CHAPTER 7 Overcoming The Influences of the Past "This stuff about people making themselves emotionally disturbed by their poor philosophies of life sounds all very well,"

CHAPTER 7
Overcoming
The Influences of the Past
“This stuff about people making themselves emotionally disturbed by
their poor philosophies of life sounds all very well,” many of our
critics often say. “But how about the important influences of the past,
over which we had no control whatever? How about, for instance, our
childhood Oedipus complexes or the fact that we may have suffered
severe rejection by our parents? Didn’t these things start our
disturbances? And how can we overcome them now, if we merely
concern ourselves about changing our present philosophies?”
Good questions, these, but fairly easy to answer in the light of our
REBT theories.
Let us take the Oedipus business first. Let us suppose the
Freudians are at least partly right in their beliefthat some individuals,
if not all, have Oedipus complexes during their childhood and do feel
emotionally maimed. Can we still, by Rational Emotive Behavior
Therapy, change such people’s current philosophies, and overcome
the maiming effects of their early family romance?
Indeed we can. Let us first see how a so-called Oedipus complex
comes about. A young male child, Harold, lusts after his mother,
hates his father, feels guilty about his sexual desires for his mother,
and fears his father wants to castrate him. Consequently, he fears
older men for the rest of his life and either refuses to compete with
them (as in business) or makes enormous efforts to ingratiate himself
with them and thereby gain their favor. Does such an individual have
a rather classical Oedipus complex? Yes, he probably does.
Let us further suppose, with the orthodox Freudians, that Harold
originally acquired his Oedipal feelings because his sexual instincts
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(his id) pushed him in the direction of lusting after his mother and
then, his superego (conscience), forced him to feel guilty about his
incestuous feelings and hate both himself and his father. Even if this
occurs (and often in our society it does not, because many boys
apparently do not lust after their mothers or become very jealous of
their fathers), the question remains: Does the boy’s Oedipal
attachment mean that he unquestionably has an Oedipus complex?
Answer: By no means.
A so-called complex consists of negative ideas about an
unfortunate set of facts. Thus, if John is physically weaker than
Henry, we may say that he has a weakness or inferiority. But if John
has an inferiority complex, we mean (1) that he sees his weakness,
when he compares himself to Henry, and (2) that he views himself as
a weakling or worthless person for having this weakness. While (1)
is a statement of fact, (2) is an overgeneralization about this fact.
John’s complex is his conclusion about his physical weakness-and
not the weakness in its own right.
So with the Oedipus complex. Harold may “naturally” and
“normally” lust after his mother and feel somewhat jealous of his
father. But if he, while feeling lust and jealousy, does not at the same
time believe he has low value as a person because of his feelings, he
will only have an Oedipal attachment rather than a complex.
If Harold does have a full-blown Oedipus complex, we may feel
pretty sure that, in addition to admitting his lust for his mother, he
believes (1) that his mother, father, and other people must approve of
him; (2) that he has done a terrible thing to lust after his mother; (3)
that if people discover his lust, they will severely criticize him and
their criticism is awful; (4) that if he actually has sexual relations
with his mother, his crime of incest is horrible and will lead to
terrible legal and other difficulties; (5) that even if he never commits
incest, his mere thinking about it is an unforgivable offense against
his parents and humanity; (6) that if his father ever discovers his lust
for his mother, he will doubtless damn and punish him, especially by
castrating him; and (7) that if any of these things happen, he becomes
a thoroughly rotten person.
Whether Harold’s beliefs about his lust for his mother are “true”
or not doesn’t matter, as long as he strongly holds the kind of beliefs
just stated. Thus, he may not need his parents’ or others’ approval and
OVERCOMING THE INFLUENCES OF THE PAST 61
may get along very well without such approval. Nor may thinking
about having sex with his mother get him into serious trouble. Nor
may his father castrate him if he discovers his incestuous ideas. No
matter. As long as Harold believes and accepts these “truths,” he will
tend to seriously upset himself.
Although, then, Harold’s Oedipal attachment or desires may have
a biological base, his Oedipus complex does not stem from these
desires but from his ideas and attitudes about them. And these ideas
and attitudes he partly learned, depending on the kind of community
in which he was raised.
If, therefore, Harold wishes to overcome his Oedipus complex and
the neurotic symptoms (such as fear of other males) to which it may
lead, he does not have to change his incestuous desires (which he
would find almost impossible), but does have to modify his ideas
about them. He does not have to give up lusting after his mother but
does have to stop thinking how horrible, how criminal, such lusting
is.
More importantly, Harold, in order to rid himself of his Oedipus
complex, does not have to change or even to understand fully his past
ideas about his Oedipal attachment. But he’d better acquire Insights
No. 1, 2, and 3 into his present or still-existing attitudes toward
incest. Suppose, for example, that he once lusted after his mother
and, weak and unable to stand up for himself against the other boys
in his neighborhood, he feared his father’s “castrating” him-not
because of his committing the horrible crime of incest, but because
he felt that he “deserved” punishment for his weakness. And suppose
that, later in life, having grown bigger and taller, he no longer feels
intimidated by the boys in his neighborhood, and therefore no longer
fears his father’s “castration” for his “undeservingness” and
“rottenness.”
Under these conditions, if Harold now gains insight into his past
castration fears and Oedipus complex, he would learn little useful
information about himself-because his original complex no longer
exists in the old form, and he may view the details of its origins as
cold and meaningless potatoes today. If, however, Harold still to this
very day keeps alive remnants of his old Oedipus complex, then we
can guess that he still has some of the Irrational Beliefs that originally
led him to acquire this complex.
62 A GUIDE TO RA TI ON AL LIVING
We can help Harold discover these remaining notions and acquire
Insights No. 1, 2, and 3 about them. Then it hardly matters whether
he fully remembers, understands, or works through, his original
irrationalities-as, in Freudian theory, he must do to get “cured.”
If, therefore, any complex still exists to the extent that it bothers
people today, we can suspect that they now harbor some senseless
ideas about it. These present ideas are crucial, whatever the original
sources of their complexes. This explains why so many non-Freudian
psychoanalysts-such as Alfred Adler, Erich Fromm, Karen Homey,
Otto Rank, and Harry Stack Sullivan-emphasize analyzing clients’
present problems, ideas, and relationships, rather than obsessing
about gory details of their past histories. Moreover, the childhood
“memories” that therapists painstakingly dredge up about their
clients’ pasts often tum out to be fictions or distortions that these
therapists have gone out of their way to create.
As another case to show how your past experiences are hardly
vital to understanding and attacking your present disturbances, let us
take an instance of maternal rejection. Let us suppose that you were
severely criticized and rejected by your parents, that you
“consequently” feel loathsome and inadequate, that you therefore
refuse to try certain projects, and that you end up feeling more
inadequate.
If so, you will then be disturbed. But will you be disturbed
because of the fact of your parents’ rejection or because of your
Beliefs about it?
Largely, the latter. For the bare fact of parental rejection does not
necessarily prove noxious, as shown by the findings of Dr. Norman
Garmezy, Dr. Lawrence Casler, and others that in our society all
rejected children do not tum out too badly, and as also shown by
reports that in other societies children are severely criticized and
rejected by their mothers without growing up disturbed. Lili E. Peller,
a psychoanalyst, wrote in this connection:
I have had the opportunity to observe children-Arab children in
rural areas of Palestine and Egypt-where there is almost no
consideration for their welfare, where they experience the effects
of the changing moods of adults; considerations of their wishes
and needs are of no importance and they seem a nuisance. Should
they miss any brutality by their parents, plenty of siblings and
OVERCOMING THE INFLUENCES OF THE PAST 63
hardly-older uncles and aunts provide it. Yet these children do not
become neurotic for lack of love.
The harming of children is not directly caused by parental
rejection itself (though that will do a child no good), but by their
Beliefs that they learn and create about this rejection. These Beliefs,
common in our fairy tales and children’s stories, include these
notions: (1) Your parents must show love and approval and they
behave horribly when they do not. (2) If they reject you, you should
feel worthless. (3) If you think you have no value, you have to keep
failing at important tasks. (4) If you do fail, you have committed a
terrible crime, which again shows that you have no worth. (5) If, out
of fear of failing, you avoid certain tasks and never learn to do them
well, this shows that you never had any ability and once again are
worthless.
Does this mean that young children do not need love and approval
and that they can be happy and unneurotic without it? Not at all. As
John Bowlby and many other researchers have shown, almost all
children are born with a very strong desire for attachment; and when
they are deprived of fondling, caressing, and other kinds of intensive
caretaking they tend to feel quite sad, lonely, and often depressed. As
Harry Harlow also showed, young children (and monkeys) who are
not sufficiently stimulated fail to develop neurologically and usually
end up ineffectual and inadequate in important respects.
So young children, in order to function properly and be
emotionally “normal,” require a considerable degree of attention,
support, and love. When they are badly neglected, severely criticized,
overly restricted, and physically abused, they usually become
emotionally disturbed and easily develop a view of themselves as
inadequate and worthless. Although this is not always true-for some
of them are unusually hardy, from birth onward-it is most often the
case.
Why is this so? The REBT Theory holds that practically all
humans, when they are deprived of their most important wants, feel
naturally and healthily sad and frustrated-and sometimes very
strongly so. This is good!-because they then try to make up for their
deprivation by changing the poor conditions that they encounter or
by asking others, especially if they are young, to help change these
conditions.
64 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
Practically all people, however, and children in particular, go
beyond feelings of sadness and frustration when “really” bad things
happen to them. They insist that such things are so bad that they
absolutely should not, must not exist; and they wrongly conclude that
bad conditions will always exist and never improve. So they first
“constructively” make themselves sorry and determined to help
themselves improve. But they often also “destructively” make
themselves depressed and hopeless and determined to whine, give up,
and make things worse.
Children, because they are unable to cope well with great and
continued Adversity (A), and because their coping abilities are
limited, are more prone to think-at B, their Belief System-in terms
of absolutistic musts, always, and nevers, and thus change their
emotional Consequences (Cs) from healthy feelings of sorrow and
regret to unhealthy feelings of depression and hopelessness. Once
they do so, their depressed feelings then lead to more inefficient
behaviors-about which they then typically depress themselves even
more.
To make matters worse, the usual process of habituation often sets
in-so that depressed children feel “comfortable” in their miserable
state and feel “uncomfortable” going to the trouble of changing this
state. They keep believing-at point B again!-“I must do well! I
must not be depressed! I can’t stand rotten conditions! My life will
always be miserable and worthless!” Like Martin Seligman’s rats,
which acquired “learned helplessness” when steadily thwarted in their
goal-seeking, children often contrive to believe that they “can’t”
improve. So they give up-and make themselves “hopeless.”
Children, of course, are more intelligent than rats or guinea pigs;
and, after the age of two or so, they not only have language to help
them think, but also to think about their thinking-and, later on, to
think about thinking about their thinking (metathinking). So they pick
up their parents’, “You must act well and you’re a bad child if you
don’t”-and they add their own demands and self-downing: “Because
it’s highly desirable that I act well and please others, I absolutely
must do so! And because I’m not doing as well as I must, not only is
that bad, but that also makes me a bad child!”
What are we saying then? First, children learn what is “right” and
“wrong” and learn the advantages of “good” and the disadvantages of
OVERCOMING THE INFLUENCES OF THE PAST 65
their “bad” behavior. Second, they naturally and healthily feel happy
about their “good” and sad about their “bad” acts-because they
agree with others that it is undesirable and punishing if they act
“badly” and that they had better correct themselves. Third, they also
learn that they must do “well” or else are bad children. This is an
incorrect overgeneralization. But, being suggestible, and being born
with their own tendencies to overgeneralize, they often agree with
this kind of crooked thinking and solidly weld it into their basic
philosophy or Belief System (B).
Fourth, children have their own innate tendencies to unrealistically
jump from, “I’d prefer to perform well and like to get good results for
doing so” to “I absolutely must perform well and have to get good
results from doing so!” They also easily jump from, “It is bad ifl act
poorly and lose the approval of others” to “I am bad if I act poorly
and lose the approval of others.”
Fifth, once they become habituated to this self-defeating pattern
of musturbation and self-damning, children, adolescents, and adults
have the ability to see how destructive it is and to change it by
thinking, feeling, and acting to challenge and contradict it. Left to
their own devices, however, they rarely do so until some wise
teaching or therapy helps them see how destructive their thoughts,
feelings, and behaviors are and encourages them to work to change
these for healthier modes of living.
To return to our main theme, parental rejection is often very
harmful, helps children hate themselves, and is usually a severe
Adversity (A). It is cruel and unjust-and perhaps there should be a
law against it. But it invariably seems to be accompanied by
B-children’s Beliefs about A-with their agreeing with the Belief
System of their rejecting parents, and with their adding musts and
self-damnations of their own. Adversities (A’s) greatly contribute to
the children’s anxiety, despair, and self-downing. But A’s times Bs
really cause their disturbances (Cs).
By the same token, it is difficult for humans to feel severely hurt
by anything but physical assault or extreme deprivation unless they
have traumatizing ideas about what happens to them. For, aside from
literally injuring you or depriving you of something essential, what
can external persons or things do to cause you extreme pain?
People can of course call you names, disagree with you, show that
66 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
they do not love you, and incite others against you. But, other than
depriving you of food, clothing, shelter, or other physical essentials,
all they can do is to flay you with negative words, attitudes, or ideas.
And these work through you-through your letting them affect you.
Suppose that someone says unkind things about you behind your
back; or snubs you to your face; or stirs up others against you; or
writes an article labeling you as a liar. These are all words or
gestures, and no word or gesture can, in itself, hurt you unless you
think it can-unless you let it or make it hurt. Is it OK, then, when
you do not care at all when someone says unkind things to you? Or
when you feel totally unconcerned when he or she writes nasty things
about you?
Not at all! We disagree with the kind of extreme lack of concern
or involvement, at times recommended by Epictetus and other Stoics.
Why? Because concern and involvement have many distinct
advantages which we hope that you do not overstoically (and
insensitively) ignore.
Concern (along with caring and caution) helps you survive. If you
had no concern about looking before you cross the street or arranging
to get a meal when you felt hungry, how long would you last?
Concern enables you to stave off obnoxious and unfair
Adversities. If you did not care when others acted nastily to you, how
would you manage to get along with your peers or coworkers.
Concern contributes to your enjoyment. If you had no caution
about some of the things you said or did, would you establish
satisfying friendships, find appropriate sex partners, or sustain good
love relationships?
Concern aids the welfare of the community in which you choose
to live. If you had no social involvement, would you refrain from
littering the streets, driving recklessly, or severely abusing children?
So by all means feel concerned and care about your own behavior
and its effects on others. But work against feeling over-concerned, or
anxious. They mean quite different things!
Stated differently: You can experience two basic kinds of pain: (1)
physical pain, such as that felt when you have a headache, a stubbed
toe, or a case of indigestion; and (2) psychological or mental pain,
such as that you feel when rejected, frustrated, or treated unfairly.
Over physical pain, you have relatively little control, since you may
OVERCOMING THE INFLUENCES OF THE PAST 67
get hurt by an external force (someone punching you or something
falling on you, for instance). Once physically assaulted, you will
normally feel pain and unhappiness for a certain period of time.
Even in the case of physical pain, however, you often have some
degree of control over your discomfort. If you have a headache and
keep telling yourself how terrible the pain feels and how horrible it
is for you to have it, you will probably intensify and prolong your
discomfort. But if you have the same headache, and keep telling
yourself that you can’t rid yourself of it but that you can well bear the
pain and that you are merely experiencing one of those unfortunate
events that frequently happen to humans, you may reduce your pain.
Physical pain and unhappiness do not mean the same thing,
though they significantly overlap. You can have fairly severe pain
and not feel too unhappy about it; and can have slight pain and feel
exceptionally miserable. Not the pain alone, then, but also your
attitude toward it make you miserable.
Over the second kind of pain, psychological or mental discomfort,
you have considerably more control. For your attitude toward such
pain partly creates your discomfort and your misery about your
discomfort.
Thus, if people unfairly call you a liar or a bum, you have your
choice of taking them or not taking them too seriously. If you choose
the latter and tell yourself that you value what they think of you but
can tolerate their criticizing you, you will tend to feel sorry about
their dislike. If you choose to take them overseriously and insist that
you must have their approval, you will probably make yourself feel
ashamed and depressed. If you do not take them at all seriously, and
conclude that you aren’t a liar or a bum, and don’t care if they think
you are, you may hardly even feel sad or peeved about their namecalling.
When you feel hurt about psychological or mental attacks, you
create this feeling by downing or pitying yourself about them.
Suppose people call you a liar and, because you would like them to
favor you, you feel sorry about their falsely thinking you lie. If you
see yourself as lying and also condemn yourself for your lies, you
then feel guilty or depressed. Moreover, once you down yourself,
your totality, for lying, you may make yourself “discover” your other
rotten traits-some of which you may not even have! You feel so low
68 A GUIDE TO RA TI ON AL LIVING
that you find non-existent faults or magnify real ones.
If, on the other hand, you fully accept yourself and refrain from
any kind of self-damning, you will very likely think, “Now, how
could they call me a liar when I rarely lie? They are mistaken! Now
let me see how I can show them that I seldom lie.”
Or, in some cases, you may think: “You know, I believe they are
correct. I have done some kind of lying and I’d better admit it. And
I’d best stop lying if I want people to trust me. So I can stop my
foolish lying and show that I can deal with people truthfully.”
When you feel sorry or sad, then, you have a different experience
than when you feel hurt. Although sorrow and regret constitute
healthy feelings, hurt does not. People may deprive or harm you by
their words, gestures, or attitudes. But whenever you feel hurt, you
make their accusations sacred or deify them and thus you actually
“hurt” yourself.
Suppose a close female friend, toward whom you have acted
kindly over the years, unfairly accuses you of being inconsiderate and
meanly chastises you. You say, “I feel terribly hurt by her behavior!
Woe!”
But your “hurt” mainly consists of your own self-downing or selfpity.
You create it by idiotically thinking, “What a dunce I am for
treating her so nicely! I can’t stand her thinking badly of me! I must
have no worth if she thinks that I have none! What will other people
think of me, if they see how my former friend now treats me? I can’t
bear their seeing me in such a disgraceful position! Poor me!”
What makes your thoughts idiotic? Several things: (1) You hardly
are a dunce for sometimes acting foolishly. (2) You can stand your
ex-friend’s thinking badly of you, though you’ll never like it. (3) Even
if she now thinks you worthless, you do not have to agree with her.
( 4) If others conclude that you have disgraced yourself because your
friend now treats you meanly, you can bear their thinking this. If you
face, and vigorously contradict, your own disturbed conclusions here,
you will almost certainly soon stop feeling “hurt.” You will merely
feel deprived and annoyed.
You can see psychological pains (or negative feelings) as healthy
or unhealthy. When something obnoxious happens to you, you’d
better feel concerned and caring-meaning, healthily sad,
disappointed, sorry, regretful, frustrated, or annoyed. But you’d better
OVERCOMING THE INFLUENCES OF THE PAST 69
not make yourself feel overconcemed and overcaring-meaning,
unhealthily panicked, self-downing, horror-stricken, depressed, or
enraged.
Psychoanalysis therapies which emphasize the “enormous”
influences of the past, tends to hold that children have to grandiosely
demand and whine in their early years and consequently feel
exceptionally hurt and self-hating when rejected and ignored by their
parents. They don’t have to; though they often choose to feel hurt, not
because of their parents’ injustices but because of their unrealistic
insistence that these parents must not act unjustly. And much
evidence exists that some easily disturbable children are great
injustice collectors during their early years, while many others are
not.
Even when young children do strongly choose to upset
themselves, and to feel exceptionally hurt and angry when deprived
or frustrated, they have another important choice to make as they
grow up: to remain or not to remain childish in this respect. For they
not only learn, as they get older, that names and gestures are painful
(bring disadvantages) but that they also need not hurt (create selfdowning).
And adults can mainly choose to believe hurtful or
unhurtful ideas. If you follow the teachings of this book, you can
successfully make this choice.
No matter what your past history, or how your parents and
teachers may have helped you feel disturbed, you remain so because
you still believe some of the unrealistic and irrational thoughts that
you originally held. To undisturb yourself, therefore, you can observe
your self-defeating Beliefs and energetically work at defusing them.
Your understanding of how you first made yourself neurotic may
help somewhat, but it will rarely cure you.
Emotional disturbance, in sum, usually stems from your Irrational
Beliefs. You can uncover the basic unrealistic ideas with which you
disturb yourself; see clearly how misleading these ideas are; and, on
the basis of better information and clearer thinking, change the
Beliefs behind your disturbance.
Chapter 8
Is Reason
Always Reasonable?
Let’s face it, humans have trouble thinking straight and emoting well.
No matter how bright and well educated they are, they find it easy,
exceptionally easy, to act foolishly. And not merely once or twice in
a lifetime. Often, rather! Yes, quite often!
Can we, then, call humans rational animals? Yes, we can. And no,
we can’t. They have the most incredibly mixed-up combination of
common sense and senselessness you ever did see. They of course
have done and will continue to do wonders with their minds-are so
far brighter than their closest animal neighbors (the higher apes) that
human morons often are distinctively more intelligent than these
brightest of mammals.
Yes, people are highly reasonable creatures. But they also have
strong tendencies to act in the most ridiculous, prejudiced, amazingly
dumb ways. They are naturally suggestible, superstitious, bigoted,
and downright foolish-particularly in their relations with other
people. Even when they know they are self-defeating and know they
would be happier and healthier if they acted otherwise, they have
great difficulty achieving sound and sane behavior, frequently do so
for a short length of time, and then keep falling back to immature
ways.
Take a typical case in point. Marlo, when I (R.A.H.) first met her
in my office, could be called an unusually attractive and intelligent
woman of twenty-three who was a fine secretary to the president of
a large corporation. Although she had no more than a high school
education, she started working for this firm at the age of nineteen
and, because of her pleasant personality and intelligence rose quickly
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from one of twenty women in a stenographic pool to the most
responsible secretarial position in the company.
In her love life, however, Marlo fell remarkably short. At the age
of twenty, she met an older man, began living with him after knowing
him for a few weeks, felt shocked to learn that he had no intention of
divorcing his wife, convinced herself that life was no longer worth
living, and took a large dose of sleeping pills. Discovered by a friend
and rushed to the hospital in time to have her stomach pumped, she
narrowly escaped dying.
Romantically enough, the young resident physician, Paul, who
pumped out Marlo’s stomach, quickly fell in love with her and they
began dating. She resisted his advances for many months, for she saw
all men as “crummy” after her experience with her first lover. This
highly intelligent woman, in other words, found it surprisingly easy
to make one of the most ridiculous mistakes found in any book of
logic-that of absurd overgeneralization. Because one lover lied to
her, she saw all potential lovers as being equally irresponsible.
Marlo’s illogical thinking went further. By extreme patience and
understanding, Paul overcame her fears and finally convinced her that
he really did love her and wanted to marry her. She reluctantly
agreed, but felt rather relieved that they had to postpone their
wedding date for another year, until after he finished school and
passed his medical boards. Even though she knew Paul was loving
and trustworthy, she also felt-meaning, strongly believed, in spite
of much contrary evidence-that he didn’t really care for her.
While telling herself that if her first lover had lied about really
loving her, Paul would do the same, she also convinced herself, “My
first lover left me, not because of his own irresponsibility but because
he discovered what I have known all my life, that I am worthless.
And since Paul obviously is so worthwhile, he couldn’t possibly care
for me as much as he thinks he does. Just as soon as he finds me
out-as my first lover did after a few months-he, too, will see me
as I really am and will then leave me. So we’d better wait a year
before we marry, by which time he will have found me out, left me,
and stopped any drawn-out nightmare of marrying and divorcing.”
