to get better, it makes sense. However, when you see that there is always hope for things to improve even when things are hard, suicide makes no sense. So why would it at any time?
See how what you Believe about a given situation plays the major role in what you feel about it? See how what you tell yourself determines what you feel more than what actually happens.
Actually the formula goes like this: A+B=C.
The Activator plus our Belief = the emotional Consequences.
A long time ago, I knew a man who came home one day and was enraged by what he found. In his pitched over a table totally set for
dinner and tore some of the cabinets off of their kitchen wall. What enraged him so? His wife was on the phone when he walked in.
So, I hope that is hard for you to imagine… but he defended it to me later:
“She knows I hate it when she is on the phone… it makes me feel like everyone else is more important to her than me; she would rather talk to someone else rather than me when I come home. It proves that she hasn’t missed me at all.” (paraphrase).
He wasn’t angry at her being on the phone (though he thought he was); he was angry at what he believed that it meant that she was on the phone.
Activator: wife on phone.
Belief: I am unloved and rejected… again.
Emotional Consequence: Hurt, angry, enraged.
So, is it the activator? Not at all, and it is easy to see in an extreme example like this.
So, what about the rest of us? Do we have extremes that we are blind to because they make sense to us? Don’t discount the possibility.
If not, can this at least help us begin to challenge our beliefs about what things MEAN?
Next time, I am going to offer up some of the more common beliefs that we deal with that impact our emotions… in the
Think about what and when and where you feel the strongest about stuff, then ask yourself, why? What do I believe about this? Feeling overwhelmed about something? What do you believe about? Afraid, jealous, insecure, hurt, rejected… and this applies to happy emotions too, by the way (but we don’t usually want to change those, obviously, though sometimes there is valuable insight there too.)
Any emotional responses you want to start changing?
I will give you a hint for next time.
Most people try to change what they feel by changing the Activator… but it rarely if ever really works.
But the D is “Dispute Beliefs.” Hmmmm.
More next time, Lord willing.