So Marlo, this bright and efficient woman, “reasoned.” With this
kind of illogical thinking, she secretly awaited the breakup of her
engagement to Paul, which she knew would come just as soon as he
IS REASON ALWAYS REASONABLE? 73
found her out.
Then the next “logical” step in this illogical chain of thinking
occurred. Once Marlo decided that perhaps she could trust Paul a
little and that she really did love him, she began to feel extremely
jealous and possessive. Ifhe met her more than ten minutes after his
working day at the hospital ended, she would give him a third-degree
grilling. Ifhe smiled pleasantly at a patient, nurse, or receptionist, she
accused him of flirting.
Here again we have an extension of Marlo’s irrational thinking.
Since one mart jilted her, this lover might do the same. And because
Paul really seemed to care for her, how could she truly, certainly and
absolutely know that she deserved his caring? Moreover, because she
still felt somewhat indecisive, how did she know, how could she feel
sure, of his hesitation to marry her immediately?
All kinds of thoughts like these kept going through Marlo’s mind,
giving her deep-seated feelings of insecurity-which frequently lead
to intense jealousy.
Paul, recognizing Marlo’s jealousy as evidence of her own
insecurity, nicely put up with her compulsive questioning and finally
persuaded her to go for psychoanalysis three times a week for the
next two years. Most of the analytic sessions reviewed the fact that
although she loved her father and seemed his favorite child, she often
feared that he would discover her badness and would reject her in
favor of her older sister. Marlo’s analyst thought this childhood
pattern caused most of her later behavior with her first lover and with
Paul. Marlo didn’t strongly disagree with him and did feel somewhat
better as a result of her analytic sessions. But dredging up the facts of
her childhood didn’t reduce her feelings of extreme jealousy. In
considerable disgust and despair, she terminated her analysis.
By this time Paul was becoming discouraged himself and began
to take a dim view of his having a happy married life with Marlo.
Knowing, however, her suicidal tendencies, he decided to have her
go for psychotherapy again before he broke up with her; and he
insisted that she try at least a few sessions with me. After she had
seen me five times, and had started to change her basic irrational
thinking, Paul told Marlo that he had to break off his relationship
with her and literally left her at my door.
Understandably, we had quite a session. Marlo, in spite of some
74 A GUIDE TO RA TI ON AL LIVING
sedation which Paul had given her during their talk that day, acted
hysterically as we started our session. After fifteen minutes largely
devoted to my helping her quiet down, she said: “Well, I know what
I must do now. I must finish the job he delayed for three years.”
“You mean commit suicide?” I asked.
“Yes.”
“That, of course, is your privilege. And do you mind,” I persisted
almost humorously, “telling me why you plan to slit your throat when
you could nicely stick around and torture yourself for another halfcentury?”
I have found, through considerable experience with people intent
on suicide, that it often helps to discuss their intent openly,
forthrightly, and with a certain degree of casual humor-as I discuss
many all-too-serious matters in REBT sessions. I also am deeply
convinced that although life has many enjoyable aspects, anyone,
including one of my clients, has the right to decide to stop living.
I do not upset myself, therefore, when someone threatens suicide,
but deal with their Irrational Beliefs in the same way that I treat other
destructive Beliefs. My clients see that I know they seriously
contemplate suicide, that I do not deny their right to commit it, but
that I very much want them to reconsider the advantages of living and
see if they really want to die.
Back to Marlo. “I know I have the right,” she said, “to take my
life. And since I do not find it worth going on with, I intend to do
exactly that. Life seems a phony deal. I can’t trust or depend upon
anyone. Things always end up the same.”
“How so? Just because two lovers in a row have left you? A hell
of a big conclusion from a pitifully small bit of evidence!”
“Just the same-I find it always the same.”
“Hogwash! How can a bright woman like you believe such junk?
I see very little similarity between your first lover’s leaving you
because he didn’t want to assume the responsibilities of divorcing his
wife and taking on another, and Paul’s leaving you because, to say the
least, you’ve acted like a jealous pain in the neck. And doesn’t the
solution-if you really want to achieve a secure relationship with a
man-lie in your not behaving so annoyingly and in stopping your
demanding that the males of the world guarantee you absolute
security?”
IS REASON ALWAYS REASONABLE? 75
“But how do I know that Paul didn’t plan this, right from the start,
just like Roger, my first lover, did three years ago? How do I know
that he didn’t deliberately take everything he could get from me and
then leave me just before we could get married?”
“You don’t know for sure. But the situation certainly doesn’t seem
like the way you keep setting it up. Not to me, it doesn’t! Besides, let
us suppose that your view is accurate, and that Paul really did, just
like the first man in your life, plan to get what he could out of you
sexually and then leave you waiting at the church. So? That would
show that he, just like Roger, behaved unethically. But why make
that your problem? How is that a reason for you to splatter your
brains over your lovely Persian rug?”
“But if I can’t trust anyone,” Marlo wailed, “how can I see any
prospect of my ever living happily?”
”Anyone?” I relentlessly persisted. “I can’t see how two men in an
entire lifetime, so far, equal anyone. Let’s even say, for the sake of
your argument, that both Roger and Paul are entirely untrustworthy.
Must you vastly overgeneralize? If you hired two women to assist
you at the office and both of them proved unreliable, would you
necessarily conclude that you couldn’t possibly get anyone more
reliable?”
“No, I guess I wouldn’t. I see what you mean.”
“And even if we may grant-for the sake, again, of your
argument-that you have had the unusual misfortune of meeting two
men in succession who behaved badly, does that prove that you will
always be lied to, and that you can never enjoy living?”
“You seem to dismiss Paul and my losing him as nothing worth
considering,” Marlo (now quite unhysterically) said.
“Not at all. Could we not more accurately say that you seem to
consider yourself and your losing you as nothing worth considering?”
“You mean-I show, by getting this upset and by thinking of
ending it all, that I don’t consider myself sufficiently worth going on
with?”
“Well, do you? You remind me somewhat of a woman on trial for
speeding. The judge asked, ‘How come, madam, that you have five
children, ranging from one year to eight, when you just told me that
the only husband you ever had died three years ago?’ ‘Well, Judge,’
the woman replied, ‘my husband’s dead-but I’m not!’ This woman,
76 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
obviously, thought life worth living even with her husband
irrevocably gone. She accepted herself. Do you?”
“But how can I accept myself when, as you can see, no one else
seems to do so, when one man after another keeps rejecting me?
Doesn’t this indicate something?”
“Yes, it indicates something about you-that you believe it allimportant
to have a man of your choice, to accept you before you
decide to accept yourself. It indicates that you continually rate
yourself and make your self-rating dependent upon the approval of
others. You illogically keep telling yourself, ‘Because I am worthless
if a lover disapproves of me, and because two men in a row have not
loved me enough to marry me, this proves what I knew in the first
place: that I am nothing!’ Don’t you see how circular your reasoning
is?”
“Mmm. Let me get that straight now. I keep saying and have
always said to myself, ‘I only am worthwhile and can consider my life
valuable if and when a man I love truly cares for me.’ And then, when
I find one does not care as much as I thought he did, I immediately
conclude, ‘Yes, of course he doesn’t care. Because, as I said in the
first place, I have no worth, and how could he possibly really care for
a worthless person like me?’ That does make circular reasoning, if I
actually say that to myself.”
“Well, don’t you?”
“Looks like it, doesn’t it? I’ll have to give this some more
thought.”
“Exactly what we want: for you to give your Beliefs more thought.
And to think more about them outside these sessions. While you
think about your worth as a person, give a little thought to another
important aspect of it, too.”
“Which aspect?” Marlo asked. She now kept looking at herself so
intently in a problem-solving way that one would never have
dreamed that, just a few minutes before, she had considered plunging
out of my office window.
“Think, if you will,” I said, “of the enormous demands you keep
making on people, such as Paul, with whom you become involved.
Precisely because you consider yourself essentially worthless, and
believe that you need their approval to make you ‘worthwhile,’ you
don’t merely, as you mistakenly think you do, ask your lovers to
IS REASON ALWAYS REASONABLE? 77
respond devotedly to you. Instead, you demand that they do.”
“I demand that Paul approve of me, no matter how I treat him or
what I do?”
“Yes. To fulfill your own ‘needs’ for absolute love, you expect him
to conform rigidly to your preconceived ideas of how a lover must
behave. And when he does not act precisely the way you think he
ought to act-and Lord knows you try every possible test in the
books to see if he does act that way!-you raise hell with him and
call him flighty and untrustworthy. Finally, by continuing to make
your unreasonable demands, and forcing him-yes, actually forcing
him-to tum away from you, you ‘prove’ to yourself that you cannot
trust him. Actually, of course, you only ‘prove’ how dependent you
are on his and others’ total approval. Another round of circular
thinking!”
“I think that I need him to bolster me. Then I dare him to conform
to my so-called needs. Then he doesn’t do so, because he finds me
such a bother. So I tell myself, ‘Because he finds me such a bother,
that proves that I am worthless and that I need him to uphold me and
help poor unworthy me get along in this big bad world. ‘Gee, I really
do have it in for myself–all along the line-don’t I?”
“You do! And until we help you to trust yourself, how can we
expect you to trust people like Paul? Until we help you see that no
horror, but only great unpleasantness, occurs when you are rejected
by a lover, how can we expect you to act well enough with one so
that he will not find you too bothersome?”
So Marlo and I continued to talk. By the end of our session she
not only calmed down but also began to do a new kind of thinking
about herself, which is intimately tied to unconditional selfacceptance
(USA). I would like to be able to report that as a result of
our therapy sessions and many hours reconsidering her Beliefs, Marlo
happily married Paul. That, alas, did not occur. In spite of her notable
improvements, Paul felt he had already had it with her and only
occasionally saw Marlo again. But before another year had passed,
she found a new lover, and related to him more realistically and less
jealously.
To return to our main theme: Because of her fallibility, Marlo
found it very easy to screw up her love life, even though in other
respects she acted intelligently and efficiently. She had no trouble
78 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
overgeneralizing and creating Beliefs about her own worthlessness,
and thinking that she only wanted “normal” love from Paul when she
really demanded undying love from him. This unusually bright
woman found it easy to think illogically.
Why? Because Marlo was human. Because humans have about
twelve years of childhood during which they act dependently and
confuse reasonable with foolish behavior. Because, once having
“outgrown” their childhood, they tend to affect themselves by its
“learning” for the rest of their lives. Because, no matter how “mature”
they are, they find it difficult to sensibly view their own behavior and
their relations with others. Because they have strong biological
tendencies to make themselves anxious, depressed, and hostile, even
when such feelings sabotage their desires. Because their families and
their communities encourage them, from childhood onward, to
remain gullible, suggestible, and conformist in many important ways.
Because, as humans, they have powerful tendencies (not instincts, but
what Abe Maslow called instinctoid tendencies) toward inertia,
excitement-seeking, moodiness, and negativism that frequently
interfere with their productive thinking and planning. Because they
often tend to indulge in short-range pleasures-such as overeating,
drinking, and smoking-that harm them in the long run.
Even when people “know” what they’d better do, they frequently
refuse to do it and when they “know” what they’d better avoid, they
often still give in to it. Particularly in regard to relating to others,
people tend to act foolishly. For intelligent humans sometimes find
it almost impossible to choose between sensible and senseless social
behaviors. If you lived alone on a desert island, you might have little
trouble acting sanely most of the time. But you don’t live on a desert
island. And, whether you like it or not, you feel forced to socially
conform. Yet, at the same time, you’d better also, if you would fulfill
your own destiny, be somewhat independent and individualistic;
succeed in being yourself.
You will find these two conflicting goals difficult to achieve. In
fact, you may find it impossible to do anything but imperfectly
resolve the goals of remaining yourself and simultaneously getting
along well with others.
Take the simple situation, for example, in which you sit around
talking to a group of seven or eight friends. Suppose most of the other
IS REASON ALWAYS REASONABLE? 79
members of your group are intelligent and sophisticated. Suppose,
also, that you don’t have serious hangups.
Nonetheless, you are in something of an individual-social pickle.
If you persuade the members of the group to talk about the things that
interest you, some of them may soon feel bored and disgusted with
your “hogging the floor.” But if you completely go along with what
the other people want to discuss, you will probably find yourself
sitting in somewhat pained silence for a good part of the evening.
If, when a subject about which you have strong views comes up
for discussion, you honestly say what you feel about it, some
members of the group will very likely feel hurt, insulted, or angry. If
you carefully keep your mouth shut, or only cautiously express some
of your own deeply felt views, you will frustrate yourself.
Though you try to politely allow other members of the group to
have their say, some of them may not be equally polite, will
monopolize the conversation when you give them an opening, and
may force you to remain silent about several things you think
important. But if you assertively break into the conversation, some of
the others may resentfully think that they have not sufficiently
expressed themselves. You really can’t win-not completely. No
matter what you do. Even in this simple situation, if you act as you
really want to act, some members of the group will feel restricted and
will tend to dislike you. And if you go along with what the group
wants, you will find your desires frustrated and will tend to dislike
the others. Unless your wants happen to coincide with those of all the
other members of the group (a highly unlikely occurrence!),
someone, you or they, is thwarted. So all of you may feel greatly
displeased-not to mention anxious and angry.
Things are much more complicated, of course, if you unduly care
about what other members of the group think of you. For if you feel
overconcemed about their approval, you will lean over backward to
do what they want you to do, instead of what you want to do yourself.
Then you will tend to hate yourself for acting weakly and hate them
for seeing your weakness. Or else you will do what you mainly want
to do-and then worry whether they still like you for doing it.
Your overly caring for the approval of others is neurotic. But even
without neurosis, your discriminating between what you would like
to do and what you’d better do in group situations is difficult and
80 A GUIDE TO RA TI ON AL LIVING
often discouraging. For you want what you desire. And you also want
others to feel comfortable and to approve of you-quite apart from
any neurotic needs for approval that you may have. You may
therefore feel constantly tom, and cannot completely resolve this
conflict.
In a more complicated kind of group relationship, things get even
hotter. Thus, in a highly competitive group-such as a school where
pupils keep trying to get into favorite colleges, or in a business office
where employees compete with each other to make higher
commissions or salaries-you will find it harder to do what you want
to do for your own sake and also to gain and keep the favor of others.
In almost any social group, therefore, you will find it tough
sledding to keep a sane, somewhat middle-of-the-road course and to
avoid surrendering your personal tastes and preferences-while not
antagonizing other group members. You cannot fully calculate in
advance your most “reasonable” actions, and you will shift with
changing conditions. Thus, when you first enter a group, you may
best keep your mouth shut and let the other members have their say.
Later, you may try to get in your own two cents’ worth, even though
those who previously spoke up would love to continue holding the
floor. Finally, you may give others a chance to talk more again. But
you may never precisely determine in advance when and where to
draw the line between your own active participation and your polite
acceptance of others’ discussion, since this depends on many different
factors.
You may well acknowledge, then, the desirability of both selfexpression
and social acceptance. But while some form of hedonism,
pleasure-seeking, or enlightened self-interest seems a good plan of
personal living, enlightened self-interest includes some degree of
social interest as well. For if you only strive for your “own” good,
and run roughshod over others, you will find that many people over
whom you keep riding sooner or later thwart your “own” good.
Therefore, to some extent you’d better include the good of others in
your view of your own good.
Similarly, if you mainly concentrate on striving for your
immediate good, you will almost inevitably sabotage your potential
future enjoyments. “Live for today, for tomorrow you may die” seems
a perfectly sane philosophy-if you have a good chance of dying
IS REASON ALWAYS REASONABLE? 81
tomorrow. Most of the time, however, you live to the ripe old age of
eighty or more these days; and your tomorrows will probably be
miserable if you live only for today. At the same time, if you only
live for tomorrow, you will tend to live your todays overcautiously
and dully. Again, you will in the long run defeat your own ends.
Reason, then, proves a hard taskmaster. You won’t find it
absolutely good or certain as a standard of conduct, and you will
often find it difficult to draw the exact line between reasonable and
unreasonable behavior. When taken to extremes, moreover, you can
make rationality highly irrational, for several reasons:
1. Some degree of emotion seems necessary to human survival
and it would be unreasonable, meaning self-defeating, for you never
to have strong, rather prejudiced reactions-such as your wanting to
hurt or even kill someone who deliberately attacks you.
2. Human tastes or preferences, though frequently quite
“irrational” or “groundless,” may add considerable pleasure and
interest to life. You act, in a sense, “unreasonably” when you get
obsessed with collecting stamps, with devoting yourself to making
your mate happy, or with listening to music ten hours a day. But, like
many people, you may derive enormous, harmless enjoyment from
these kinds of “irrational” or “emotional” pursuits. “Pure intellect,”
if this ever existed, might be efficient-but pleasureless. “Affects”
(one of the older terms for emotions) receive that name because they
affect you-influence you to go on living and to enjoy your
existence. Without any kind of feeling, human life might persist but
would seem incredibly dull.
3. Reason, when carried to extremes, sometimes is inefficient and
self-sabotaging. If every time you tied a shoelace or ate a piece of
bread, you had to stop and reason whether this was the “right” thing
to do or the “best” way to do it, your reasoning would be more of a
hindrance than a help and you would wind up, perhaps, highly
rational-and unhappy. Extreme or obsessive-compulsive “reason”
often is irrational; because, according at least to REBT, “true”
rationality aids or increases human happiness.
4. A totally reasoned-out life might tend to be a mechanical
existence-a life too cold, unfeeling, and machinelike. It might
undermine your creative expression, particularly in the realm of art,
literature, and music.
82 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
All these objections to extreme rationality have some validity. But
they also have a straw-man quality and are taken to irrational
extremes. When boiled down to their essences, they often arise from
our fear of the unknown. Even though many “irrationalists” are
distinctly anxious, they at least know the limits of their disturbances.
Not knowing the degree of discomfort they might obtain if they lived
rational lives, and fearing that it might even exceed their present
discomfort, they dream up straw-men “horrors” about rationality to
give themselves an excuse for not trying to obtain it.
Again: Knowing that their present irrational state produces
unpleasant results, but also knowing that thinking and acting sensibly
is difficult and requires considerable time and effort, disturbed people
often lazily work harder at thinking up arguments against rationality
than at experimentally trying to apply it to their lives.
One of my (R.A.H.’s) clients, Ronald, kept resisting my rational
approach to his severe problem of anxiety and compulsive eating and
frankly admitted his resistance.
“Do you fear,” I asked, “that if you reconstruct your life along the
ways we have discussed, you will be a kind of rational machinemonster?”
“Well, in a sense, yes,” the client replied.
“All right. Now let’s look at your fear of acting machine-like as a
result of therapy, just as we would examine any of your other
anxieties. Do you have any facts that support this fear? Name a
person you know who seems so rational that he doesn’t appear to
enjoy life and acts like a logical machine, as you have implied.”
“Well, I don’t know, exactly. But I must admit that at times you
seem a bit, you know, that way yourself. You do seem awfully
efficient. And you rarely get upset about things. Even when I break
down and cry or rant, it doesn’t seem to affect you. And that seems
strange and, well, maybe a bit heartless to me.”
“And that shows that I am coldly and dreadfully incapable of
enjoying life, or of feeling happy?”
“Not exactly. But I fear that I might lose my capacity for joy if I
act as calmly and objectively as you do.”
“Ah, quite a different thing! Here you feel almost as miserable as
you can, because of your extreme anxiety and compulsiveness. And,
as you just described me, I almost never upset myself about things.
IS REASON ALWAYS REASONABLE? 83
Obviously, if your description of me holds true, I don’t feel very
unhappy. And yet you fear that if you achieve calmness, like me, you
will be unhappy, or at least lose the capacity for joy. Right?”
“Yes. Somehow I feel that way.”
“You mean, really, you believe that way. But I still ask: What
evidence have you for your belief? Have you experimentally tried,
even for a few days or weeks, acting as calmly as I? Have you, in the
course of such a trial, proven to your own satisfaction-or shall we
say, your own dissatisfaction?-that you then feel worse, more
unhappy, than you feel now?”
“No, I can’t say I have.”
“Then why don’t you, quite experimentally, try? After all, you can
always return to your present depressed state, you know, if this kind
of honest trial fails. If, somehow, you try behaving more rationally
and start turning into a computer-like zombie, you can always return
to whatever degree of irrationality you care to get back into your life.
You sign no contract to continue behaving in a cold and dull ‘rational’
manner, if your experiment in logical thinking actually starts turning
out that way. So far as I can see, however, because you haven’t tried
rationality yet, and because you feel distinctly miserable living your
present irrational way, you keep setting up a bogeyman as an excuse
against the ‘dangers’ of changing yourself.”
“You mean people like me so greatly fear changing their ways that
they dream up exaggerated and false objections to doing so?”
“Precisely. Without even trying a new path, you set up so many
highly fanciful objections to it that you never give yourself a chance
to learn whether it would be satisfying.”
“So you think that my disturbance, right now, consists not so
much of my acting irrationally, but of my refusing to even try
rationality and then insisting that, if I did try it, it would make me
into a mechanical, unemotional zombie?”
“Exactly. Why don’t you try it and see?”
Ronald did try working against his compulsive eating and
questioning the irrational beliefs leading to his crippling anxieties.
Several weeks later, after making considerable progress, he
enthusiastically reported:
“Not only have I stopped eating when I don’t feel hungry, as I did
when I came to see you, but I’ve actually started a real diet for the
84 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
first time in years and have already lost eight pounds. I feel sure I’ll
keep it up, now that I see that my eating mainly served to distract me
from my nutty idea that I can’t face the hazards of life myself, without
the continual babying of my parents, my wife, and even my children.
“I really want to bring up another point. As my compulsive eating
and some of my fears of standing on my own feet kept going down,
that mechanical-like feeling that I so feared getting a few weeks ago
just hasn’t materialized. Just the opposite! I feel so darned more
emotional, in a good way, and so enthusiastic about my life, that I
practically go to the office singing every morning. In fact, this very
morning I did find myself singing, for the first time in years. And I
stopped for a moment, as I listened to myself and said, ‘Wow! That
son-of-a-gun Harper-how right! If singing on the way to work
illustrates how mechanical this rational therapy stuff will help make
me, I think I’d better get some heavier doses of it and learn to warble
like a nightingale!’ Mechanical-schmechanical-I like acting like
this kind of a robot!”
As this client began to see, a rational approach to life does not
mean a one-sided kind of rationality. The definition of rational used
in REBT is: showing reason; not foolish or silly; sensible; leading to
efficient results; producing desired effects with a minimum of
expense, waste, unnecessary effort, or unpleasant side effects;
helping to achieve the individual and social goals that you strive for.
Human reason, therefore, includes healthy emotionality, good
habits and an exciting existence. Rational living is not an end in
itself. Life is rational when you use your head to experience happier,
more fulfilling days and years. To be rational, you act (and feel!)
more joyously.
Rationality, as we use the term, shies away from perfectionism or
absolutism. Although we consider ourselves pretty rational, we are
not dedicated rationalists. Rationalism holds that reason or intellect,
rather than the senses, is the true source of all knowledge. This we do
not believe. Like most modern scientists, we see knowledge as
greatly influenced by human perceiving and thinking. But we also see
it as dependent on sensing, feeling, and acting.
Some devotees of rationality, such as Ayn Rand and Nathaniel
Branden, think of reason as an absolute and claim that it invariably
produces “good” and “healthy” behavior. We do not agree; and I
IS REASON ALWAYS REASONABLE? 85
(A.E.) have written an entire book describing the dangers of
objectivism, the philosophy of Rand.
Ifwe do not see rational thinking as an Absolute Good, or an end
in itself, but more reasonably consider it a means toward the end of
increasing human happiness-and particularly of minimizing anxiety,
depression, hostility, and self-downing-we avoid the pitfall of being
too rational. Extreme, exaggerated, or dogmatic “rationality” is a
contradiction. As soon as we take reason to self-defeating extremes
and make it into dogmatism, it no longer is reason. Absolute reason
is probably absolute nonsense!
Some followers ofREBT are accused of behaving “too rationally”
and of encouraging their clients to act too unemotionally. Such
accusations may have some truth. But if so, these followers practice
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy badly. As we noted before,
Maxie C. Maultsby has defined rational thinking as the kind of
thought that most likely will result in the preservation of your life and
limb, will produce a minimum of inner conflict and turmoil, and, if
you act on it, will prevent you from experiencing undesirable conflict
with other people.
If you follow this kind ofrational thinking, you will not respond
mechanically or overintellectually. Various people mean various
things by the term rational. We mean: sensible, efficient, unselfdefeating.
And we include human emotion, sensitivity, creativity, and
art as quite rational pursuits-as long as you do not take them to such
extremes as to sabotage your living and other forms of enjoying.
Is rationalizing rational? By no means! Rationalizing means
inventing seemingly rational or plausible explanations for your acts,
beliefs, or desires, usually without your awareness that these
explanations do not hold water. Rationalizing or excusing your
behavior, therefore, amounts to the opposite of thinking rationally
about it.
Similarly, although to intellectualize, in a philosophic sense,
means to reason or to think, in a psychological sense it means to
overemphasize intellectual pursuits, such as computer science, and to
downplay emotional areas, such as drama or music. To intellectualize
also means to think about your emotional problems so compulsively
as to deny and to avoid them rather than to solve them.
Although, therefore, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy strongly
86 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
favors a highly reasoned approach to human life, it does not favor
rationalizing or intellectualizing. To reason your way out of your
emotional upsets is to be sane and sensible. But to rationalize and
intellectualize about your self-defeating behavior helps you
perpetuate it. They are not our thing. If some people accuse us of
advocating rationalized and intellectualized “solutions” to human ills,
that is their problem!
Another caution about the powers of reasoning. Most people are
able to think much better than they do about their problems-and, to
help them (and you) do so, we have written this book. But thinking
can be interfered with by several learning disorders (such as attention
deficit disorder) and severe personality disorders (such as obsessivecompulsive
disorder). If you or your associates have unusual trouble
thinking rationally and behaving effectively, by all means have these
possible disorders investigated. If they are found to exist, various
kinds of special treatment-including rehabilitation, skill training,
medication, and psychotherapy-may be required in addition to selftraining
in rational thinking.
Chapter 9
Refusing to Feel
Desperately Unhappy
Anyone who tries to give you rules for complete happiness is not
being very rational! Yet we br~shly declare: We can teach you the art
of (virtually) never feeling desperately unhappy.
Are we inconsistent? Not really. We cannot tell you how to be
happy because what you, as a unique individual, do and how much
pleasure you get from doing it largely depends on your personal
preferences-which we cannot very well predict. You may adore a
walk in the country; or you may hate it. You may feel ecstatic over
having sex with your mate; or you may see it as a bore. How can we,
then, tell you what will bring you joy?
We can, of course, tell you what makes us happy, but we cannot
predict, except by encouraging you to experiment, what you will find
gratifying. We can sometimes guess that something general, such as
absorbing work or vital interest in a cause, will make you happy. But
what work or what vital interest will do the trick we cannot honestly
say. Only you, in the last analysis, by a process of your own trial and
error, can answer that question.
If we can’t tell you how to be happy, can we tell you how to avoid
feeling unduly miserable? To some extent, yes. Because while people
differ enormously in what they find enjoyable, they almost always are
miserable when they make themselves anxious, depressed, and selfpitying.
And we, as psychologists who have worked with many
miserable people, can often tell you what you do to make yourself
desperately unhappy-and how to stop doing it.
Do we claim that you never rightly make yourself heavy-hearted?
No, not quite. Merely that you tend to easily create considerable
87
88 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
needless pain, suffering, and misery. In fact, almost all the sustained
and “unbearable” anguish that you feel, except that which goes with
prolonged physical pain, is unnecessary. You mostly manufacture it.
“Oh, come now!” you may protest. “You don’t mean to say, Drs.
Ellis and Harper, that if my mother dies, my mate leaves me, and I
lose a fine job-that even then I don’t need to feel seriously
depressed?”
But we do mean exactly that. No matter what happens to you, with
the exception of continuous physical pain, we do not think it
necessary to make yourself horrified or depressed. But we do believe
that you will find it desirable and healthy to make yourself quite
disappointed, frustrated, and grieving.
“What kind of gobbledygook have we here?” you may ask. “You
find depression unnecessary but grieving desirable and healthy?
Seriously?”
Yes, seriously! We would like you to acknowledge that you
consciously or unconsciously bring them on–or choose to
experience depression and horror. Because you needlessly produce
these feelings with your self-defeating Irrational Beliefs, you can
consciously choose to change them to healthy negative emotions.
“Really? Really!!?”
Yes, really, but before you split a gut, perhaps we’d better define
the terms of happy and unhappy. Then you may not think us so crazy
as we may at first blush seem.
The dictionary loosely defines the term unhappy as: sad;
miserable; wretched; sorrowful. This, however, tells only half the real
story. Unhappiness actually seems to consist of at least two somewhat
distinct reactions: (1) a feeling of sadness, sorrow, irritation,
annoyance, or regret at your not getting what you want or at your
getting what you do not want; and (2) a second and quite different
feeling of panic, depression, worthlessness, or rage because you see
yourself as deprived or thwarted; strongly convince yourself that you
should not, must not, be frustrated; and view it as horrible and awful
when you are.
Misery, in other words, consists of two fairly distinct parts: (1)
desiring, wishing, or preferring that you achieve some goal or
purpose and feeling disappointed and irritated when you do not
achieve it; and (2) demanding, insisting, commanding, and
REFUSING TO FEEL DESPERATELY UNHAPPY 89
necessitating that you achieve your goal or purpose and making
yourself feel bitter, enraged, panicked, despairing, and self-downing
when you do not. I
In REBT, we distinguish between he~lthy feelings of sorrow or
irritation when you lose something you desire; and unhealthy feelings
of depression or rage stemming from your refusal to accept
frustrations, and from your whining that they absolutely must not
exist. If you think rationally (self-helpingly), you will feel greatly
disappointed or sad about the loss of a person you care for. But you
need not also feel utterly overwhelmed and depressed about the same
loss. You may sanely choose to feel strongly annoyed or irritated by
frustrating conditions. But you need not make yourself feel very
enraged or self-pitying about these defeats.
While your feelings of loss or grief are healthy reactions to
distinct losses, your feeling of panic or depression are not. Why? For
several important reasons:
1. When something undesirable occurs to you at point A (your
Activating Experience or Adversity), you feel sorrowful or sad at
point C (your emotional Consequence) because you usually tell
yourself at point B (your Belief System), “It is quite unfortunate that
I have lost this person or thing.” This represents a logical or
“provable” statement-a Rational Belief (RB}-since you can show
(in the light of your own value system) that misfortune does follow
from this loss. Thus, if you lose your mate or your job, you will suffer
several disadvantages, and it is foolish for you to conclude, “How
fortunate!” and to feel happy about it.
2. Your feelings of panic or depression are a radically different
kind of emotional Consequence (point C). They largely stem from
your Irrational Belief (IB), “It is awful or horrible that I have lost this
person or thing.” Awful or horrible, when you use them in this
context, virtually never just mean unfortunate or bad. They mean
more than this. If you carefully think about it, you will see that
something more than bad cannot very well exist. No matter how
unfortunate it is to lose your mate or your job, it still is only
unfortunate. Even when you deem it extremely or outstandingly
unfortunate, it still cannot be more than that. And the term awful,
when it leads to panic or depression, really means-think about it
now; do not merely take our word for it!-much more than
90 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
unfortunate. It tends to mean that your loss is as bad as any loss could
be–one hundred percent bad. Most unlikely!-since it could almost
always be even worse. And it means that your loss is so bad that it
absolutely must not exist. But, of course, it does exist. So, awful is an
unrealistic, gross exaggeration. Awfulizing makes your feelings of
grief worse than they otherwise would be and makes you less able to
cope with them.
3. It may seem a quibble to keep using terms like unfortunate,
disadvantageous, and inconvenient, while avoiding terms like awful,
horrible, and terrible. But it is far more than a quibble! For if you
convince yourself that it is exceptionally unfortunate when your mate
rejects you, you strongly imply that you would find it distinctly
fortunate if you persuaded him or her to return to your
relationship-and that you would see it as fortunate if you could
relate well to another partner. Consequently, you will be motivated,
by conceiving this loss as unfortunate, to do something about it: for
example, get into another good relationship or enjoy yourself even
though you are alone. But if you convince yourself that rejection is
awful, you will tend to do little about it-except: (a) mull endlessly
about its awfulness; (b) put yourself down for having created that
awful result; ( c) convince yourself that you feel too upset to do
anything about relating again to another partner; (d) foolishly predict
that you can never have a desirable relationship again; ( e) damn
yourself totally and “prove” to yourself that a worm like you doesn’t
deserve acceptance; and (f) convince yourself that the Demon of
Awfulness has irrevocably clutched you and that you have no power
to help yourself or to cope with such incredible horror.
Your seeing any unfortunate Activating Experience or Adversity
as awful, horrible, terrible deludes you that you absolutely cannot
cope with the awful essence of the universe that plagues you with
such ghastliness. Now matter how unfortunate or undesirable an
event is, you still are able to cope with it. But if you see it as truly
terrible, you surrender almost all control you may have over it (and
over your feelings about it), and you subject yourself to worse
misfortune.
4. If you face yourself honestly, you can admit that when you
view some loss or frustration as awful, you usually mean that because
it is quite disadvantageous, it should not, must not, ought not, exist.
REFUSING TO FEEL DESPERATELY UNHAPPY 91
You don’t merely see it as undesirable but claim that the universe
shouldn’t foist it on you. Nor do you mean that because of its badness
this event preferably should not exist. You mean that it absolutely
should not! This kind of shoulding, musting, and oughting is
unrealistic, illogical, and self-defeating for several reasons:
a. As far as we know, no absolute shoulds, oughts, and musts
exist in the world. You can legitimately say, “Jfl want to survive,
I must take reasonably good care of my health,” because you do
not make this must absolute, but make it contingent on your goal.
But if you say, “I must survive, no matter how I take care of my
health,” you make an absolutistic statement and claim that a
special law of the universe exists which says that under all
conditions you must survive. Such a law doesn’t exist. You
dogmatically invent it.
b. When you devoutly believe in absolutistic shoulds, oughts, or
musts, you are incredibly grandiose and claim God-like powers
that you do not possess. For your statement, “I must not get
rejected by my partner and therefore it is awful that he or she has
left me,” actually means, “Because I want very much to have my
partner love me, he or she must.” Well, what sense does that
make? Do you-really–control your mate’s (or anyone else’s)
feelings? Are you-truly!-the King of Kings or the Mother of
the Universe? Lots of luck!
c. Whenever you say that something must exist, when it actually
does not, you foolishly contradict yourself. If people truly must
love you, then an unqualified law of the universe states that they
have no other choice, and that they have to favor you. But if you
find it awful when you see they no longer love you, you believe
that they really must do what they are not doing. How could this
contradictory state of affairs ever exist? If they must love you,
then they obviously do (for the fates so command); and if they
now don’t, then your must can’t exist. You can’t at one and the
same time, vehemently contend that people must love you and that
they don’t. Whatever must exist clearly does. Your alleging that
absolute mustness exists is obviously false. If it did, you’d never
have any problems getting what you “must” get!
d. If you think about it, you will see that any devout belief in an
absolute must will cause you to feel anxious. For it is highly
92 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
probable that what you say must exist actually (especially under
some conditions) won’t exist-and then you’ll tend to feel
destroyed. If you say, “People must always love me sincerely,”
you set things up so that you will not merely feel sad and regretful
if they don’t, but also arrange that you will feel utterly despairing.
For you really mean, by this statement, “If they ever stop loving
me, I will be a thoroughly inadequate person who cannot possibly
accept myself or lead an enjoyable existence.” Well! If you really
believe this hogwash you not only place some of your happiness
on the line, but also, if people stop caring for you, you risk losing
all happiness. You not only fail in your relationship with them,
but you also risk you, your entire present and future. Knowing the
great penalty involved-that you will insist on losing yourself in
case you lose them-you will almost always make yourself very
anxious (rather than healthily concerned) about achieving a good
relationship.
To make matters still worse, once you profoundly believe, “People
must always love me sincerely,” not only do you prepare an anxious
bed of thorns in case they don’t, but you also keep lying in the same
thorny bed when they do. For if you say to yourself, “Oh! People
really do love me now. How wonderful! What a great person that
makes me!” you will almost inevitably think, a short while later, “But
suppose they no longer love me tomorrow? How awful! What a
worthless person I would then become!” So even when you do get
what you think you must get, you still are panicked over the
possibility that you will lose it in the future. For there always
remains, in our changeable world, the strong possibility that you will
lose it. People who now dote on you, for example, may die; move to
a distant part of the world; suffer severe physical or emotional
problems; naturally cease to care for you; or otherwise change their
feelings. How, then, can you unanxiously live with any absolutistic
musts about their loving you?
You can see, then, how you can healthily feel deep loss and
sorrow and how you can unhealthily feel depressed, panicked, and
self-downing when you lose a loved person or goal. Unhappiness, we
say, when it includes the former feelings, seems quite sane and
legitimate. But unhappiness that involves awfulizing and horribilizing
is unnecessary. You largely create depression and anguish not by the
REFUSING TO FEEL DESPERATELY UNHAPPY 93
Activating Experiences that happen in your life (at point A), but by
your Belief System (at point B). And because you can choose your
Beliefs, and because you can consider losses unfortunate and
unpleasant instead of awful and terrible, you really have substantial
control over your feelings. If you clearly see exactly what you do to
create them and if you will use your head to change them!
Having said this, let us emphasize that we do not believe that any
human can, for any length of time, feel perfectly or completely happy.
Your frantic search for a perfect anything, in fact, almost dooms you
to misery. You aren’t the kind of animal that achieves perfection in
virtually anything-especially perfect happiness. Because of your
ever-changing experiences, you are subject to hundreds of irritations,
pains, ills, diseases, and stresses. So you can overcome many of your
physical and emotional handicaps, as we show in this book. But not
all!
For example, you can usually tackle and change your feeling of
deep depression. But you can effectively tackle it largely because you
feel it steadily, and because you have sufficient time to think about
it, track back its origins and dispute the thinking with which you
create and sustain it. Brief negative feelings, on the other hand,
cannot as easily be tackled, because you feel them fleetingly and may
not have much chance to explore and change them.
You rarely completely win the battle against psychological pain.
When you feel miserable because of some Irrational Beliefs and you
discover and change these, you rarely keep them away forever, but
from time to time revive them. So you had better keep changing your
demands and insistences. For instance, you may invent the idea that
you cannot live without someone’s approval and may keep making
yourself immensely miserable because of this Belief. Then, after
much hard thinking, you may finally believe that you can live
satisfactorily without your friend’s support. But from time to time,
you will probably revive the notion that your life is valueless without
his or her or some other person’s approval. So once again you’d better
actively Dispute and surrender this self-defeating Belief.
Let us hasten to add that you will usually find the task of
surrendering your self-defeating Beliefs easier as you persist. If you
consistently seek out and Dispute your disturbed philosophies, you
will find that their influence weakens. Eventually, some of them
94 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
almost entirely lose their power to harass you. Almost. For the day
may well come when, if only for a brief time, the same thought with
which you once drove yourself crazy again returns, until you keep
challenging and changing it.
You tend to have several powerful ideas that often lead to
emotional disturbance. Biologically, you easily think in these ways.
Socially, you live in cultures that often encourage you to think
irrationally.
Take, by way of illustration, the idea of your having to achieve
outstanding success. Quite possibly, you have some innate tendencies
like most humans, to try to perform very well: to strive to run the
fastest, garden the best, or climb the highest. As Robert White has
ably shown, you strongly prefer to master problems, relationships,
and other challenges. Considering the advantages the mastery urges
have for human survival, we may well surmise that they are partly
inherited.
To this innate tendency, we can add the competitive spirit that
most (though not all) cultures emphasize and we can understand the
high achievement drive of many people reared in these cultures.
Consequently, if you have grown up in a competitive society and are
depressed when you do not live up to its and your own demands for
success, you may have difficulty challenging this demand. For you
will then keep rationally fighting against characteristics or attitudes
that are deeply ingrained in your “nature.”
Difficult, however, does not mean impossible. Of course, you will
find it hard to think and to act rationally in an irrational world. Of
course you will have trouble reasoning your way out of
circumstances which have handicapped you for many years. All right,
it is difficult. But it also is difficult for a blind man to learn to read
Braille, a victim of polio to use his muscles again, or a normal person
to swing from a trapeze, learn ballet dancing, or play the piano well.
Tough! But they-and you-still can do it.
Many critics of a rational approach to living also deem it
“unnatural” for a person to act consistently rationally. They say that
the nature of the beast just isn’t that way. They are somewhat correct.
For if you are born and reared with many irrational tendencies you
may often find it “unnatural” to use your reasoning powers to
minimize these tendencies.
REFUSING TO FEEL DESPERATELY UNHAPPY 95
However, it is equally “unnatural” for people to wear shoes,
employ contraceptives, study foreign languages, drive cars, and do
many other acts that oppose their inborn tendencies and their early
upbringing. But we may also ask: How sane are you if you rigidly
stick only to “perfectly natural” behavior? Not very!
I shall always remember the young and potentially attractive
woman, Miriam, who was referred to me (A.E.) by her partner, John.
She refused to take care of her body and her appearance and, at the
age of twenty-three, already showed serious signs of overweight and
flabbiness. When I asked her why she didn’t take better care of
herself even though her friend (whom she said she cared for and
wanted to marry) was quite displeased with her appearance, she said:
“But would that really seem honest? Should I pretend, with lovely
clothes and makeup and stuff like that, to be more beautiful than I
really am? Would I then be true to myself-or to John? Wouldn’t he
know, actually, that I didn’t look the way I appeared on the surface,
and wouldn’t he resent me all the more? If he can’t accept me this
way, without the elegant clothes and makeup routine, if he can’t
accept me in my true state, what kind of love does he really have for
me anyway?”
I did my best to show Miriam that, quite apart from John and his
opinion of her looks, she could consider several reasons why she
herself would want to take better care of her body: For her health, for
instance; for her own aesthetic feelings when she looked in a mirror;
and for the vocational advantages her good looks might bring.
To no avail. Miriam kept returning to the theme of how artificial,
how unnatural, she would be if she tried to look more attractive. I
came within a hair of angering myself and telling her what she could
do with her blasted feelings of “integrity”-such as get herself to a
nunnery and have done with it!
Reason, however, prevailed. I reminded myself for the twentieth
time that I’d better not label Miriam a “real nut” but merely see her as
a mixed-up, defensive woman who, out of severe underlying fright,
stubbornly held to her “integrity” because she desperately felt that she
could not let go of it. I also told myself that even if I utterly failed to
help her change her self-sabotaging philosophies, I would not have
to devalue myself as a therapist or as a person. I would merely have
one more good, if alas unsuccessful, try under my belt; and I might
96 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
even learn something from my “defeat.” So back I went to our
therapeutic contest.
“Look,” I said, “you are too intelligent to believe the kind of
hogwash you keep handing yourself and handing me.”
“What do you mean, hogwash?” she asked rather belligerently.
“Just what I said, h-o-g-w-a-s-h. And you already know, to some
extent, what I mean. I can see that by the somewhat phony way in
which you lift your eyebrows. But, more explicitly, you keep saying
that you cannot do anything artificial and unnatural to make yourself
look better, because that would make you dishonest. Right?”
“Yes, I keep saying that-and, whether you think so or not, I
mean just that.”
“Perhaps so; but I don’t feel so sure. Let’s take your argument, for
a moment, to its logical extremes, to see whether it will hold up. You
won’t use makeup or attractive clothing because you call them
unnatural. All right. How about drinking glasses, knives, forks,
spoons, and other eating utensils. Do you find them unnatural?”
“Well, in a sense, yes. But not in the sense I mean.”
“No, not in the nonsense you mean. But what ‘sense’ do you
mean?”
Of course, she couldn’t tell me. She reverted to saying again, in a
vague and evasive manner, that she just didn’t think it right and
natural to make herself look good, but that somehow she found it
right and natural for her to use knives, forks, and spoons. I saw that
both of us kept getting nowhere, so I interrupted:
“Look: Why do you keep handing me this nonsense? Why don’t
we try, instead, to discover why you don’t use the words right and
natural, consistently, and why you find helping yourself with one
device OK, such as wearing glasses, but helping yourself with
another device, such as suitably tailored clothes, not OK. As I said
before, you usually are intelligent. Now surely you have some reason
why you remain so inconsistent. Why do you?”
She at first denied her inconsistency. But I wouldn’t buy that and
kept showing her how inconsistent she was. I said I would discuss
with her why and not whether she was inconsistent. She finally
seemed willing to discuss her self-contradictions. So I said:
“I don’t want to try to convince you that you have only abnormal
or pathological reasons for your inconsistency. Many therapists
REFUSING TO FEEL DESPERATELY UNHAPPY 97
practically insist that everything a client does must be pathological.
In Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, however, we look for some
of the healthy reasons why people do things that defeat their own
ends.”
“So if I consistently refuse to use artificial aids to improve my
looks, you think that I may have some healthy, as well as unhealthy,
reasons for this?”
“Right. Let’s take a fairly obvious healthy reason. You said before
that if your boyfriend cannot accept you the way you look, without
artificial aids, what kind of love does he really have for you? Well,
that view is partly accurate. For if he only loves you because of your
looks, his love will be superficial and probably unlasting. You may
then ask, Who needs this kind of love?”
“Yes-who needs it?”
“Right. Therefore, you sanely question how far you may go to
make yourself look beautiful, so that he may not love you only for
your looks. And that reason for refusing to use artificial beauty aids,
while at the same time using eyeglasses or forks and knives, seems
healthy. But when you take this same good reason and exaggerate it,
so that you refuse to use beauty aids for your own aesthetic and
health satisfactions, we’d better look for possible disturbed reasons
for your inconsistency.”
“Such as?”
“Such as your underlying fear that if you try to look good, you
may still fail, because you may believe that you really will remain
ugly, no matter how you fix yourself up. Or you may fear that you
may succeed, look fine, and still fail to marry John. Because he may
not love you in spite of your good looks.”
“But may I not seem unattractive to him, no matter what I do? And
may I not look fine to him and still ultimately be rejected by him?”
“Oh, certainly. Of course. We always remain in danger of trying
to win someone’s approval and of nonetheless falling on our faces
and not getting what we go after. True.”
“But wouldn’t that be terrible if I dieted, wore the right clothes,
and otherwise fixed myself up and still lost John?”
“It most certainly would not be terrible-unless you insist on
making it so. It would be highly inconvenient, of course, very
frustrating, and sad to lose John. But why would it be terrible?
98 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
Would you die of it? Would the ground open up and swallow you up?
Would you remain unable to get another boyfriend or enjoy life at
all, even if you were alone?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what I would do ifl really lost John.”
“You’ve now pinpointed your disturbance. You believe, quite
harmfully, that it would be terrible to lose John, and that you wouldn’t
know what to do if you lost him. By having these Beliefs, by
translating a frustration into a horror, you tend to bring about that
very “horror.” By believing that you can’t live successfully without
John, you practically make certain that you really can’t.”
“And because I believe it would be terrible to lose John, and know
that I may lose him no matter what I do with myself physically, I
deliberately shy away from doing much to keep him? I run away
from him in advance, so that I will not suffer the torments of the
damned later on?”
“Exactly. You sanely want John-because he presumably has
traits suited to you. Then you tell yourself that because you want him
you must have him, and would be destroyed if you did not. Then you
‘logically’ give up trying for him in advance, so as not to feel hurt
later. Or, more specifically, you set up exceptionally difficult rules of
the game-such as your refusing to try any beauty aids. You assume
that ifhe still loves you in spite of your restricting rules, he will later
love you forever and never leave you.”
“But does that seem so crazy?”
“Yes-because it practically never works. Like fearing that your
maid will bring back the wrong groceries and therefore demanding
that she have a Ph.D. degree in home economics before you hire her.
How good a chance do you have of finding anyone with a Ph.D. in
home economics who will want to work as a maid?”
“I see what you mean. I’d have little chance of finding such a
maid. Similarly, I have little chance ofretaining John’s love ifl keep
making these unreasonable demands on him?”
“Right. So instead of demanding that he change his preferences,
while retaining your own neurotic demand for undying love, had you
better not work to change your own nutty needs for total love
security?”
“Hmm. I never saw it that way before.”
“Emotional disturbance often consists of taking a healthy wish for
REFUSING TO FEEL DESPERATELY UNHAPPY 99
approval and turning it into an unhealthy demand. Then refusing to
do much to win it. Think about this and you’ll probably see it more
clearly.”
Miriam did think about it, began to diet and take care of her
appearance, and started to win more of John’s attention. Her case
shows that people often simultaneously behave reasonably and
unreasonably. They act intelligently and stupidly, thinkingly and
suggestibly. Although they rationally pursue what they want, they
also irrationally undermine themselves. Rational living, like all
aspects of life, is a process, an experiment. Hardly a necessity!
Stated differently: Adults often act in an immature, childish .
manner. One of the essences of their humanity is fallibility.
Consequently, they find it exceptionally easy to do sloppy, wishfulfilling
thinking. And thereby often get what they don’t want.
But the fact that you may easily behave childishly doesn’t mean
that you must. You can teach yourself to practice mature, reflective
thinking. If you do, you will hardly be completely level headed or
happy. But you can train yourself to rarely feel desperately miserable
or depressed. If, again, you work at it.
Suppose, however, that nothing seems to work. Suppose, you have
a long history of severe depression, have some close family members
who are also depressed, and have tried various therapies with no
success. You may possibly have biological or biochemical problems
that help make you “irrationally” miserable. Investigate this
possibility and if your depression–or other severe psychological
problems-seem to go with your innate tendencies to be disturbed,
consider using medication, psychotherapy, and other means to cope
with them. Changing your irrational thinking is fine. But think about
other forms of treatment too.
CHAPTER4
How You
Create Your Feelings
How can we understand and regulate emotion?
Thousands of books and articles have tried to answer this
question-none of them, as yet, with any certainty. Let us now,
without a perfect answer as our goal, see if we can shed some light
on this puzzling question.
Emotion is a life process that includes perceiving, moving, and
thinking. It is a combination of several seemingly separate, yet
actually closely related, elements. The famous neurologist, Stanley
Cobb, pointed out that emotion includes:
1. An internal feeling state, usually accompanied by
interpretations of–yes, thoughts about-what is happening to you.
2. A whole set of physiological changes, which help you keep in
touch with and maintain a normal balance in your environment.
3. Various patterns of active behavior, stimulated by your
environment and constantly interacting with it, expressing your
stirred-up physiological state and expressing your more or less
agitated psychological reactions.
Because you mainly react to other people, your emotion is
simultaneously physiological, psychological, and social.
Question: Is Dr. Cobb’s definition of emotion accepted by all
psychologists and psychiatrists?
Answer: No. As Horace English and Ava English point out, in
their Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychological Terms, we cannot
define emotion without referring to several conflicting theories.
Emotion has no single cause or result. It arises through a three-way
process: first, through some kind of physical stimulation of the
23
24 A GUIDE TO RA TI ON AL LIVING
special emotional center of our brains (called the hypothalamus) and
the nerve network of our bodies (called the autonomic nervous
system). Second, through our perceiving and moving (technically
called our sensorimotor) processes. Third, through our desiring and
thinking (our conation and cognition).
Normally, our emotional centers as well as our perceiving,
moving, and thinking centers are quite excitable and receptive. Then
a stimulus impinges upon and affects them. We can directly apply
this stimulus (in rather unusual cases) to the emotional centers-for
example, by electrically stimulating parts of the brain or by taking
exciting or depressing drugs which act on our central and autonomic
nervous system. Or we can (more usually) stimulate them indirectly,
through our perceiving, moving, and thinking, thereby affecting our
central nervous system and brain pathways which, in turn, influence
our emotional (hypothalamic and autonomic) centers.
If you wish to control your feelings, then, you may do so in three
major ways. Suppose, for example, you feel highly excitable and
wish to calm down. You can directly do so by electrical or
biochemical means-such as by taking tranquilizing drugs. Or,
second, through your perceiving-moving (sensorimotor) system, by
doing relaxation exercises, dancing, doing yoga, or using breathing
techniques. Third, you can use your willing-thinking processes by
imagining tranquil scenes, or focusing on calming thoughts.
Which combination of these ways of controlling your emotional
state will be most effective? That depends largely on how disturbed
you feel and in what ways you wish to change or control your feeling.
Question: If we have three effective methods of controlling our
emotions, why do you emphasize one of them in REBT?
Answer: For several reasons. First, we do not specialize in
medicine or biophysics, and therefore do not stress medical,
bioelectrical, or other physical methods. We often refer clients to
physicians, physiotherapists, masseurs, and other individuals who
specialize in such modes of treatment; and we favor combining some
of these methods with REBT. But they are not especially our thing.
Second, we agree that several physical means of reducing tensions
and changing human behavior-such as yoga, dancing, and
massage-may have beneficial effects. But we are skeptical of
vast claims frequently made for these techniques. They largely
HOW YOU CREATE YOUR FEELINGS 25
consist of distraction, and help you focus on your body rather than on
the thoughts and fantasies with which you tend to plague yourself.
Consequently, they calm you but don’t lead to a deep-reaching cure.
They help you feel better instead of get better, and rarely lead to
elegant philosophical changes, which consist of profound changes in
some of your core dysfunctional beliefs, such as your self-damnation
and awfulizing. Unless combined with thinking-desiring methods,
they are limited. Thus, you may reduce your depression by using
drugs or relaxation techniques. But unless you begin to think more
clearly and surrender some of your Irrational Beliefs, you will tend
to depress yourself again when you stop the drugs or exercises. To
effect permanent and deep-seated improvement, philosophic changes
seem to be best.
Again, we often encourage our clients to use medication,
relaxation techniques, movement therapy, yoga exercises, or other
physical approaches. We believe that these techniques may help. And
we teach, as we shall show later, many emotive, dramatic, fantasy,
self-management, and behavior modification methods. More than
most other schools of therapy, REBT employs a comprehensive,
integrative approach to treatment.
We still hold, however, that if you would most thoroughly and
permanently change your disturbed feelings, you’d better use
considerable reasoning. Because a large element (though not the
whole) of destructive emotion stems from unrealistic, illogical, and
self-sabotaging thinking.
Question: Granted that biological and sensorimotor therapies are
limited. But are not rational approaches to conscious thought equally
superficial? Have not psychoanalysts long ago established the fact
that unconscious processes create much emotional behavior? How
can we learn to control and change the thoughts behind our feelings
when these thoughts are buried deeply in our unconscious minds?
Answer: A good point! And one that we cannot answer in a word.
As we shall keep showing throughout this book, what psychoanalysts
keep referring to as “deeply unconscious thoughts” are mostly what
Freud originally called preconscious ideas. These thoughts and
feelings are not immediately accessible to our awareness. But we can
fairly easily learn to discover them by working back from the feelings
and behaviors that go with them.
26 A GUIDE TO RA TI ON AL LIVING
Whatever your emotional upsets are, REBT shows you how to
find the thoughts that underlie them-and thereby succeed in
deciphering the “unconscious” messages you transmit to yourself.
Once you begin to see, understand, and begin to Dispute the
Irrational Beliefs that go with your unhealthy feelings, you make
yourself aware of your “unconscious” thoughts and greatly enhance
your power to change them and reduce your disturbances.
Let us note again that a large part of what we call emotion stems
from a certain kind-a biased, prejudiced, and strongly eyaluative
kind-of thinking. What we usually label as thinking consists of a
relatively calm appraisal of a situation, a cool-headed analysis of its
elements, and a reasonable conclusion about it.
Thus, when you calmly think, you observe a piece of bread, see
one part of it is moldy, remember that eating mold previously made
you ill, and therefore cut off the moldy part and eat the rest of the
bread. When you agitatedly think and emote, however, you may
observe the same piece of bread and remember your previous
experience with the moldy bread so violently that you may make
yourself feel nauseated, throw away the whole piece of bread, and go
hungry.
When you emote, in this instance, you do as much thinking as
when you healthily think about the bread. But you do a different kind
of thinking-thinking so prejudiced about your unpleasant prior
experience that you do it in a biased, overgeneralized, and ineffective
way. When you unagitatedly think, you use the maximum
information available to you-the information that moldy bread is
unpleasant and unmoldy bread is good. But when you frantically
think and emote, you use only part of the information available-that
moldy bread is “nauseating” and is therefore not to be eaten at all.
Thinking does not mean unemotional; nor does emotional mean
unthinking. When you think, you usually are less biased by previous
experiences and prejudices than when you feel “emotional.” You
therefore tend to employ more of the available information and to do
less overgeneralizing. You then act more flexibly about making
decisions.
Question: Hadn’t you better watch your step? After first making
a four-way division of human behavior into the acts of perceiving,
moving, thinking, and feeling, you now talk about a “thinking” and
HOW YOU CREATE YOUR FEELINGS 27
an “emotional” individual as if you had never made your previous
distinctions.
Answer: Right! No exclusively thinking or emotional persons
exist, since everyone simultaneously perceives, moves, thinks, and
feels. However, to use our previous terms, some people perceive,
move, think, and feel; while others perceive, move, think, andfeel.
The latter often do a kind of thinking different from the former, and
hence predominantly feel. While the others, with their calmer and
less prejudiced type of cognition, more often predominantly think.
All people, however, when not in some kind of coma, think and
emote.
More important: We all feel, but many of us have unhealthy
feelings much of the time, while others have largely healthy ones. No
matter how honestly and strongly you feel your feelings, they aren’t
holy; and some therapists have misled us in this respect. They hold
that all authentic and intense feelings are “good.” Well, not exactly!
That depends on your goals.
You do not merely feel; nor do you just (for no good reason) feel.
You feel, rather, because you mainly evaluate things as “good” or
“bad,” favorable or disadvantageous to your chosen goals. And your
feelings motivate-move-you to survive and feel happy (or
unhappy) while surviving.
You feel, for example, good about living and bad about dying. So,
because of these feelings, you avoid swimming too far out to sea,
driving your car at ninety-five miles an hour, jumping off cliffs, and
consuming poisonous foods. If you didn’t have these feelings, how
long would you survive?
You also feel, now that you have chosen to live, that you prefer
different kinds of pleasures; that you desire productivity rather than
idleness; that you choose efficiency instead of inefficiency; that you
like creativity; that you enjoy absorption in long-range pursuits (such
as building a business or writing a novel); and that you desire
intimate relations with others. Notice that all the words in italics
involve feelings and that without them, you would not experience
pleasure, joy, efficiency, creativity, and love. Your feelings not only
help to keep you alive; they also aid you to survive happily.
Feelings, then, go with your values and purposes-especially your
survival and happiness. When they help you achieve these goals, we
28 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
call them healthy feelings. When they block your basic goals, we call
them unhealthy. REBT shows you how to distinguish clearly between
healthy negative emotions, such as your feeling real sorrow or
annoyance when you don’t get what you want, and unhealthy or selfdefeating
emotions, such as your feeling depressed, self-downing, or
enraged under the same conditions.
By the same token, REBT helps you discriminate between rational
and irrational thinking. It holds that rational thinking normally leads
to healthy and irrational thinking to unhealthy emoting. What do we
call rational thinking? That kind that assists you (1) to survive and (2)
to achieve the goals or values you select to make your survival
pleasurable, enjoyable, or worthwhile. Select? Yes, individually and
socially select.
Dr. Maxie Maultsby, a rational emotive behavioral psychiatrist,
outlines four main characteristics of rational thinking, which we
modify as follows:
1. Rational Beliefs (RBs) accept and largely follow social
reality-the “facts” and rules of the community in which you choose
to live. You rationally follow most of these “facts” and rules even
when you dislike them.
2. If you act on it, a Rational Belief will most likely help preserve
your life and limb.
3. If you act on RBs, they help you achieve your personally
chosen goals most quickly and efficiently.
4. If you act on RBs, they minimize your inner personal conflict
and your sabotaging of your environment.
These Rational Beliefs seem sensible enough but they are to some
degree individualistic. REBT aids happy individualism but
also-along with Alfred Adler-stresses social interaction. We
therefore add:
5. Rational Beliefs-and healthy feelings and behaviors-are
socially interested, and help preserve, perpetuate, and enhance the
happiness of the group in which you choose to live and of the human
race as a whole.
What we call emotion, then, seems to include, first, a certain kind
of forceful thinking-a kind strongly influenced by your biology and
by your previous perceptions and experiences. Second, intense bodily
responses, such as feelings of pleasure or disgust. Third, tendencies
HOW YOU CREA TE YOUR FEELINGS 29
toward positive or negative actions in regard to the events that
accompany your strong thinking and emoting.
In other words: Emotion accompanies a kind of powerful,
vigorous, prejudiced, or “hot” thought. “Cool” thinking often is a
relatively calm, less biased, reflective kind of judgment. Thus, if we
compare one apple with another, we may thoughtfully conclude that
it has more firmness, fewer blemishes, and better color and therefore
feel “good” about it. But if we have had very pleasant experiences
with blemished apples (if we, for instance, successfully bobbed for
one at a Halloween party and, as a prize, kissed an attractive member
of the other sex); or if we have had unpleasant prior experiences with
unblemished apples (if we ate too many and felt ill), we may
excitedly, rashly, and prejudicially-meaning, emotionally-react
quite differently!
Thinking and emoting are closely connected but at times differ
because what we call thinking is a more tranquil, less activitydirected
mode of judging. But what we call emoting is a less tranquil,
more bodily involved, and more action-oriented mode of behavior.
Question: Do you really contend that all emotion directly follows
thought and can under no condition exist without thinking?
Answer: No, we do not believe or say that. Emotion may briefly
exist without thought. An individual, for instance, steps on your toe
and you spontaneously, immediately get angry. Or you hear a piece
of music and you instantly begin to feel warm and excited. Or you
learn that a close friend died and you begin to feel sad. Under these
conditions, you may feel emotional with little or no associated
thinking.
Perhaps, however, even in these cases you do, with split-second
rapidity, start thinking to yourself: “This person who stepped on my
toe is a louse!” or “This music sounds wonderful!” or “Oh, how awful
that my friend died!” Perhaps only after you have had these rapid-fire
and “unconscious” thoughts you then begin to feel emotional.
In any event, assuming that you don’t, at the very beginning, have
any conscious or unconscious thought accompanying your emotion,
you virtually never sustain an emotional outburst without bolstering
it with ideas. For unless you keep telling yourself something on the
order of “That louse who stepped on my toe shouldn’t have done
that!” or “How could he do a horrible thing like that to me!” the pain
30 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
of having your toe stepped on will soon die and your emotional
reaction will die with the pain.
Of course, you may keep getting your toe stepped on and your
continuing pain may help sustain your anger. But assuming that your
pain stops, you normally sustain your emotional response by some
kind of thinking. Maybe it just persists, but that seems unlikely.
Similarly with pleasant feelings. By continuing to listen to certain
music and having your sensations prolonged, your feelings of warmth
and excitement may be sustained. But even then you will have
difficulty sustaining your feelings unless you keep telling yourself
something like: “I find this music great!” “Oh, how I love those
harmonies!” “What a wonderful composer!” and so on.
In the case of the death of one of your close friends or relatives,
you will easily make yourself depressed, because you have lost
someone for whom you truly care. But even in this instance you will
find it difficult to sustain your depression unless you keep reminding
yourself: “Oh, how terrible that he has died!” or “How could she have
died so young?” or something of that sort.
Sustained emotion, then, normally requires repeated evaluations.
We say “normally” because emotional circuits, once they have begun
to react to some physical or psychological stimulus, can also keep
resounding under their own power.
Drugs or electrical impulses can also keep acting directly on
emotion-carrying nervous circuits (such as the cells of the
hypothalamus and autonomic nervous system) and thereby keep you
emotionally aroused. Usually, however, continued direct stimulation
of your emotion-producing centers does not occur. You make it
reoccur by re-stimulating yourself with arousing ideas.
Question: Granting that thoughts usually precede, follow, and
sustain human feelings, must these thoughts literally consist of words,
phrases, and sentences that people “say to themselves”? Does all
thinking consist of self-verbalizations?
Answer: No. You can think in terms of images, symbols, and other
non-verbal processes. However, practically all of us, by the time we
reach adulthood, seem to do most of our important thinking and
emoting through self-talk or internalized sentences.
Humans, are uniquely language-creating animals, and learn from
early childhood to state their thoughts, perceptions, and feelings in
HOW YOU CREATE YOUR FEELINGS 31
words, phrases, and sentences. They usually find this easier than to
think in pictures, sounds, touch units, or other possible methods.
To illustrate, let us take the example of a man, Bill, who is
interviewed for a job (at point A, his Activating Experience). Before
the interview, he will often start talking to himself (at point B, his
Belief System) along the following lines:
“I wonder if I’ll get this job … .I wish I didn’t have to face the
interview, because I won’t enjoy it and they may reject me …. But if
I don’t face it, I certainly won’t get the job …. Besides, what difference
does it make if they do reject me? I really have nothing to lose
thereby …. While if I don’t try for the job, I may have a lot to
lose … .I’d better, then, take the interview, get it over with, and see
whether I am accepted.”
By telling himself these kinds of sentences, Bill thinks. And we
may call his thoughts Rational Beliefs (RBs) because they help him
to get what he values or wants-the job which he seeks. He therefore
feels healthy emotional Consequences (at point C)-determination
to get the job; positive action to go for the interview; and feelings of
disappointment and annoyance ifhe is rejected.
If, however, Bill creates for himself unhealthy emotional
Consequences (C), he usually does so by telling himself different
sentences that include Irrational Beliefs (IBs):
“Suppose I go for this interview, make a fool of myself, and don’t
get the job …. That would be awful! … Or suppose I go for the
interview, get the job and then am incompetent. … How horrible! I
would be a worm!”
By telling himself these kinds of sentences, and including the
irrational negative evaluation, “That would be awful!” or “How
horrible! I would be a worm!” Bill changes his Rational Beliefs
(RBs) to Irrational Beliefs (IBs) about his job-seeking situation. We
can see then, that for all practical purposes, his evaluative
internalized Beliefs create his emotional reactions. He feels in his
gut, in his body; but he largely creates his feelings in his head.
Positive human emotions, then, such as feelings oflove or elation,
often accompany or result from positive internal Beliefs such as “This
is good!” And healthy negative human emotions (like feelings of
displeasure and disappointment) accompany Rational Beliefs such as
“This is frustrating and bad.” Similarly, unhealthy negative emotions
32 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
(like depression and rage) go with Irrational Beliefs such as “This is
awful! I would be a worm!” Without having-consciously or
unconsciously-such strong Beliefs as these, we would not feel very
much.
Question: If what you say is true, why do so few people, including
few members of the psychological profession, clearly see that
thinking and emoting go together and that they largely stem from
internal Beliefs? Pure ignorance on their part?
Answer: In part, yes. Many people, including mental health
professionals, just don’t bother to look closely at emotions and
therefore don’t see the thoughts that go with them. Others look
closely enough, but only in the light of some prejudice, such as
classical psychoanalysis. Some rigid Freudians will not consider the
possibility that you can understand and change your emotion by
observing and changing your beliefs just like some true believers, as
Eric Hoffer pointed out, will not consider anything other than their
bigoted interpretations of “reality.”
We flexibly contend: You can change your thinking and the
emotions that go with it by discovering and changing your strong
Beliefs. We hold, more importantly, that you often needlessly create
unhealthy emotions-such depression, anxiety, rage, and feelings of
worthlessness-and that you can remodel them if you will change
your thinking and follow it up with effective action.
Question: Can you eliminate all negative emotions by controlling
your thinking?
Answer: Hardly. Many strong feelings, such as outpourings of fear
or grief, almost inevitably follow danger or loss. Thus, if your parent
or child dies, you immediately tend to feel great sorrow or grief.
These emotions, based on real threats to your well-being, have
biological roots and you could hardly survive without them. Certain
negative feelings greatly aid survival. Thus, if you did not feel
displeased, sorry, regretful, annoyed, irritated, frustrated, or
disappointed when you suffered hunger, injury, or defeat, would you
avoid harmful happenings? Or would you push yourself to get the
things you really want?
Many emotions, moreover, add to your health and happiness.
Your joy at hearing a beautiful piece of music, watching a lovely
sunset, or successfully finishing a difficult task does not exactly
HOW YOU CREATE YOUR FEELINGS 33
preserve your life. But a life with no such feelings would be drab and
unrewarding.
Your striving, therefore, to eliminate all emotions hardly helps.
Being unemotional would dehumanize you and your loved ones. To
be healthy and happy you seek meaning in your life-emotional
meaning!
Philosophers who ask us to achieve a state of pure “soul” or pure
intellect, devoid of all “crass” emotions, actually would make us pure
robots. If we achieved this “superior” state, we might, like some of
our powerful computers, effectively solve certain problems. But feel
any pleasure or satisfaction? Not exactly!
Question: Ridding the world of emotion, then, or completely
substituting intellect for feeling, definitely does not thrill you?
Correct?
Answer: Quite correct! If anything, we want to help inhibited and
listless people to achieve more honest feeling, higher pitches of
emotion. We favor passionate experiencing. We merely oppose
overwhelming negative, self-defeating, highly exaggerated
emotionalizing that tends to sabotage your goals of survival and
joyfulness.
We also encourage your honestly, openly, and nonjudgmentally
getting in touch with your feelings-as long as you do not think that
you must feel them perfectly. For what you really or truly feel you
often cannot exactly determine. You make yourself enraged, for
example, at a friend who lets you down. Then you make yourself feel
guilty because you hate him. Then you violently recall the “wrongs”
he has done you and keep incensing yourself at him, thereby covering
up or driving away your guilt. What do you really feel in this case:
rage? guilt? defensive hatred? sorrow? regret? self-hatred?
Who can, with absolute accuracy, say? Yes, you are, as a human,
highly suggestible. Yes, you can easily hide or increase your feelings.
Yes, your moods are susceptible to alcohol, drugs, food, others’
words and moods, and a host of other influences. This proves that
you can feel, from moment to moment, almost any way you choose
or do not choose to feel. All your feelings Gust because you honestly
feel them) are authentic. But none of them is absolutely and certainly
“true.”
Anyway, you’d better recognize, as honestly and as accurately as
34 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
you can, your basic feelings. Do you, at a given time, feel loving,
hating, or indifferent? angry or determined? concerned, anxious, or
unconcerned? How can you tell? Mainly by accepting yourself fully
with whatever feelings you have; by distinguishing clearly the
“goodness” or “badness” of your feelings from the “goodness” or
“badness” of you.
REBT particularly helps you get in touch with your feelings by
showing you how to stop rating yourself for having (or not having)
them. Thinking rationally, you can first choose to accept yourself
with your feelings-even harmful ones like depression and hatred.
You can actually, then, show interest in and curiosity about your
feelings. You can say to yourself: “How fascinating it is, (instead of
How awful it is) that a basically intelligent person like me keeps
acting so foolishly and negatively!” You can see that you largely
choose to create your self-downing feelings, and that you can choose
to change them if you really want to work at doing so.
You can also discriminate your healthy (self-fulfilling) from your
unhealthy (self-damning) feelings. You can see the difference
between your constructively feeling displeased with your acts and
your destructively feeling horrified about them. You can distinguish
between your feeling disappointed with others’ behavior and your
feeling enraged at their behavior and your commanding that they
change it.
REBT, in other words, helps you to more fully and openly observe
your feelings, acknowledge that they exist, accept yourself with them,
determine their usefulness, and eventually choose to feel what you
want to feel and what will help you get more of what you want in life.
Its highly rational methods, paradoxically enough, can put you more
in touch with your feelings and help you react more emotionally than
you previously allowed yourselfl
CHAPTERS
Thinking Yourself Out Of
Emotional Disturbances
Many therapy clients are difficult customers, but one in particular,
Donna, abused the privilege. No matter how often I (A.E.) tried to
show her that she could control her own emotional destiny, if only
she believed that she could, Donna kept coming up with all kinds of
excuses and evasions.
“I know you’ve shown many other clients how to handle their
feelings,” she said, “but I just can’t seem to do it. Maybe I work
differently. Maybe they’ve got something that I lack.”
“Yes, maybe they have got something that you haven’t,” I agreed.
“Recently acquired corks to plug up the holes in their heads. And I’ve
shown them where to get the corks. Now, why do I have so much
trouble showing you?”
“Yes, why haven’t you shown me? Lord knows, I’ve tried to see
what you keep telling me.”
“You mean Lord knows you keep thinking you try to see. But
maybe the trouble lies there-you’ve convinced yourself that you try
to see how you bother yourself. Having convinced yourself that you
are trying, you find no reason to actually try. So you quickly give up
and don’t really make much of an effort. Now if I could only help you
work at finding and changing your self-defeating Beliefs, your
enormous rage against your mother and your brother would most
likely dwindle.”
“But how can I work at a thing like that? I find my Beliefs so
indefinite.”
“They only seem indefinite. Because you do so little to grasp
them-to see your own Beliefs and to strongly examine them.
35
36 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
Actually, exploring your thoughts and feelings is like playing the
piano or playing tennis-which you once told me you do very well.”
“Oh, but that is much different. Playing tennis is something
physical. Not at all like thinking or getting enraged or anything like
that.”
“Ah, now I think I’ve got you!” I exclaimed.
“What do you mean?” Donna asked. I found it almost laughable
(had it not been so tragic) that she was so afraid that I might have her,
and that she might have to surrender her rage.
“You say that playing tennis involves something physical. And on
the surface, of course, it does. You make muscle movements with
your eyes and your arms and your hands, and somehow the ball keeps
going over the net. And, looking at your muscles moving and the ball
flying, you think of the whole process as physical, almost
mechanical.”
“Is that wrong?”
“Yes, it is. Suppose your opponent hits the ball to you. You try to
hit it back over the net, preferably where she won’t easily reach and
return it. So you run after the ball (using your legs), reach out for it
(using your arms), swing at it (using your arms and wrist). But what
makes you run this way or that way, stretch out or pull back your
arms, tum your wrist to the left or right?”
“What makes me-? Well, I guess my eyes do. I see the ball over
here or over there. I see where I want to place it, and I move
accordingly.”
“Fine. But do you see by magic? Do you miraculously get your
sight to direct your legs this way, your arms that way, your wrist still
another way?”
“No, not by any magic. It results from-” Donna stopped,
troubled.
“Could you,” I asked, “could you possibly direct your shots by
thinking? Could you be seeing your partner’s ball going over here or
over there, and think it best to return it on this or that comer of the
court? Could you be thinking, again, that you can reach the ball by
stretching out your arm in this direction, and your wrist in this other
direction, and so on and so forth?”
“You mean, I don’t play as mechanically and physically as I seem
to do? I really direct my actions by my thinking? You mean I
THINKING YOURSELF OUT OF EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCES 37
continually tell myself, while playing the game, to do this and that,
and to stretch my arm out here or turn my wrist over this way? Do
you mean that?”
“Well, doesn’t that explain what you really do while you play this
so-called physical game of tennis? Don’t you, during every single
minute of the play, continually direct your arm to do this and your
wrist to do that? And don’t you do this directing by real, hard
thinking?”
“Come to think of it-and I must admit I never have thought of it
that way before-I guess I really do. I never noticed! The whole
thing-why, the whole thing is really mental. Amazing!”
“Yes, amazing! Even this highly ‘physical’ game works mentally.
And you keep working at this game-and not only working by
running, stretching, and turning your wrist, but working at thinking
about what to do during the game. And your work of thinking really
makes you play well. In fact, your main practice in playing tennis
consists of thinking practice. Right?”
“When you put it that way, I guess so. Funny! And I thought I
only played physically. I guess I see now what you mean by working
at changing my beliefs and changing my emotions. In tennis, I work
at changing my position and my stroke and other movements. But I
actually work thoughtfully and not just mechanically.”
“Exactly. Now if you apply the same method you use at tennis to
changing the beliefs behind your disturbed emotions, your game of
life will begin to improve almost as quickly and as well as your game
of tennis.”
After this breakthrough, I had less trouble persuading Donna to
work at changing her beliefs and her emotions.
Back, now, to our main theme. Accepting human emotions as
desirable, the important question remains: Do you have to keep
feeling unhealthy emotions, such as sustained anxiety or hostility?
Largely, no. You may feel healthy sustained negative emotions:
as, for example, when you suffer continuous discomfort or pain and
you keep feeling sorry, regretful, or annoyed about this. Under such
conditions, you would certainly not make yourself healthily feel glad
or indifferent.
Many sustained negative feelings, however, may stem from
discomfort or pain. Your child dies, for instance, and for many weeks
38 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
or months you healthily grieve about her death. But as the weeks,
months, and years go by, you may keep mulling over your sorrow and
keep awfulizing about it. “How terrible,” you keep telling yourself,
“that my child died! There is no justice in the world, considering how
young and innocent she was. How awful! She shouldn’t have died! I
can’t stand the thought of her no longer living!”
Naturally, with these thoughts, you never allow yourself to get
over your shock about your child’s death and go on with your life.
Instead you constantly dwell on your loss, insist that you have
nothing more to live for, and lament that the world must not treat you
as cruelly as it does. Not only, then, will you feel healthy grief, but
you will also make yourself severely depressed. This kind of
disturbed negative emotion you needlessly exaggerate. It stems from
your demands about what absolutely should and should not occur. It
is partly your invention, and one you could change by straighter
thinking.
How do we reach this “strange” conclusion? By extending some
of our earlier concepts of thinking and emoting. For if unhealthy
negative emotion largely results from your own thinking, you have
a choice as to what you can think and how you can feel. That is one
of the main advantages of your being human: you can choose,
usually, to think one thing or another; and if you make your goal
living and enjoying, you’ll aid this goal with one kind of thinking and
sabotage it with another kind. Naturally, you’d better pick the first
rather than the second kind of thinking.
You can, of course, choose to change, push aside, sweep under the
rug, or repress practically all negative thinking. But would you then
be wise or rational? You can choose to ignore the fact, for example,
that a large amount of crime, pollution, and overpopulation
needlessly exists. Through such avoidance, you will choose to avoid
feeling healthy sadness and frustration about these unfortunate
happenings. But if you refuse to do the kind of healthy negative
thinking that would make you feel sad about poor conditions, will
you truly aid your and your loved one’s survival and happiness? Or
will you help others in your community? We doubt it.
Many negative thoughts and feelings, therefore, help you preserve
and enjoy yourself. Others do not. Learn to distinguish the former
from the latter, and to choose accordingly!
THINKING YOURSELF OUT OF EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCES 39
If sustained feelings usually stem from your conscious and
unconscious thinking, you rarely feel glad or sad just because of
outside events. Rather, you make yourself happy or miserable by
your perceptions, attitudes, and thoughts about these outside events.
This principle, which we have rediscovered from our therapy
sessions with thousands of clients, originally was noted by several
ancient philosophers, notably the famous Stoic, Epictetus, who in the
first century A.D. wrote in the Enchiridion: “People are disturbed not
by things, but by the views which they take of them.” William
Shakespeare, many centuries later, restated this in Hamlet: “There’s
nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Not completely
true-but true enough! Recent postmodern philosophy reemphasizes
this view, and points out that there is no absolute “right” or
“wrong”-only what we humans see as “proper” and “improper.”
Even “rational” and “irrational” cannot be completely defined for all
conditions but are somewhat relative. By Rational Beliefs we mean
those that usually work-produce the results you want-under usual
conditions. Rational Behavior is never written in stone!
As a case in point, let us tum for a moment to Geraldine, a highly
intelligent and efficient thirty-three-year-old client who came to see
me (R.A.H.) six months after she obtained a divorce and became
depressed. Although she had felt miserable during her marriage to an
irresponsible and dependent husband, she was no happier since her
divorce. Her husband, Tom, had drunk to excess, run around with
other women, and lost many jobs. But when Geraldine came to see
me, she wondered if she had made a mistake in divorcing him.
“Why do you think you made a mistake by leaving Tom?” I asked.
“Because I consider divorce wrong,” she replied. “I think when
people get married, they should stay married.”
“Yet you do not belong to a religious group that takes that
position. You do not believe that heaven somehow makes and seals
marriages, do you?”
“No, I don’t even believe in a heaven. I just feel wrong about
divorce and I blame myself for splitting. I have felt even more
miserable since I left than I felt when living with Tom.”
“But look,” I asked, “where do you think your feelings about
divorce being wrong originated? Do you think you had them at birth?
Do you think that humans have built-in feelings, like built-in taste
40 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
buds, that tell them how to distinguish right from wrong Your taste
buds tell you what is salty, sweet, sour, or bitter. Do your feelings tell
you what is right or wrong?”
The young divorcee laughed. “You make it sound pretty silly. No,
I don’t suppose I have inborn feelings about right or wrong. I had to
learn to feel as I do.”
Seeing a good opening, I rushed in where less directive therapists
often fear to tread. “Exactly,” I said. “You had to learn to feel as you
do. Like all humans, you have innate tendencies to learn, including
tendencies to learn strong prejudices-such as those about divorce.
And what you learned you can unlearn or modify. So even though
you can’t prove that divorce is always bad, you could have easily
picked up this idea-probably from your parents, teachers, stories, or
movies. And you have turned this idea into the rule:
” ‘Only bad people get divorces. I got a divorce. So I must be a bad
person. Yes, really rotten! What a no-good, awful, terrible person I
am!'”
“Sounds dreadfully familiar,” she said with a rather bitter laugh.
“It certainly does,” I resumed. “You somehow picked up or
created beliefs like these-otherwise you would not feel as disturbed
as you do. Over and over again, you have kept repeating this stuff.
And now you have added, ‘Because I did this horrible thing, getting
a divorce, I deserve damnation for my terrible act. I deserve to feel
even more miserable and unhappy than when I lived with that lousy
husband of mine!”‘
She ruefully smiled, “Right again!”
“So of course,” I continued, “you feel depressed. Anyone who
keeps thinking of herself as a rotten person and of how much she
deserves misery because of her rottenness will almost certainly feel
depressed. If I, for example, started telling myself right this minute
that I had no value because I never learned to play the violin, to ice
skate, or to win at tiddlywinks, I could quickly make myself feel
dejected.
“Then I could also tell myself, like you are doing, how much I
deserved to feel miserable because, after all, I had my chance to learn
to play the violin or become a champion at tiddlywinks, and I messed
up my chances. What a real worthless skunk this made me! Oh, my
God, what a real skunk!”
THINKING YOURSELF OUT OF EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCES 41
My client laughed, as I satirically kept emphasizing my doom. “I
make it sound silly,” I said. “But with a purpose-to show you that
you act just as foolishly when you start berating yourself about your
divorce.”
“I am beginning to understand what you mean,” she said. “I do say
these kind of things to myself. But how can I stop? Don’t you see the
vast difference between getting a divorce, and not winning at
tiddlywinks?”
“Granted. But has your getting a divorce really made you any
more of a horrible, terrible, or worthless person than my not learning
to be a tiddlywinks champion?”
“Well, you’ll have to admit that I made a serious mistake when I
married an irresponsible person like Tom. And maybe if I had
behaved more maturely myself, I could have helped him to grow up.”
“OK, agreed. You did make a mistake to marry Tom. And perhaps
you did so because you were immature at the time of your marriage.
All right, so you made a mistake, a neurotic mistake. But does this
mean that you should damn yourself forever for your mistake?”
“No, I guess not. But how about a wife’s responsibility to her
husband? Don’t you think that I should have stayed with him and
tried to help him get over his severe problems?”
“A very lovely, and sometimes even practical, thought. But didn’t
you tell me that you tried to help him and he refused to acknowledge
that he was disturbed? And didn’t you say that he strongly opposed
your going for therapy during your marriage, let alone his going for
help, too?”
“Yes, he did. °The mere mention of the word psychologist or
marriage counselor sent him into a fit of temper. He’d never think of
going or even letting me go for help.”
“The main thing you could have done would have been to play
psychotherapist to him, and in your state, you’d hardly have been
effective. Why beat yourself down? You made a mistake in marrying.
You did your best to improve your marriage. You were blocked,
mainly by your husband, but partly by your own upset feelings. So
you finally got out of the marriage, as almost any sensible person
would have done. Now what crime have you committed? Why do
you insist on blaming yourself? You think, erroneously, your
unhappy situation makes you miserable. But does the situation upset
42 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
you–0r what you keep telling yourself about this situation?”
“I see your point. Although my marital situation never was good,
you are saying that I now don’t have to give myself such a hard time
about it. Quite a point of view you have there!”
“Yes, I like it myself-and often use it for my own life. But now
let us help you to make it your point of view, not because I hold it but
because you figure out that it really will work better for you. Not
even a poor marriage and a difficult divorce need disturb you. In fact,
if I can really help you to adopt this attitude, I can’t imagine there
being anything that you would severely upset yourself about.”
“You really mean that, don’t you?”
“Yes, I mean it-and truly believe it!”
And so, to some extent, did Geraldine believe it after another few
months of REBT. Whereas she previously kept telling herself how
“horrible” she was for not achieving her marital ideal, she now began
to substitute problem-solving thoughts for her old self-beatings. In
one of her last conferences with me, she said: “You know, I looked
into the mirror yesterday morning and said to myself, ‘Geraldine, you
behave like a happy, fairly bright, increasingly mature kid. I am
getting mighty fond of you.’ And then I laughed with real joy.”
“Fine,” I said. “But don’t lead yourself up the garden path ofrating
yourself highly because you act so much better. For then you will put
yourself down, once again, if you act worse. Try to stick to ‘I like
behaving so much better’ rather than ‘I like myself for behaving this
well.'”
“Yes, I see what you mean,” she replied. “I am glad you warned
me about that. Rating myself I unfortunately do most easily. But I’ll
fight it!”
Geraldine discovered that her feelings were not caused by her
unsuccessful marriage or her divorce but from her evaluations of
herself about these “failures.” When she changed her self-damning
thoughts, her emotions changed from depression and despair to
sorrow and regret-and these healthy negative feelings encouraged
her to change her life conditions. Not all our clients, like Geraldine,
quickly see that they create their own depressed feelings about
divorce and then decide to unconditionally accept themselves.
Sometimes they require longer before they take this view. But
persistence, by them and their therapist, really helps!
THINKING YOURSELF OUT OF EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCES 43
If you and other people theoretically can change your disturbed
thoughts and feelings, but you actually often refrain from doing so
and keep making yourself miserable, the question arises: Why? What
blocks you (and them) from thinking effectively and emoting
healthily?
The main barriers to constructive thinking and emoting include:
(1) Some people are incapable of clear thinking. Or (2) they are
intelligent enough to think straight, but just do not know how to do
so. Or (3) they are sufficiently intelligent and educated but are too
disturbed to put their intelligence or knowledge to good use. As noted
in one of our previous books, How to Live with a “Neurotic,”
neurosis essentially consists of stupid behavior by non-stupid people.
Otherwise stated: Disturbed people are potentially capable but do
not realize how self-defeatingly they act. Or they understand how
they harm themselves but, for some irrational reasons, persist in
doing so. We assume that you and our other readers are intelligent,
rather than stupid, and that you either do not know how to stop
upsetting yourself, or know how to stop but so far are not trying hard
enough to stop.
If so, what can you do? In the next chapter, we shall try to show
how you can recognize and reduce your neurotic behavior.
CHAPTER 6
Recognizing and Reducing
Neurotic Behavior
Sensible thinking, we contend, usually leads to healthy emoting.
Stupidity, ignorance, and disturbance block clear thinking and lead
to overemotional or apathetic feelings. Let us consider some
examples.
A twenty-two-year-old male, Allen, says that he does not want to
finish his dental training because he dislikes some of his subjects and
has trouble studying. He therefore concludes that he will quit school
and go into business.
When we probe Allen’s motivations more deeply, we discover that
he really likes dentistry but avoids it because, first, his parents keep
pressuring him to become a dentist and he loathes their pressuring.
Second, he doesn’t get along too well with his classmates and feels
unpopular. Third, he is sure that he doesn’t have the manual dexterity
and manipulative ability required of a real good dentist.
Allen keeps sabotaging his own goals because he has no insight
into his partly unconscious thinking. He starts with the conscious
notion that he “naturally” dislikes some of his dental subjects. But
after some direct questioning he quickly admits that he is angry about
his parents’ domination, he needs the esteem of his classmates, and is
horrified about ultimately failing as a dentist. His “natural” dislike for
some of his subjects stems mainly from his highly “unnatural”
underlying philosophy: “Oh, my Lord! What a weak person I am if
I do not achieve great independence, popularity, and competence!”
When, in the course of REBT, Allen discovers these Irrational
Beliefs, and when, more importantly, he questions and challenges
them, he may well decide to return to school and to work through his
45
46 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
self-induced horror about his parental, social, and competence
difficulties. Thus, he can ask himself: “How can my parents actually
dominate me if I refuse to let them do so? And why is it awful, and
why must I consider myself a slob ifl continue to let them dominate
me?” And he can dispute his horribilizing: “Why is it horrible if I am
not popular at school or never get acknowledged as the best dentist
that ever existed? Granted, that this would be inconvenient, but what
would make it horrible?” By this kind of disputing, challenging, and
questioning his own self-defeating beliefs, he can change his stupid
thinking and the overemotionalized reactions it brings on-such as
his needless anxiety and flight from dentistry.
A female client, Naomi, had a similar problem but more insight.
She knew that she wanted to teach and also knew that she had made
no effort to study teaching because she was sure she couldn’t do it
well. She also suspected that she often tried to punish herself for
promiscuous sex she had had a year ago. Even though she
presumably had some insight into her feeling worthless, she
continued to defeat herself and to behave neurotically.
Naomi did not realize that her self-downing and her sexual guilt
stemmed from ignorance and faulty thinking. She originally put
herself down because she accepted the very critical views of her older
sister, who jealously did not want Naomi to think well of herself.
Then, working on the unquestioned assumption that she had little
scholastic ability, Naomi began to avoid her schoolwork and thereby
to “prove” to herself that she had no skill-thus reinforcing her
original sister-aided self-downing.
Naomi’s sexual promiscuity, moreover, largely stemmed from her
same self-criticism. Feeling worthless and “knowing” that boys
would not care for her, she took the easiest way of winning them by
bartering her body for their attentions. She based her guilt about her
promiscuity on the arbitrary notion, also taken over from her sister,
that she was wicked for being so sexually loose.
Even though she seemed to know that she condemned herself for
her sexual behavior and also sabotaged her desire to teach, Naomi
actually had only partial insight. She did not see her two basic
premises and realize their irrationality: ( 1) that she could not teach
well and that therefore had no worth; and (2) that she deserved
damnation for being promiscuous.
RECOGNIZING AND REDUCING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR 47
A fuller understanding of her self-defeating behavior led to farreaching
changes in Naomi’s thoughts and actions. First, I (A.E.)
helped her to question the connection between possibly teaching
poorly and her personal worth and to see that there is really no such
connection. She began to understand that we have no way of rating
our totality, our essence as a human; and that, in making such a
global rating, we harm rather than help ourselves. Thus, she could
accept herself merely because she decided to do so-whether or not
she succeeded at teaching. And she could enjoy herself considerably
even when she failed. Ironically, as usually happens, acquiring this
kind of unconditional self-acceptance (USA) helped her to
concentrate much better on her schoolwork, to achieve better grades,
and to start taking education courses.
Second, I helped Naomi to challenge the so-called wickedness of
her promiscuity and to understand that although she may have made
mistakes (by having affairs with males whom she did not really enjoy
as lovers), this hardly made her a louse who deserved damnation for
these errors. By surrendering her philosophy of lousehood, she
stopped sabotaging her endeavors and helped herself work toward her
goal of teaching.
The case of this client, as perhaps of most individuals who come
for therapy, exemplifies the differences among what we call Insight
No. 1, Insight No. 2, and Insight No. 3. Insight No. 1 is the fairly
conventional kind of understanding postulated by Freud: knowledge
that you have a problem and that certain events precede this problem.
Thus, Allen, whose case we observed at the beginning of this chapter,
knew that he had a problem with his career, but thought it stemmed
from his dislike of certain subjects and not from his anxiety about
social and vocational failure. Not knowing the beliefs behind his
problem, he did not really have sufficient “insight.”
Naomi had more insight, because she not only recognized her
failure at her chosen career, but also knew or suspected that (1) she
lacked confidence and (2) she kept trying to punish herself for her
previous sexual promiscuity. Knowing, therefore, some of her
motives for her ineffective behavior, she had a considerable amount
of “insight”–or what we call Insight No. 1. She only vaguely,
however, had Insight No. 1, because she knew that she lacked
confidence but didn’t clearly see that this lack of confidence
48 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
consisted, more concretely, of her telling herself: “My older, very
critical sister views me as inadequate. How absolutely terrible if she
is correct about this! Perhaps she is. In fact, I feel sure she is and that
I can never perform adequately!”
This young woman also knew that she felt guilty and self-punitive
about her previous premarital affairs. But she did not specifically see
that her guilt and self-punishment resulted from her internalized
Beliefs: “Many people view promiscuity as wicked. I have behaved
promiscuously. Therefore I am really a wicked person!” And: “People
often agree that those who act badly deserve punishment for their
sins. I have been promiscuous with males for whom I did not really
care. Therefore, I must punish myself!”
Although, then, this client definitely had a good measure of
Insight No. 1, she had it so vaguely that it was only partial. As for
Insight No. 2, she had little. For Insight No. 2 consists of seeing
clearly that the Irrational Beliefs that you create and acquire in your
early life still continue, largely because you keep reindoctrinating
yourself with them-you consciously and unconsciously work fairly
hard to perpetuate them. Thus, Naomi kept telling herself, over and
over again, “I absolutely should not have been promiscuous! In order
to expunge my sins and lead a happy life today, I have to keep
punishing myself and must continue to cleanse myself.” Without this
kind of constant self-reinforcement, her early ideas (including those
taken from her sister) would probably extinguish. So Insight No.
2-which Naomi only vaguely had at the start of therapy-would
have consisted of her clearly seeing that she had not worked at
extinguishing her traumatizing Beliefs and that she still actively hung
on to them.
Insight No. 3 was far from Naomi’s horizon. This consists of the
wholehearted belief, “Now that I have discovered Insights No. 1 and
2, and fully acknowledge my self-creation and continued
reinforcement of my Irrational Beliefs, I had better reduce my
disturbances by steadily, persistently, and vigorously working to
change these Beliefs-and to act against them.”
More concretely, when Naomi acquired Insight No. 1 and No. 2,
she could then go on to No. 3: “How fascinating that I have kept
convincing myself that I absolutely should not have been
promiscuous and that I have to keep punishing myself for my errors.
RECOGNIZING AND REDUCING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR 49
As long as I keep believing this hogwash, how can I feel anything but
self-downing and depression? Well, I’d better keep strongly disputing
and challenging these nutty beliefs until I give them up!”
Naomi and I worked togetµer to help her achieve these three
important insights. By using them and following them with other hard
therapeutic work during the next year, she finally solved her main
problems. She not only got a teaching job and did quite well at it
during this period but also kept having non-marital sex with a few
suitable partners, enjoyed it considerably, and felt no guilt about it.
We contend, in other words, that much neurotic (self-sabotaging)
behavior results from basic ignorance or lack of insight. Although
humans may behave neurotically because of certain biological
conditions (such as severe hormonal imbalances or deficiencies in
their neurotransmitters), they don’t often do so purely for biochemical
reasons. Usually, they largely create their disturbances by their own
ideas, which they consciously and/or unconsciously hold. Even when
they suffer from severe traumas such as child abuse, incest, or rape,
it is not only these extremely bad events that upset them and lead to
post-traumatic stress disorders, but also their horrifying reactionstheir
awfulizing beliefs, about these traumas.
Thus, as in the cases of Allen and Naomi, people may know that
they resist going to school because they fight against parental
pressure. Or they may unconsciously resist going to school without
clear awareness that they are balking against parental domination. Or
they may realize that they punish themselves for sexual guilt. Or they
may punish themselves without realizing they do so because of this
kind of guilt.
In any event, whether or not people consciously are aware of their
Irrational Beliefs, they would rarely act neurotically without them.
Thus, in the instances given in this chapter, if the young dental
student, Allen, had not made himself so irrationally fearful of
parental domination and vocational failure that he gave up studying,
we would not find his wanting to leave school unhealthy and would
conclude that he clearly saw the facts oflife and acted sensibly about
them. And ifthe student of education, Naomi, rationally accepted her
sister’s view of sex, she might have concluded that though her
promiscuity was “bad,” that this would never make her a “bad
person.”
50 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
We cannot justify our pronounced feelings of failure, Beliefs in
our worthlessness, and unthinking acceptances of others’ damning
tendencies. Not because they are absolutely wrong, or because they
contradict the laws of the universe. But simply because, on good
practical grounds, they almost always are self-defeating and
needlessly prevent us from getting many of the things we healthily
desire.
Moreover, self-downing beliefs and emotions usually stem from
unrealistic overgeneralizations that we cannot scientifically uphold.
They contain magical, demonizing philosophies that are definitional,
unprovable, and unfalsifiable. If you say to yourself, for example, “I
have failed at this task”-such as winning someone’s love or
succeeding at a job-“and I find that unfortunate,” you make a
statement that you can back up or disprove. For you (and others) can
observe whether you really have failed and what disadvantages (in
regard to certain of your personal goals) will probably follow from
your failing. Once you desire to succeed, it is “bad” or “ineffective”
to fail.
If you say to yourself, however, “Because I have failed at this task,
it is awful and it makes me a rotten person,” you make a statement
that you cannot prove or disprove. For awfulness, an essentially
undefinable term, does not really mean very disadvantageous. It
means one hundred percent disadvantageous, unfortunate, obnoxious,
or inconvenient. Your finding it awful when you fail, moreover,
means that you think you can’t stand failing and that you therefore
must not fail. But, of course, you can stand failing; and the universe
hardly insists that you should not or must not fail!
Your conclusion, again, that failing makes you a rotten person
means that (1) you unfortunately have failed; that (2) since you have
intrinsic, essential rottenness, you will always and only fail; and that
(3) you deserve damnation (such as eternal punishment) for failing.
Although you can back up the first of these three meanings, because
it is your preference to succeed, you cannot uphold the second and
third meanings. Except by arbitrary definition!
Although, therefore, we can confirm your failing at something, we
cannot confirm your all-inclusive label that you are afailure. You
may devoutly call yourself a failure (even with a capital F!), but that
label is a self-defeating overgeneralization.
RECOGNIZING AND REDUCING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR 51
Stated differently: Unhealthy, self-destructive emotion-such as
your feeling rage, depression, worthlessness, or anxiety-mainly
results from your (consciously or unconsciously) prejudiced,
senseless ideas and almost inevitably leads to inefficient, selfsabotaging
behavior (which we call neurosis). When you are
neurotic, you can employ several temporary methods to help lessen
your disturbance. Thus, you can change your job or your marital
status; take a vacation; develop a vital interest in some area; work at
succeeding at professional or other pursuits; consume quantities of
alcohol, marijuana, heroin, tranquilizers, psychic energizers, or other
drugs; devote yourself to a cult; or try various other distractions.
Almost any or all of these kinds of diversions may temporarily
work. For they essentially induce you, when you are irrationally
devoted to some set of disturbance-provoking ideas (which we may
call x), to distract yourself to some other set of ideas (which we may
cally). As long as you keep thinking ofy ideas instead of x ideas, you
may not feel too troubled.
Unfortunately, this kind of distraction rarely solves your basic
problems. For no matter how vigorously or often you may divert
yourself toy ideas, you still really believe in and have not given up
x ideas. So you strongly keep tending to return to the neurotic
behavior related to x ideas.
Take Mrs. J., for example. People viewed her, at the age ofthirtyeight,
as a beautiful and talented woman. When she did not lie in bed
all day with a horrible migraine headache or did not fight viciously
with her husband and two teen-age children, she was a charming
companion, hostess, and club-woman. So, to keep herself unangry
and relatively free from migraine, Mrs. J. drank heavily, gobbled
tranquilizers, and passionately devoted herself to a New Spiritism
group which believed in reincarnation and taught that life in this
sorry vale of tears is just a prelude to endless Real Lives to come.
It almost worked. Getting half crocked most of the time, and
passionately teaching others her spiritist views, Mrs. J. found
relatively little time to upset herself, to feel enraged at others, and to
retreat into her migraine headaches. But when the liquor wore off,
and her images of life in the afterworld hardly solved her problems
in this world, her neurotic symptoms returned full blast. In fact, she
was so unable to contain her rage against her associates that even her
52 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
spiritist friends began to object to her behavior and take her out of
some of the high positions that they at first delighted in giving her.
Seeing that even this new group deserted her, Mrs. J. made herself
more enraged and began to have a complete breakdown.
Came the dawn. And, more by brute force than gentle persuasion,
her husband dragged Mrs. J. into therapy by telling her that unless
she did something to help herself, he and the children would pack up
and leave. It required only a few sessions to reveal that she
profoundly believed that because her parents were punitive during
her childhood, the rest of the world owed her complete kindness. All
her close associates, especially her husband and children, she
thought, absolutely should lean over backward to make life easy for
her-and thereby compensate for her unduly hard childhood.
When, in the normal course of human events, Mrs. J. found that
her close relatives and friends somehow did not feel the way she did
about catering to her, she made herself furious, and did her best to
ram their “rank injustices” down their throats. When everything went
her way-which of course it rarely did-she felt fine. But when
balked or frustrated, she felt miserable and tried to distract herself by
making others equally miserable.
Alcohol and tranquilizers often made Mrs. J. “feel good” for a
short while-at which time all life’s “injustices” didn’t seem so unjust.
And her spiritistic views, which promised her the best of all possible
afterworlds, also temporarily diverted her from her injustice
collecting. But such distractions did not last. Nor did they change her
devout beliefs that the world absolutely should be a kinder, easier
place and that her associates must make up for the horrors of her past
by catering to her in the present.
In the course of a year and a half of individual and group REBT,
I (R.A.H.) helped Mrs. J. first acquire Insight No. 1: namely, that her
extreme hostility and migrainous upsets largely stemmed from her
own behavior, and not just from the “rottenness” of others. They went
with the irrational philosophy: “Because I suffered in the past, people
must treat me with utter kindness today.”
After helping Mrs. J. to see some of the main Beliefs behind her
neurotic behavior, I then (with the help of the members of her therapy
group) led her to Insights No. 2 and 3: “Now that I see that I largely
create my disturbances with my often-repeated internalized Beliefs
RECOGNIZING AND REDUCING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR 53
about the ‘horrible injustice’ of it all, I’d better keep disputing,
questioning, challenging, and changing these Beliefs. For I not only
keep convincing myself that people treat me unkindly and
unfairly-which at times they really may do-but that such
unfairness shouldn’t exist and it is horrible when it does. Well, what
makes it horrible? Nothing, of course. Unfortunate, yes-because I
don’t keep getting what I want. But horrible? Only ifl define it so!
“And why must not people treat me the unkind way they often do?
I can find no reason why they must not-though I can think of many
reasons why I would like them not to! If people don’t cater to me the
way I prefer, tough! But I’d better convince myself that I can still lead
a happy existence, especially by catering to myself!”
When she began to get Insights No. 2 and 3-that she kept
reiterating her demanding philosophy and that she’d better keep
working at changing it and the enraged feelings to which it ledMrs.
J. reduced her drinking to a cocktail or two a day, threw away
her tranquilizers, and felt remarkably less enraged at her husband,
children, and friends, even when (as fallible humans) they did act
unjustly. The more she accepted social reality, and refused any longer
to make it “awful,” the less devoutly spiritistic she became. As she
said at one of her closing therapy sessions: “Why do I have to worry
about highly questionable afterlives when I now know how to make
this life so enjoyable?”
Additional Thoughts On
Recognizing and Reducing Neurotic Behavior
By Robert H. Moore, Ph.D.
(Contributor to the second edition of A Guide to Rational Living.)
Neurotic or self-defeating behavior is not very hard to recognize
intuitively-especially in others. When it comes to spotting our own
irrationalities, however, most of us are at least partially blind. To be
consistent in determining who is or isn’t neurotic and what particular
behavior does or doesn’t qualify as self-defeating, we had best adopt
some criteria to guide us. Dr. Maxie C. Maultsby, Jr. notes that those
people behave irrationally or neurotically who
1. frequently perceive things inaccurately
2. seriously jeopardize their own safety
54 A GUIDE TO RA TI ON AL LIVING
3. habitually impede their own progress toward their chosen goals
4. often experience more inner turmoil than they feel comfortable
with
5. needlessly create conflict between themselves and others
Let’s take a look at some specific behaviors that meet each of
these five criteria:
Frequently Perceive Things Inaccurately: Actually, most of us
don’t perceive things inaccurately as often as we embellish them
inaccurately. We usually see whatever we see, and hear whatever we
hear, without distorting it too badly. What leads us down the garden
path to various “misperceptions” is the normal process of filling in
the blanks in an attempt to see the bigger picture. This we do
routinely by assuming, inferring, guessing, supposing, interpreting,
projecting, speculating, deducing, extrapolating, presuming,
conjecturing, attributing, hypothesizing, divining, and reading
between the lines.
Please understand; it is a privileged part of our human intellect to
be able to “see” beyond the reach of our sensory organs in these
ways. There’s nothing at all inherently wrong with using our
extraordinary mental faculties. It is the responsibility of each of us,
however, to use them reasonably and unbiasedly as possible. It is in
this responsibility that many of us, to one degree or another, fail.
Neurotics often fail rather badly.
Like those who look at the world “through rose-colored glasses,”
neurotics dye what they perceive with their irrational beliefs and
expectations. They frequently elevate their wildest guesses and
groundless assumptions about what they see and hear to the level of
certainty. Worse, they do so against reason and the sworn testimony
of friends and loved ones. Examples: “She’s pregnant, and you can
bet it isn’t by her husband.” “I don’t buy that best-man-for-the-job
hogwash. It’s all politics around here.”
People often substitute their moral values and personal opinions
for their descriptions and, accordingly, issue subjective judgments
and appraisals when asked for a more objective account of events.
Guided by their suspicions, neurotics also frequently attribute
peculiar, unfriendly, or downright hostile motives and purposes to
others, and they are not above indicting groups as large as an entire
race or sex. Examples: “She hates me, !just know it. I may as well
RECOGNIZING AND REDUCING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR 55
quit before she fires me.” “You know his kind; they’re all alike.”
Seriously Jeopardize Their Own Safety: Great things are
sometimes accomplished by people bold enough to take calculated
risks. However, mostly sane, calculated risk takers do not indulge in
unprotected sex with a variety of partners; pop any pill someone
offers them at a party; trade commodities with the rent money; ride
motorcycles without wearing protective headgear; continue to smoke
after they’ve developed emphysema; overeat to the point of taxing
their hearts and other vital organs; drive their cars at speeds well
above the limits; fail to file their income tax returns year after year;
stay slim by inducing themselves to vomit; or shun the use of sun
blockers in order to remain deeply tanned.
Habitually Impede Their Own Progress Toward Their Chosen
Goals: People with neuroses sometimes allow their disturbances,
inhibitions, or unrealistic expectations to sabotage their careers and
personal lives. The following case example illustrates how effectively
even bright and capable people can shoot themselves in the foot:
Debbie P. graduated Phi Beta Kappa from a major state university
but thereafter could not seem to get her personal and professional
priorities in order. Although keenly interested in building a career as
a social worker, she was so debilitated by a profound sense of
personal inadequacy that on many days she couldn’t bring herself to
schedule an interview at the clinic where she worked. Overcome by
her anxieties, unable to relate comfortably with her professional
colleagues, and too embarrassed to reveal her lack of self-acceptance
to a therapist, Debbie one day abruptly quit her job and abandoned
her career altogether. Shortly thereafter, she packed all her worldly
belongings into the back of the van of a fellow who was also out of
work, and left town.
Often Experience More Inner Turmoil than They Can
Comfortably Bear: Unlike those whose neurotic tendencies sabotage
their career or personal goals, some brave souls forge ahead and
accomplish their purposes in life but pay a great price in personal
stress along the way. They almost always make the mistake of
thinking that their anxiety is justified by their great responsibilities,
the unreasonableness of their associates, or by a special streak of
misfortune. Thus, mistakenly believing that the cause of their upsets
is entirely beyond their control, they rarely see themselves as
–~——————————·
56 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
candidates for the therapy they really could use.
Somehow they fail to notice that they have numerous friends and
co-workers who deal day to day with similar responsibilities,
associates, and misfortunes, and who do so without feeling emotional
turmoil. So they drag on through life erupting in anger, withdrawing
in a pout, collapsing in despair, and blaming everything and everyone
but themselves for their misery. They often develop various
psychosomatic ills-such as ulcers, high blood pressure, colitis,
fainting spells, skin rashes, headaches, allergic reactions, and unusual
fatigue. Worse, they frequently wind up addicted to one or more
mood-altering drugs.
Needlessly Create Conflict Between Themselves and Others:
Driven by various Irrational Beliefs, some people make a habit of
fighting with themselves and others. They don’t directly cause others
to deal with them angrily or upsettedly, but their approach is so
antagonistic, or their communication skills so poor, that it would take
the patience of a saint to hold a pleasant conversation with them.
Here are some of the habits and ploys with which such people
unwittingly (and occasionally wittingly) sabotage their relationships.
They
a. tell you what you “really mean,” often over your vigorous
objection
b. tell you to take whatever they’ve said “any way you like”
c. insist that you don’t or shouldn’t feel as you do about something
d. end a conversation with you before they’ve understood what
you’re trying to say
e. expect you to understand or agree with them because you’ve
“talked about this before”
f. deliberately exaggerate or distort your viewpoint in order to
make it appear ridiculous
g. react to anything remotely resembling criticism as if they had
been stabbed in the back
h. hold you responsible for their happiness, their misery, or their
general quality of life
Dr. Maultsby’s five criteria make an excellent rule of thumb for
identifying irrational or neurotic behavior. But what makes people
behave in such obviously self-defeating ways?
A discussion of the roots of neurosis is mainly a discussion of
RECOGNIZING AND REDUCING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR 57
distorted thinking. From the point of view of mind/brain as computer,
most human beings are innately poor programmers. They seldom
succeed in setting themselves up to get along very happily in an
imperfect world. Neurotics are especially bad at it. Although
irrational behavior is sometimes due to faulty “hardware,” such as
neurologic impairment, it is also due to faulty “software,” to selfcreated,
self-defeating Irrational Beliefs.
In REBT, we observe that neurotic behavior results mainly from
the natural human tendency to inflate personal preferences into
absolutistic demands. We note that people often tend to act out their
wishes and desires as if they were needs and musts. They frequently
elevate their personal goals and expectations into rigid and irrational
rules that everyone, including themselves, must obey. Having done
so, they easily become disturbed when someone breaks their rules, or
things don’t go their way.
The mechanism of such an emotional disturbance is not difficult
to grasp. It looks, at first blush, as though it’s just a matter of
“stimulus” and “response”-as if something unfortunate happens to
people (the stimulus), and that that, by itself, causes them to get upset
(the response). But it looks that way only because, when something
unfortunate happens, the key element of emotional arousal-their
irrational thinking-leaps into action almost instantaneously and, of
course, largely out of sight.
The actual mechanism of an emotional disturbance is a stimulusbe/ief
response, or as we say in REBT: “Action-Belief-Consequence.”
These are the terms behind REBT’s well-known ABC model of
emotional arousal. Bottom line: it’s not our life events (Actions) that,
themselves, directly disturb us (produce unpleasant emotional
Consequences). It’s our irrational demandingness, our shoulds,
oughts, and musts (Beliefs), that largely do the job.
Wanting our lives to go along smoothly without mishap and
preferring that our friends, family, and co-workers behave at least
civilly, if not pleasantly, is rational enough. Insisting that things
ought to go smoothly, that mishap must not occur, and that the
important people in our lives should behave as we have told them so
many times we need them to behave, on the other hand, is
fundamentally irrational. Yet, as a species, we naturally tend to think
in these distorted and self-defeating ways.
58 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING
Fortunately, we need not yield to this natural tendency and remain
neurotic for the rest of our lives. As the ones primarily responsible
for the way we think, we can correct our errors, “debug” our faulty
programming, and overcome this common human failing. We can
strive conscientiously to
1. increase our objectivity and eliminate confusing facts and
inferences
2. break any habit with which we habitually put ourselves at risk
3. rid ourselves of agendas that conflict with our higher priorities
4. replace self-defeating demands and damnation with realistic
preferences and appraisals
5. accept ourselves and others as the fallible human beings we
actually are
Can we really change such well-practiced mental attitudes?
Definitely. Will it be easy? No-but those who work diligently with
the cognitive, emotive, and behavioral “tools” of REBT have an
excellent chance of success.

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CHAPTER 7 Overcoming The Influences of the Past "This stuff about people making themselves emotionally disturbed by their poor philosophies of life sounds all very well,"

CHAPTER 7 Overcoming The Influences of the Past “This stuff about people making themselves emotionally disturbed by their poor philosophies of life sounds all very well,” many of our critics often say. “But how about the important influences of the past, over which we had no control whatever? How about, for instance, our childhood Oedipus complexes or the fact that we may have suffered severe rejection by our parents? Didn’t these things start our disturbances? And how can we overcome them now, if we merely concern ourselves about changing our present philosophies?” Good questions, these, but fairly easy to answer in the light of our REBT theories. Let us take the Oedipus business first. Let us suppose the Freudians are at least partly right in their beliefthat some individuals, if not all, have Oedipus complexes during their childhood and do feel emotionally maimed. Can we still, by Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, change such people’s current philosophies, and overcome the maiming effects of their early family romance? Indeed we can. Let us first see how a so-called Oedipus complex comes about. A young male child, Harold, lusts after his mother, hates his father, feels guilty about his sexual desires for his mother, and fears his father wants to castrate him. Consequently, he fears older men for the rest of his life and either refuses to compete with them (as in business) or makes enormous efforts to ingratiate himself with them and thereby gain their favor. Does such an individual have a rather classical Oedipus complex? Yes, he probably does. Let us further suppose, with the orthodox Freudians, that Harold originally acquired his Oedipal feelings because his sexual instincts 59 60 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING (his id) pushed him in the direction of lusting after his mother and then, his superego (conscience), forced him to feel guilty about his incestuous feelings and hate both himself and his father. Even if this occurs (and often in our society it does not, because many boys apparently do not lust after their mothers or become very jealous of their fathers), the question remains: Does the boy’s Oedipal attachment mean that he unquestionably has an Oedipus complex? Answer: By no means. A so-called complex consists of negative ideas about an unfortunate set of facts. Thus, if John is physically weaker than Henry, we may say that he has a weakness or inferiority. But if John has an inferiority complex, we mean (1) that he sees his weakness, when he compares himself to Henry, and (2) that he views himself as a weakling or worthless person for having this weakness. While (1) is a statement of fact, (2) is an overgeneralization about this fact. John’s complex is his conclusion about his physical weakness-and not the weakness in its own right. So with the Oedipus complex. Harold may “naturally” and “normally” lust after his mother and feel somewhat jealous of his father. But if he, while feeling lust and jealousy, does not at the same time believe he has low value as a person because of his feelings, he will only have an Oedipal attachment rather than a complex. If Harold does have a full-blown Oedipus complex, we may feel pretty sure that, in addition to admitting his lust for his mother, he believes (1) that his mother, father, and other people must approve of him; (2) that he has done a terrible thing to lust after his mother; (3) that if people discover his lust, they will severely criticize him and their criticism is awful; (4) that if he actually has sexual relations with his mother, his crime of incest is horrible and will lead to terrible legal and other difficulties; (5) that even if he never commits incest, his mere thinking about it is an unforgivable offense against his parents and humanity; (6) that if his father ever discovers his lust for his mother, he will doubtless damn and punish him, especially by castrating him; and (7) that if any of these things happen, he becomes a thoroughly rotten person. Whether Harold’s beliefs about his lust for his mother are “true” or not doesn’t matter, as long as he strongly holds the kind of beliefs just stated. Thus, he may not need his parents’ or others’ approval and OVERCOMING THE INFLUENCES OF THE PAST 61 may get along very well without such approval. Nor may thinking about having sex with his mother get him into serious trouble. Nor may his father castrate him if he discovers his incestuous ideas. No matter. As long as Harold believes and accepts these “truths,” he will tend to seriously upset himself. Although, then, Harold’s Oedipal attachment or desires may have a biological base, his Oedipus complex does not stem from these desires but from his ideas and attitudes about them. And these ideas and attitudes he partly learned, depending on the kind of community in which he was raised. If, therefore, Harold wishes to overcome his Oedipus complex and the neurotic symptoms (such as fear of other males) to which it may lead, he does not have to change his incestuous desires (which he would find almost impossible), but does have to modify his ideas about them. He does not have to give up lusting after his mother but does have to stop thinking how horrible, how criminal, such lusting is. More importantly, Harold, in order to rid himself of his Oedipus complex, does not have to change or even to understand fully his past ideas about his Oedipal attachment. But he’d better acquire Insights No. 1, 2, and 3 into his present or still-existing attitudes toward incest. Suppose, for example, that he once lusted after his mother and, weak and unable to stand up for himself against the other boys in his neighborhood, he feared his father’s “castrating” him-not because of his committing the horrible crime of incest, but because he felt that he “deserved” punishment for his weakness. And suppose that, later in life, having grown bigger and taller, he no longer feels intimidated by the boys in his neighborhood, and therefore no longer fears his father’s “castration” for his “undeservingness” and “rottenness.” Under these conditions, if Harold now gains insight into his past castration fears and Oedipus complex, he would learn little useful information about himself-because his original complex no longer exists in the old form, and he may view the details of its origins as cold and meaningless potatoes today. If, however, Harold still to this very day keeps alive remnants of his old Oedipus complex, then we can guess that he still has some of the Irrational Beliefs that originally led him to acquire this complex. 62 A GUIDE TO RA TI ON AL LIVING We can help Harold discover these remaining notions and acquire Insights No. 1, 2, and 3 about them. Then it hardly matters whether he fully remembers, understands, or works through, his original irrationalities-as, in Freudian theory, he must do to get “cured.” If, therefore, any complex still exists to the extent that it bothers people today, we can suspect that they now harbor some senseless ideas about it. These present ideas are crucial, whatever the original sources of their complexes. This explains why so many non-Freudian psychoanalysts-such as Alfred Adler, Erich Fromm, Karen Homey, Otto Rank, and Harry Stack Sullivan-emphasize analyzing clients’ present problems, ideas, and relationships, rather than obsessing about gory details of their past histories. Moreover, the childhood “memories” that therapists painstakingly dredge up about their clients’ pasts often tum out to be fictions or distortions that these therapists have gone out of their way to create. As another case to show how your past experiences are hardly vital to understanding and attacking your present disturbances, let us take an instance of maternal rejection. Let us suppose that you were severely criticized and rejected by your parents, that you “consequently” feel loathsome and inadequate, that you therefore refuse to try certain projects, and that you end up feeling more inadequate. If so, you will then be disturbed. But will you be disturbed because of the fact of your parents’ rejection or because of your Beliefs about it? Largely, the latter. For the
bare fact of parental rejection does not necessarily prove noxious, as shown by the findings of Dr. Norman Garmezy, Dr. Lawrence Casler, and others that in our society all rejected children do not tum out too badly, and as also shown by reports that in other societies children are severely criticized and rejected by their mothers without growing up disturbed. Lili E. Peller, a psychoanalyst, wrote in this connection: I have had the opportunity to observe children-Arab children in rural areas of Palestine and Egypt-where there is almost no consideration for their welfare, where they experience the effects of the changing moods of adults; considerations of their wishes and needs are of no importance and they seem a nuisance. Should they miss any brutality by their parents, plenty of siblings and OVERCOMING THE INFLUENCES OF THE PAST 63 hardly-older uncles and aunts provide it. Yet these children do not become neurotic for lack of love. The harming of children is not directly caused by parental rejection itself (though that will do a child no good), but by their Beliefs that they learn and create about this rejection. These Beliefs, common in our fairy tales and children’s stories, include these notions: (1) Your parents must show love and approval and they behave horribly when they do not. (2) If they reject you, you should feel worthless. (3) If you think you have no value, you have to keep failing at important tasks. (4) If you do fail, you have committed a terrible crime, which again shows that you have no worth. (5) If, out of fear of failing, you avoid certain tasks and never learn to do them well, this shows that you never had any ability and once again are worthless. Does this mean that young children do not need love and approval and that they can be happy and unneurotic without it? Not at all. As John Bowlby and many other researchers have shown, almost all children are born with a very strong desire for attachment; and when they are deprived of fondling, caressing, and other kinds of intensive caretaking they tend to feel quite sad, lonely, and often depressed. As Harry Harlow also showed, young children (and monkeys) who are not sufficiently stimulated fail to develop neurologically and usually end up ineffectual and inadequate in important respects. So young children, in order to function properly and be emotionally “normal,” require a considerable degree of attention, support, and love. When they are badly neglected, severely criticized, overly restricted, and physically abused, they usually become emotionally disturbed and easily develop a view of themselves as inadequate and worthless. Although this is not always true-for some of them are unusually hardy, from birth onward-it is most often the case. Why is this so? The REBT Theory holds that practically all humans, when they are deprived of their most important wants, feel naturally and healthily sad and frustrated-and sometimes very strongly so. This is good!-because they then try to make up for their deprivation by changing the poor conditions that they encounter or by asking others, especially if they are young, to help change these conditions. 64 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING Practically all people, however, and children in particular, go beyond feelings of sadness and frustration when “really” bad things happen to them. They insist that such things are so bad that they absolutely should not, must not exist; and they wrongly conclude that bad conditions will always exist and never improve. So they first “constructively” make themselves sorry and determined to help themselves improve. But they often also “destructively” make themselves depressed and hopeless and determined to whine, give up, and make things worse. Children, because they are unable to cope well with great and continued Adversity (A), and because their coping abilities are limited, are more prone to think-at B, their Belief System-in terms of absolutistic musts, always, and nevers, and thus change their emotional Consequences (Cs) from healthy feelings of sorrow and regret to unhealthy feelings of depression and hopelessness. Once they do so, their depressed feelings then lead to more inefficient behaviors-about which they then typically depress themselves even more. To make matters worse, the usual process of habituation often sets in-so that depressed children feel “comfortable” in their miserable state and feel “uncomfortable” going to the trouble of changing this state. They keep believing-at point B again!-“I must do well! I must not be depressed! I can’t stand rotten conditions! My life will always be miserable and worthless!” Like Martin Seligman’s rats, which acquired “learned helplessness” when steadily thwarted in their goal-seeking, children often contrive to believe that they “can’t” improve. So they give up-and make themselves “hopeless.” Children, of course, are more intelligent than rats or guinea pigs; and, after the age of two or so, they not only have language to help them think, but also to think about their thinking-and, later on, to think about thinking about their thinking (metathinking). So they pick up their parents’, “You must act well and you’re a bad child if you don’t”-and they add their own demands and self-downing: “Because it’s highly desirable that I act well and please others, I absolutely must do so! And because I’m not doing as well as I must, not only is that bad, but that also makes me a bad child!” What are we saying then? First, children learn what is “right” and “wrong” and learn the advantages of “good” and the disadvantages of OVERCOMING THE INFLUENCES OF THE PAST 65 their “bad” behavior. Second, they naturally and healthily feel happy about their “good” and sad about their “bad” acts-because they agree with others that it is undesirable and punishing if they act “badly” and that they had better correct themselves. Third, they also learn that they must do “well” or else are bad children. This is an incorrect overgeneralization. But, being suggestible, and being born with their own tendencies to overgeneralize, they often agree with this kind of crooked thinking and solidly weld it into their basic philosophy or Belief System (B). Fourth, children have their own innate tendencies to unrealistically jump from, “I’d prefer to perform well and like to get good results for doing so” to “I absolutely must perform well and have to get good results from doing so!” They also easily jump from, “It is bad ifl act poorly and lose the approval of others” to “I am bad if I act poorly and lose the approval of others.” Fifth, once they become habituated to this self-defeating pattern of musturbation and self-damning, children, adolescents, and adults have the ability to see how destructive it is and to change it by thinking, feeling, and acting to challenge and contradict it. Left to their own devices, however, they rarely do so until some wise teaching or therapy helps them see how destructive their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are and encourages them to work to change these for healthier modes of living. To return to our main theme, parental rejection is often very harmful, helps children hate themselves, and is usually a severe Adversity (A). It is cruel and unjust-and perhaps there should be a law against it. But it invariably seems to be accompanied by B-children’s Beliefs about A-with their agreeing with the Belief System of their rejecting parents, and with their adding musts and self-damnations of their own. Adversities (A’s) greatly contribute to the children’s anxiety, despair, and self-downing. But A’s times Bs really cause their disturbances (Cs). By the same token, it is difficult for humans to feel severely hurt by anything but physical assault or extreme deprivation unless they have traumatizing ideas about what happens to them. For, aside from literally injuring you or depriving you of something essential, what can external persons or things do to cause you extreme pain? People can of course call you names, disagree with you, show that 66 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING they do not love you, and incite others against you. But, other than depriving you of food, clothi
ng, shelter, or other physical essentials, all they can do is to flay you with negative words, attitudes, or ideas. And these work through you-through your letting them affect you. Suppose that someone says unkind things about you behind your back; or snubs you to your face; or stirs up others against you; or writes an article labeling you as a liar. These are all words or gestures, and no word or gesture can, in itself, hurt you unless you think it can-unless you let it or make it hurt. Is it OK, then, when you do not care at all when someone says unkind things to you? Or when you feel totally unconcerned when he or she writes nasty things about you? Not at all! We disagree with the kind of extreme lack of concern or involvement, at times recommended by Epictetus and other Stoics. Why? Because concern and involvement have many distinct advantages which we hope that you do not overstoically (and insensitively) ignore. Concern (along with caring and caution) helps you survive. If you had no concern about looking before you cross the street or arranging to get a meal when you felt hungry, how long would you last? Concern enables you to stave off obnoxious and unfair Adversities. If you did not care when others acted nastily to you, how would you manage to get along with your peers or coworkers. Concern contributes to your enjoyment. If you had no caution about some of the things you said or did, would you establish satisfying friendships, find appropriate sex partners, or sustain good love relationships? Concern aids the welfare of the community in which you choose to live. If you had no social involvement, would you refrain from littering the streets, driving recklessly, or severely abusing children? So by all means feel concerned and care about your own behavior and its effects on others. But work against feeling over-concerned, or anxious. They mean quite different things! Stated differently: You can experience two basic kinds of pain: (1) physical pain, such as that felt when you have a headache, a stubbed toe, or a case of indigestion; and (2) psychological or mental pain, such as that you feel when rejected, frustrated, or treated unfairly. Over physical pain, you have relatively little control, since you may OVERCOMING THE INFLUENCES OF THE PAST 67 get hurt by an external force (someone punching you or something falling on you, for instance). Once physically assaulted, you will normally feel pain and unhappiness for a certain period of time. Even in the case of physical pain, however, you often have some degree of control over your discomfort. If you have a headache and keep telling yourself how terrible the pain feels and how horrible it is for you to have it, you will probably intensify and prolong your discomfort. But if you have the same headache, and keep telling yourself that you can’t rid yourself of it but that you can well bear the pain and that you are merely experiencing one of those unfortunate events that frequently happen to humans, you may reduce your pain. Physical pain and unhappiness do not mean the same thing, though they significantly overlap. You can have fairly severe pain and not feel too unhappy about it; and can have slight pain and feel exceptionally miserable. Not the pain alone, then, but also your attitude toward it make you miserable. Over the second kind of pain, psychological or mental discomfort, you have considerably more control. For your attitude toward such pain partly creates your discomfort and your misery about your discomfort. Thus, if people unfairly call you a liar or a bum, you have your choice of taking them or not taking them too seriously. If you choose the latter and tell yourself that you value what they think of you but can tolerate their criticizing you, you will tend to feel sorry about their dislike. If you choose to take them overseriously and insist that you must have their approval, you will probably make yourself feel ashamed and depressed. If you do not take them at all seriously, and conclude that you aren’t a liar or a bum, and don’t care if they think you are, you may hardly even feel sad or peeved about their namecalling. When you feel hurt about psychological or mental attacks, you create this feeling by downing or pitying yourself about them. Suppose people call you a liar and, because you would like them to favor you, you feel sorry about their falsely thinking you lie. If you see yourself as lying and also condemn yourself for your lies, you then feel guilty or depressed. Moreover, once you down yourself, your totality, for lying, you may make yourself “discover” your other rotten traits-some of which you may not even have! You feel so low 68 A GUIDE TO RA TI ON AL LIVING that you find non-existent faults or magnify real ones. If, on the other hand, you fully accept yourself and refrain from any kind of self-damning, you will very likely think, “Now, how could they call me a liar when I rarely lie? They are mistaken! Now let me see how I can show them that I seldom lie.” Or, in some cases, you may think: “You know, I believe they are correct. I have done some kind of lying and I’d better admit it. And I’d best stop lying if I want people to trust me. So I can stop my foolish lying and show that I can deal with people truthfully.” When you feel sorry or sad, then, you have a different experience than when you feel hurt. Although sorrow and regret constitute healthy feelings, hurt does not. People may deprive or harm you by their words, gestures, or attitudes. But whenever you feel hurt, you make their accusations sacred or deify them and thus you actually “hurt” yourself. Suppose a close female friend, toward whom you have acted kindly over the years, unfairly accuses you of being inconsiderate and meanly chastises you. You say, “I feel terribly hurt by her behavior! Woe!” But your “hurt” mainly consists of your own self-downing or selfpity. You create it by idiotically thinking, “What a dunce I am for treating her so nicely! I can’t stand her thinking badly of me! I must have no worth if she thinks that I have none! What will other people think of me, if they see how my former friend now treats me? I can’t bear their seeing me in such a disgraceful position! Poor me!” What makes your thoughts idiotic? Several things: (1) You hardly are a dunce for sometimes acting foolishly. (2) You can stand your ex-friend’s thinking badly of you, though you’ll never like it. (3) Even if she now thinks you worthless, you do not have to agree with her. ( 4) If others conclude that you have disgraced yourself because your friend now treats you meanly, you can bear their thinking this. If you face, and vigorously contradict, your own disturbed conclusions here, you will almost certainly soon stop feeling “hurt.” You will merely feel deprived and annoyed. You can see psychological pains (or negative feelings) as healthy or unhealthy. When something obnoxious happens to you, you’d better feel concerned and caring-meaning, healthily sad, disappointed, sorry, regretful, frustrated, or annoyed. But you’d better OVERCOMING THE INFLUENCES OF THE PAST 69 not make yourself feel overconcemed and overcaring-meaning, unhealthily panicked, self-downing, horror-stricken, depressed, or enraged. Psychoanalysis therapies which emphasize the “enormous” influences of the past, tends to hold that children have to grandiosely demand and whine in their early years and consequently feel exceptionally hurt and self-hating when rejected and ignored by their parents. They don’t have to; though they often choose to feel hurt, not because of their parents’ injustices but because of their unrealistic insistence that these parents must not act unjustly. And much evidence exists that some easily disturbable children are great injustice collectors during their early years, while many others are not. Even when young children do strongly choose to upset themselves, and to feel exceptionally hurt and angry when deprived or frustrated, they have another important choice to make as they grow up: to remain or not to remain childish in this respect. For they not only learn, as they get older, that names and gestures are pa
inful (bring disadvantages) but that they also need not hurt (create selfdowning). And adults can mainly choose to believe hurtful or unhurtful ideas. If you follow the teachings of this book, you can successfully make this choice. No matter what your past history, or how your parents and teachers may have helped you feel disturbed, you remain so because you still believe some of the unrealistic and irrational thoughts that you originally held. To undisturb yourself, therefore, you can observe your self-defeating Beliefs and energetically work at defusing them. Your understanding of how you first made yourself neurotic may help somewhat, but it will rarely cure you. Emotional disturbance, in sum, usually stems from your Irrational Beliefs. You can uncover the basic unrealistic ideas with which you disturb yourself; see clearly how misleading these ideas are; and, on the basis of better information and clearer thinking, change the Beliefs behind your disturbance. Chapter 8 Is Reason Always Reasonable? Let’s face it, humans have trouble thinking straight and emoting well. No matter how bright and well educated they are, they find it easy, exceptionally easy, to act foolishly. And not merely once or twice in a lifetime. Often, rather! Yes, quite often! Can we, then, call humans rational animals? Yes, we can. And no, we can’t. They have the most incredibly mixed-up combination of common sense and senselessness you ever did see. They of course have done and will continue to do wonders with their minds-are so far brighter than their closest animal neighbors (the higher apes) that human morons often are distinctively more intelligent than these brightest of mammals. Yes, people are highly reasonable creatures. But they also have strong tendencies to act in the most ridiculous, prejudiced, amazingly dumb ways. They are naturally suggestible, superstitious, bigoted, and downright foolish-particularly in their relations with other people. Even when they know they are self-defeating and know they would be happier and healthier if they acted otherwise, they have great difficulty achieving sound and sane behavior, frequently do so for a short length of time, and then keep falling back to immature ways. Take a typical case in point. Marlo, when I (R.A.H.) first met her in my office, could be called an unusually attractive and intelligent woman of twenty-three who was a fine secretary to the president of a large corporation. Although she had no more than a high school education, she started working for this firm at the age of nineteen and, because of her pleasant personality and intelligence rose quickly 71 72 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING from one of twenty women in a stenographic pool to the most responsible secretarial position in the company. In her love life, however, Marlo fell remarkably short. At the age of twenty, she met an older man, began living with him after knowing him for a few weeks, felt shocked to learn that he had no intention of divorcing his wife, convinced herself that life was no longer worth living, and took a large dose of sleeping pills. Discovered by a friend and rushed to the hospital in time to have her stomach pumped, she narrowly escaped dying. Romantically enough, the young resident physician, Paul, who pumped out Marlo’s stomach, quickly fell in love with her and they began dating. She resisted his advances for many months, for she saw all men as “crummy” after her experience with her first lover. This highly intelligent woman, in other words, found it surprisingly easy to make one of the most ridiculous mistakes found in any book of logic-that of absurd overgeneralization. Because one lover lied to her, she saw all potential lovers as being equally irresponsible. Marlo’s illogical thinking went further. By extreme patience and understanding, Paul overcame her fears and finally convinced her that he really did love her and wanted to marry her. She reluctantly agreed, but felt rather relieved that they had to postpone their wedding date for another year, until after he finished school and passed his medical boards. Even though she knew Paul was loving and trustworthy, she also felt-meaning, strongly believed, in spite of much contrary evidence-that he didn’t really care for her. While telling herself that if her first lover had lied about really loving her, Paul would do the same, she also convinced herself, “My first lover left me, not because of his own irresponsibility but because he discovered what I have known all my life, that I am worthless. And since Paul obviously is so worthwhile, he couldn’t possibly care for me as much as he thinks he does. Just as soon as he finds me out-as my first lover did after a few months-he, too, will see me as I really am and will then leave me. So we’d better wait a year before we marry, by which time he will have found me out, left me, and stopped any drawn-out nightmare of marrying and divorcing.” So Marlo, this bright and efficient woman, “reasoned.” With this kind of illogical thinking, she secretly awaited the breakup of her engagement to Paul, which she knew would come just as soon as he IS REASON ALWAYS REASONABLE? 73 found her out. Then the next “logical” step in this illogical chain of thinking occurred. Once Marlo decided that perhaps she could trust Paul a little and that she really did love him, she began to feel extremely jealous and possessive. Ifhe met her more than ten minutes after his working day at the hospital ended, she would give him a third-degree grilling. Ifhe smiled pleasantly at a patient, nurse, or receptionist, she accused him of flirting. Here again we have an extension of Marlo’s irrational thinking. Since one mart jilted her, this lover might do the same. And because Paul really seemed to care for her, how could she truly, certainly and absolutely know that she deserved his caring? Moreover, because she still felt somewhat indecisive, how did she know, how could she feel sure, of his hesitation to marry her immediately? All kinds of thoughts like these kept going through Marlo’s mind, giving her deep-seated feelings of insecurity-which frequently lead to intense jealousy. Paul, recognizing Marlo’s jealousy as evidence of her own insecurity, nicely put up with her compulsive questioning and finally persuaded her to go for psychoanalysis three times a week for the next two years. Most of the analytic sessions reviewed the fact that although she loved her father and seemed his favorite child, she often feared that he would discover her badness and would reject her in favor of her older sister. Marlo’s analyst thought this childhood pattern caused most of her later behavior with her first lover and with Paul. Marlo didn’t strongly disagree with him and did feel somewhat better as a result of her analytic sessions. But dredging up the facts of her childhood didn’t reduce her feelings of extreme jealousy. In considerable disgust and despair, she terminated her analysis. By this time Paul was becoming discouraged himself and began to take a dim view of his having a happy married life with Marlo. Knowing, however, her suicidal tendencies, he decided to have her go for psychotherapy again before he broke up with her; and he insisted that she try at least a few sessions with me. After she had seen me five times, and had started to change her basic irrational thinking, Paul told Marlo that he had to break off his relationship with her and literally left her at my door. Understandably, we had quite a session. Marlo, in spite of some 74 A GUIDE TO RA TI ON AL LIVING sedation which Paul had given her during their talk that day, acted hysterically as we started our session. After fifteen minutes largely devoted to my helping her quiet down, she said: “Well, I know what I must do now. I must finish the job he delayed for three years.” “You mean commit suicide?” I asked. “Yes.” “That, of course, is your privilege. And do you mind,” I persisted almost humorously, “telling me why you plan to slit your throat when you could nicely stick around and torture yourself for another halfcentury?” I have found, through considerable experience with people intent on suicide, that
it often helps to discuss their intent openly, forthrightly, and with a certain degree of casual humor-as I discuss many all-too-serious matters in REBT sessions. I also am deeply convinced that although life has many enjoyable aspects, anyone, including one of my clients, has the right to decide to stop living. I do not upset myself, therefore, when someone threatens suicide, but deal with their Irrational Beliefs in the same way that I treat other destructive Beliefs. My clients see that I know they seriously contemplate suicide, that I do not deny their right to commit it, but that I very much want them to reconsider the advantages of living and see if they really want to die. Back to Marlo. “I know I have the right,” she said, “to take my life. And since I do not find it worth going on with, I intend to do exactly that. Life seems a phony deal. I can’t trust or depend upon anyone. Things always end up the same.” “How so? Just because two lovers in a row have left you? A hell of a big conclusion from a pitifully small bit of evidence!” “Just the same-I find it always the same.” “Hogwash! How can a bright woman like you believe such junk? I see very little similarity between your first lover’s leaving you because he didn’t want to assume the responsibilities of divorcing his wife and taking on another, and Paul’s leaving you because, to say the least, you’ve acted like a jealous pain in the neck. And doesn’t the solution-if you really want to achieve a secure relationship with a man-lie in your not behaving so annoyingly and in stopping your demanding that the males of the world guarantee you absolute security?” IS REASON ALWAYS REASONABLE? 75 “But how do I know that Paul didn’t plan this, right from the start, just like Roger, my first lover, did three years ago? How do I know that he didn’t deliberately take everything he could get from me and then leave me just before we could get married?” “You don’t know for sure. But the situation certainly doesn’t seem like the way you keep setting it up. Not to me, it doesn’t! Besides, let us suppose that your view is accurate, and that Paul really did, just like the first man in your life, plan to get what he could out of you sexually and then leave you waiting at the church. So? That would show that he, just like Roger, behaved unethically. But why make that your problem? How is that a reason for you to splatter your brains over your lovely Persian rug?” “But if I can’t trust anyone,” Marlo wailed, “how can I see any prospect of my ever living happily?” ”Anyone?” I relentlessly persisted. “I can’t see how two men in an entire lifetime, so far, equal anyone. Let’s even say, for the sake of your argument, that both Roger and Paul are entirely untrustworthy. Must you vastly overgeneralize? If you hired two women to assist you at the office and both of them proved unreliable, would you necessarily conclude that you couldn’t possibly get anyone more reliable?” “No, I guess I wouldn’t. I see what you mean.” “And even if we may grant-for the sake, again, of your argument-that you have had the unusual misfortune of meeting two men in succession who behaved badly, does that prove that you will always be lied to, and that you can never enjoy living?” “You seem to dismiss Paul and my losing him as nothing worth considering,” Marlo (now quite unhysterically) said. “Not at all. Could we not more accurately say that you seem to consider yourself and your losing you as nothing worth considering?” “You mean-I show, by getting this upset and by thinking of ending it all, that I don’t consider myself sufficiently worth going on with?” “Well, do you? You remind me somewhat of a woman on trial for speeding. The judge asked, ‘How come, madam, that you have five children, ranging from one year to eight, when you just told me that the only husband you ever had died three years ago?’ ‘Well, Judge,’ the woman replied, ‘my husband’s dead-but I’m not!’ This woman, 76 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING obviously, thought life worth living even with her husband irrevocably gone. She accepted herself. Do you?” “But how can I accept myself when, as you can see, no one else seems to do so, when one man after another keeps rejecting me? Doesn’t this indicate something?” “Yes, it indicates something about you-that you believe it allimportant to have a man of your choice, to accept you before you decide to accept yourself. It indicates that you continually rate yourself and make your self-rating dependent upon the approval of others. You illogically keep telling yourself, ‘Because I am worthless if a lover disapproves of me, and because two men in a row have not loved me enough to marry me, this proves what I knew in the first place: that I am nothing!’ Don’t you see how circular your reasoning is?” “Mmm. Let me get that straight now. I keep saying and have always said to myself, ‘I only am worthwhile and can consider my life valuable if and when a man I love truly cares for me.’ And then, when I find one does not care as much as I thought he did, I immediately conclude, ‘Yes, of course he doesn’t care. Because, as I said in the first place, I have no worth, and how could he possibly really care for a worthless person like me?’ That does make circular reasoning, if I actually say that to myself.” “Well, don’t you?” “Looks like it, doesn’t it? I’ll have to give this some more thought.” “Exactly what we want: for you to give your Beliefs more thought. And to think more about them outside these sessions. While you think about your worth as a person, give a little thought to another important aspect of it, too.” “Which aspect?” Marlo asked. She now kept looking at herself so intently in a problem-solving way that one would never have dreamed that, just a few minutes before, she had considered plunging out of my office window. “Think, if you will,” I said, “of the enormous demands you keep making on people, such as Paul, with whom you become involved. Precisely because you consider yourself essentially worthless, and believe that you need their approval to make you ‘worthwhile,’ you don’t merely, as you mistakenly think you do, ask your lovers to IS REASON ALWAYS REASONABLE? 77 respond devotedly to you. Instead, you demand that they do.” “I demand that Paul approve of me, no matter how I treat him or what I do?” “Yes. To fulfill your own ‘needs’ for absolute love, you expect him to conform rigidly to your preconceived ideas of how a lover must behave. And when he does not act precisely the way you think he ought to act-and Lord knows you try every possible test in the books to see if he does act that way!-you raise hell with him and call him flighty and untrustworthy. Finally, by continuing to make your unreasonable demands, and forcing him-yes, actually forcing him-to tum away from you, you ‘prove’ to yourself that you cannot trust him. Actually, of course, you only ‘prove’ how dependent you are on his and others’ total approval. Another round of circular thinking!” “I think that I need him to bolster me. Then I dare him to conform to my so-called needs. Then he doesn’t do so, because he finds me such a bother. So I tell myself, ‘Because he finds me such a bother, that proves that I am worthless and that I need him to uphold me and help poor unworthy me get along in this big bad world. ‘Gee, I really do have it in for myself–all along the line-don’t I?” “You do! And until we help you to trust yourself, how can we expect you to trust people like Paul? Until we help you see that no horror, but only great unpleasantness, occurs when you are rejected by a lover, how can we expect you to act well enough with one so that he will not find you too bothersome?” So Marlo and I continued to talk. By the end of our session she not only calmed down but also began to do a new kind of thinking about herself, which is intimately tied to unconditional selfacceptance (USA). I would like to be able to report that as a result of our therapy sessions and many hours reconsidering her Beliefs, Marlo happily married Paul. That, alas, did not occur. In spite of her notable improvements, Paul felt he had already had it with her and only occasionally saw Marlo
again. But before another year had passed, she found a new lover, and related to him more realistically and less jealously. To return to our main theme: Because of her fallibility, Marlo found it very easy to screw up her love life, even though in other respects she acted intelligently and efficiently. She had no trouble 78 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING overgeneralizing and creating Beliefs about her own worthlessness, and thinking that she only wanted “normal” love from Paul when she really demanded undying love from him. This unusually bright woman found it easy to think illogically. Why? Because Marlo was human. Because humans have about twelve years of childhood during which they act dependently and confuse reasonable with foolish behavior. Because, once having “outgrown” their childhood, they tend to affect themselves by its “learning” for the rest of their lives. Because, no matter how “mature” they are, they find it difficult to sensibly view their own behavior and their relations with others. Because they have strong biological tendencies to make themselves anxious, depressed, and hostile, even when such feelings sabotage their desires. Because their families and their communities encourage them, from childhood onward, to remain gullible, suggestible, and conformist in many important ways. Because, as humans, they have powerful tendencies (not instincts, but what Abe Maslow called instinctoid tendencies) toward inertia, excitement-seeking, moodiness, and negativism that frequently interfere with their productive thinking and planning. Because they often tend to indulge in short-range pleasures-such as overeating, drinking, and smoking-that harm them in the long run. Even when people “know” what they’d better do, they frequently refuse to do it and when they “know” what they’d better avoid, they often still give in to it. Particularly in regard to relating to others, people tend to act foolishly. For intelligent humans sometimes find it almost impossible to choose between sensible and senseless social behaviors. If you lived alone on a desert island, you might have little trouble acting sanely most of the time. But you don’t live on a desert island. And, whether you like it or not, you feel forced to socially conform. Yet, at the same time, you’d better also, if you would fulfill your own destiny, be somewhat independent and individualistic; succeed in being yourself. You will find these two conflicting goals difficult to achieve. In fact, you may find it impossible to do anything but imperfectly resolve the goals of remaining yourself and simultaneously getting along well with others. Take the simple situation, for example, in which you sit around talking to a group of seven or eight friends. Suppose most of the other IS REASON ALWAYS REASONABLE? 79 members of your group are intelligent and sophisticated. Suppose, also, that you don’t have serious hangups. Nonetheless, you are in something of an individual-social pickle. If you persuade the members of the group to talk about the things that interest you, some of them may soon feel bored and disgusted with your “hogging the floor.” But if you completely go along with what the other people want to discuss, you will probably find yourself sitting in somewhat pained silence for a good part of the evening. If, when a subject about which you have strong views comes up for discussion, you honestly say what you feel about it, some members of the group will very likely feel hurt, insulted, or angry. If you carefully keep your mouth shut, or only cautiously express some of your own deeply felt views, you will frustrate yourself. Though you try to politely allow other members of the group to have their say, some of them may not be equally polite, will monopolize the conversation when you give them an opening, and may force you to remain silent about several things you think important. But if you assertively break into the conversation, some of the others may resentfully think that they have not sufficiently expressed themselves. You really can’t win-not completely. No matter what you do. Even in this simple situation, if you act as you really want to act, some members of the group will feel restricted and will tend to dislike you. And if you go along with what the group wants, you will find your desires frustrated and will tend to dislike the others. Unless your wants happen to coincide with those of all the other members of the group (a highly unlikely occurrence!), someone, you or they, is thwarted. So all of you may feel greatly displeased-not to mention anxious and angry. Things are much more complicated, of course, if you unduly care about what other members of the group think of you. For if you feel overconcemed about their approval, you will lean over backward to do what they want you to do, instead of what you want to do yourself. Then you will tend to hate yourself for acting weakly and hate them for seeing your weakness. Or else you will do what you mainly want to do-and then worry whether they still like you for doing it. Your overly caring for the approval of others is neurotic. But even without neurosis, your discriminating between what you would like to do and what you’d better do in group situations is difficult and 80 A GUIDE TO RA TI ON AL LIVING often discouraging. For you want what you desire. And you also want others to feel comfortable and to approve of you-quite apart from any neurotic needs for approval that you may have. You may therefore feel constantly tom, and cannot completely resolve this conflict. In a more complicated kind of group relationship, things get even hotter. Thus, in a highly competitive group-such as a school where pupils keep trying to get into favorite colleges, or in a business office where employees compete with each other to make higher commissions or salaries-you will find it harder to do what you want to do for your own sake and also to gain and keep the favor of others. In almost any social group, therefore, you will find it tough sledding to keep a sane, somewhat middle-of-the-road course and to avoid surrendering your personal tastes and preferences-while not antagonizing other group members. You cannot fully calculate in advance your most “reasonable” actions, and you will shift with changing conditions. Thus, when you first enter a group, you may best keep your mouth shut and let the other members have their say. Later, you may try to get in your own two cents’ worth, even though those who previously spoke up would love to continue holding the floor. Finally, you may give others a chance to talk more again. But you may never precisely determine in advance when and where to draw the line between your own active participation and your polite acceptance of others’ discussion, since this depends on many different factors. You may well acknowledge, then, the desirability of both selfexpression and social acceptance. But while some form of hedonism, pleasure-seeking, or enlightened self-interest seems a good plan of personal living, enlightened self-interest includes some degree of social interest as well. For if you only strive for your “own” good, and run roughshod over others, you will find that many people over whom you keep riding sooner or later thwart your “own” good. Therefore, to some extent you’d better include the good of others in your view of your own good. Similarly, if you mainly concentrate on striving for your immediate good, you will almost inevitably sabotage your potential future enjoyments. “Live for today, for tomorrow you may die” seems a perfectly sane philosophy-if you have a good chance of dying IS REASON ALWAYS REASONABLE? 81 tomorrow. Most of the time, however, you live to the ripe old age of eighty or more these days; and your tomorrows will probably be miserable if you live only for today. At the same time, if you only live for tomorrow, you will tend to live your todays overcautiously and dully. Again, you will in the long run defeat your own ends. Reason, then, proves a hard taskmaster. You won’t find it absolutely good or certain as a standard of conduct, and you will often find it difficult to draw the exact l
ine between reasonable and unreasonable behavior. When taken to extremes, moreover, you can make rationality highly irrational, for several reasons: 1. Some degree of emotion seems necessary to human survival and it would be unreasonable, meaning self-defeating, for you never to have strong, rather prejudiced reactions-such as your wanting to hurt or even kill someone who deliberately attacks you. 2. Human tastes or preferences, though frequently quite “irrational” or “groundless,” may add considerable pleasure and interest to life. You act, in a sense, “unreasonably” when you get obsessed with collecting stamps, with devoting yourself to making your mate happy, or with listening to music ten hours a day. But, like many people, you may derive enormous, harmless enjoyment from these kinds of “irrational” or “emotional” pursuits. “Pure intellect,” if this ever existed, might be efficient-but pleasureless. “Affects” (one of the older terms for emotions) receive that name because they affect you-influence you to go on living and to enjoy your existence. Without any kind of feeling, human life might persist but would seem incredibly dull. 3. Reason, when carried to extremes, sometimes is inefficient and self-sabotaging. If every time you tied a shoelace or ate a piece of bread, you had to stop and reason whether this was the “right” thing to do or the “best” way to do it, your reasoning would be more of a hindrance than a help and you would wind up, perhaps, highly rational-and unhappy. Extreme or obsessive-compulsive “reason” often is irrational; because, according at least to REBT, “true” rationality aids or increases human happiness. 4. A totally reasoned-out life might tend to be a mechanical existence-a life too cold, unfeeling, and machinelike. It might undermine your creative expression, particularly in the realm of art, literature, and music. 82 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING All these objections to extreme rationality have some validity. But they also have a straw-man quality and are taken to irrational extremes. When boiled down to their essences, they often arise from our fear of the unknown. Even though many “irrationalists” are distinctly anxious, they at least know the limits of their disturbances. Not knowing the degree of discomfort they might obtain if they lived rational lives, and fearing that it might even exceed their present discomfort, they dream up straw-men “horrors” about rationality to give themselves an excuse for not trying to obtain it. Again: Knowing that their present irrational state produces unpleasant results, but also knowing that thinking and acting sensibly is difficult and requires considerable time and effort, disturbed people often lazily work harder at thinking up arguments against rationality than at experimentally trying to apply it to their lives. One of my (R.A.H.’s) clients, Ronald, kept resisting my rational approach to his severe problem of anxiety and compulsive eating and frankly admitted his resistance. “Do you fear,” I asked, “that if you reconstruct your life along the ways we have discussed, you will be a kind of rational machinemonster?” “Well, in a sense, yes,” the client replied. “All right. Now let’s look at your fear of acting machine-like as a result of therapy, just as we would examine any of your other anxieties. Do you have any facts that support this fear? Name a person you know who seems so rational that he doesn’t appear to enjoy life and acts like a logical machine, as you have implied.” “Well, I don’t know, exactly. But I must admit that at times you seem a bit, you know, that way yourself. You do seem awfully efficient. And you rarely get upset about things. Even when I break down and cry or rant, it doesn’t seem to affect you. And that seems strange and, well, maybe a bit heartless to me.” “And that shows that I am coldly and dreadfully incapable of enjoying life, or of feeling happy?” “Not exactly. But I fear that I might lose my capacity for joy if I act as calmly and objectively as you do.” “Ah, quite a different thing! Here you feel almost as miserable as you can, because of your extreme anxiety and compulsiveness. And, as you just described me, I almost never upset myself about things. IS REASON ALWAYS REASONABLE? 83 Obviously, if your description of me holds true, I don’t feel very unhappy. And yet you fear that if you achieve calmness, like me, you will be unhappy, or at least lose the capacity for joy. Right?” “Yes. Somehow I feel that way.” “You mean, really, you believe that way. But I still ask: What evidence have you for your belief? Have you experimentally tried, even for a few days or weeks, acting as calmly as I? Have you, in the course of such a trial, proven to your own satisfaction-or shall we say, your own dissatisfaction?-that you then feel worse, more unhappy, than you feel now?” “No, I can’t say I have.” “Then why don’t you, quite experimentally, try? After all, you can always return to your present depressed state, you know, if this kind of honest trial fails. If, somehow, you try behaving more rationally and start turning into a computer-like zombie, you can always return to whatever degree of irrationality you care to get back into your life. You sign no contract to continue behaving in a cold and dull ‘rational’ manner, if your experiment in logical thinking actually starts turning out that way. So far as I can see, however, because you haven’t tried rationality yet, and because you feel distinctly miserable living your present irrational way, you keep setting up a bogeyman as an excuse against the ‘dangers’ of changing yourself.” “You mean people like me so greatly fear changing their ways that they dream up exaggerated and false objections to doing so?” “Precisely. Without even trying a new path, you set up so many highly fanciful objections to it that you never give yourself a chance to learn whether it would be satisfying.” “So you think that my disturbance, right now, consists not so much of my acting irrationally, but of my refusing to even try rationality and then insisting that, if I did try it, it would make me into a mechanical, unemotional zombie?” “Exactly. Why don’t you try it and see?” Ronald did try working against his compulsive eating and questioning the irrational beliefs leading to his crippling anxieties. Several weeks later, after making considerable progress, he enthusiastically reported: “Not only have I stopped eating when I don’t feel hungry, as I did when I came to see you, but I’ve actually started a real diet for the 84 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING first time in years and have already lost eight pounds. I feel sure I’ll keep it up, now that I see that my eating mainly served to distract me from my nutty idea that I can’t face the hazards of life myself, without the continual babying of my parents, my wife, and even my children. “I really want to bring up another point. As my compulsive eating and some of my fears of standing on my own feet kept going down, that mechanical-like feeling that I so feared getting a few weeks ago just hasn’t materialized. Just the opposite! I feel so darned more emotional, in a good way, and so enthusiastic about my life, that I practically go to the office singing every morning. In fact, this very morning I did find myself singing, for the first time in years. And I stopped for a moment, as I listened to myself and said, ‘Wow! That son-of-a-gun Harper-how right! If singing on the way to work illustrates how mechanical this rational therapy stuff will help make me, I think I’d better get some heavier doses of it and learn to warble like a nightingale!’ Mechanical-schmechanical-I like acting like this kind of a robot!” As this client began to see, a rational approach to life does not mean a one-sided kind of rationality. The definition of rational used in REBT is: showing reason; not foolish or silly; sensible; leading to efficient results; producing desired effects with a minimum of expense, waste, unnecessary effort, or unpleasant side effects; helping to achieve the individual and social goals that you strive for. Human reason, therefore, includes healthy emotionality, good habits and an excit
ing existence. Rational living is not an end in itself. Life is rational when you use your head to experience happier, more fulfilling days and years. To be rational, you act (and feel!) more joyously. Rationality, as we use the term, shies away from perfectionism or absolutism. Although we consider ourselves pretty rational, we are not dedicated rationalists. Rationalism holds that reason or intellect, rather than the senses, is the true source of all knowledge. This we do not believe. Like most modern scientists, we see knowledge as greatly influenced by human perceiving and thinking. But we also see it as dependent on sensing, feeling, and acting. Some devotees of rationality, such as Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden, think of reason as an absolute and claim that it invariably produces “good” and “healthy” behavior. We do not agree; and I IS REASON ALWAYS REASONABLE? 85 (A.E.) have written an entire book describing the dangers of objectivism, the philosophy of Rand. Ifwe do not see rational thinking as an Absolute Good, or an end in itself, but more reasonably consider it a means toward the end of increasing human happiness-and particularly of minimizing anxiety, depression, hostility, and self-downing-we avoid the pitfall of being too rational. Extreme, exaggerated, or dogmatic “rationality” is a contradiction. As soon as we take reason to self-defeating extremes and make it into dogmatism, it no longer is reason. Absolute reason is probably absolute nonsense! Some followers ofREBT are accused of behaving “too rationally” and of encouraging their clients to act too unemotionally. Such accusations may have some truth. But if so, these followers practice Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy badly. As we noted before, Maxie C. Maultsby has defined rational thinking as the kind of thought that most likely will result in the preservation of your life and limb, will produce a minimum of inner conflict and turmoil, and, if you act on it, will prevent you from experiencing undesirable conflict with other people. If you follow this kind ofrational thinking, you will not respond mechanically or overintellectually. Various people mean various things by the term rational. We mean: sensible, efficient, unselfdefeating. And we include human emotion, sensitivity, creativity, and art as quite rational pursuits-as long as you do not take them to such extremes as to sabotage your living and other forms of enjoying. Is rationalizing rational? By no means! Rationalizing means inventing seemingly rational or plausible explanations for your acts, beliefs, or desires, usually without your awareness that these explanations do not hold water. Rationalizing or excusing your behavior, therefore, amounts to the opposite of thinking rationally about it. Similarly, although to intellectualize, in a philosophic sense, means to reason or to think, in a psychological sense it means to overemphasize intellectual pursuits, such as computer science, and to downplay emotional areas, such as drama or music. To intellectualize also means to think about your emotional problems so compulsively as to deny and to avoid them rather than to solve them. Although, therefore, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy strongly 86 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING favors a highly reasoned approach to human life, it does not favor rationalizing or intellectualizing. To reason your way out of your emotional upsets is to be sane and sensible. But to rationalize and intellectualize about your self-defeating behavior helps you perpetuate it. They are not our thing. If some people accuse us of advocating rationalized and intellectualized “solutions” to human ills, that is their problem! Another caution about the powers of reasoning. Most people are able to think much better than they do about their problems-and, to help them (and you) do so, we have written this book. But thinking can be interfered with by several learning disorders (such as attention deficit disorder) and severe personality disorders (such as obsessivecompulsive disorder). If you or your associates have unusual trouble thinking rationally and behaving effectively, by all means have these possible disorders investigated. If they are found to exist, various kinds of special treatment-including rehabilitation, skill training, medication, and psychotherapy-may be required in addition to selftraining in rational thinking. Chapter 9 Refusing to Feel Desperately Unhappy Anyone who tries to give you rules for complete happiness is not being very rational! Yet we br~shly declare: We can teach you the art of (virtually) never feeling desperately unhappy. Are we inconsistent? Not really. We cannot tell you how to be happy because what you, as a unique individual, do and how much pleasure you get from doing it largely depends on your personal preferences-which we cannot very well predict. You may adore a walk in the country; or you may hate it. You may feel ecstatic over having sex with your mate; or you may see it as a bore. How can we, then, tell you what will bring you joy? We can, of course, tell you what makes us happy, but we cannot predict, except by encouraging you to experiment, what you will find gratifying. We can sometimes guess that something general, such as absorbing work or vital interest in a cause, will make you happy. But what work or what vital interest will do the trick we cannot honestly say. Only you, in the last analysis, by a process of your own trial and error, can answer that question. If we can’t tell you how to be happy, can we tell you how to avoid feeling unduly miserable? To some extent, yes. Because while people differ enormously in what they find enjoyable, they almost always are miserable when they make themselves anxious, depressed, and selfpitying. And we, as psychologists who have worked with many miserable people, can often tell you what you do to make yourself desperately unhappy-and how to stop doing it. Do we claim that you never rightly make yourself heavy-hearted? No, not quite. Merely that you tend to easily create considerable 87 88 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING needless pain, suffering, and misery. In fact, almost all the sustained and “unbearable” anguish that you feel, except that which goes with prolonged physical pain, is unnecessary. You mostly manufacture it. “Oh, come now!” you may protest. “You don’t mean to say, Drs. Ellis and Harper, that if my mother dies, my mate leaves me, and I lose a fine job-that even then I don’t need to feel seriously depressed?” But we do mean exactly that. No matter what happens to you, with the exception of continuous physical pain, we do not think it necessary to make yourself horrified or depressed. But we do believe that you will find it desirable and healthy to make yourself quite disappointed, frustrated, and grieving. “What kind of gobbledygook have we here?” you may ask. “You find depression unnecessary but grieving desirable and healthy? Seriously?” Yes, seriously! We would like you to acknowledge that you consciously or unconsciously bring them on–or choose to experience depression and horror. Because you needlessly produce these feelings with your self-defeating Irrational Beliefs, you can consciously choose to change them to healthy negative emotions. “Really? Really!!?” Yes, really, but before you split a gut, perhaps we’d better define the terms of happy and unhappy. Then you may not think us so crazy as we may at first blush seem. The dictionary loosely defines the term unhappy as: sad; miserable; wretched; sorrowful. This, however, tells only half the real story. Unhappiness actually seems to consist of at least two somewhat distinct reactions: (1) a feeling of sadness, sorrow, irritation, annoyance, or regret at your not getting what you want or at your getting what you do not want; and (2) a second and quite different feeling of panic, depression, worthlessness, or rage because you see yourself as deprived or thwarted; strongly convince yourself that you should not, must not, be frustrated; and view it as horrible and awful when you are. Misery, in other words, consists of two fairly distinct parts: (1) desiring, wishing, or preferring that you achieve
some goal or purpose and feeling disappointed and irritated when you do not achieve it; and (2) demanding, insisting, commanding, and REFUSING TO FEEL DESPERATELY UNHAPPY 89 necessitating that you achieve your goal or purpose and making yourself feel bitter, enraged, panicked, despairing, and self-downing when you do not. I In REBT, we distinguish between he~lthy feelings of sorrow or irritation when you lose something you desire; and unhealthy feelings of depression or rage stemming from your refusal to accept frustrations, and from your whining that they absolutely must not exist. If you think rationally (self-helpingly), you will feel greatly disappointed or sad about the loss of a person you care for. But you need not also feel utterly overwhelmed and depressed about the same loss. You may sanely choose to feel strongly annoyed or irritated by frustrating conditions. But you need not make yourself feel very enraged or self-pitying about these defeats. While your feelings of loss or grief are healthy reactions to distinct losses, your feeling of panic or depression are not. Why? For several important reasons: 1. When something undesirable occurs to you at point A (your Activating Experience or Adversity), you feel sorrowful or sad at point C (your emotional Consequence) because you usually tell yourself at point B (your Belief System), “It is quite unfortunate that I have lost this person or thing.” This represents a logical or “provable” statement-a Rational Belief (RB}-since you can show (in the light of your own value system) that misfortune does follow from this loss. Thus, if you lose your mate or your job, you will suffer several disadvantages, and it is foolish for you to conclude, “How fortunate!” and to feel happy about it. 2. Your feelings of panic or depression are a radically different kind of emotional Consequence (point C). They largely stem from your Irrational Belief (IB), “It is awful or horrible that I have lost this person or thing.” Awful or horrible, when you use them in this context, virtually never just mean unfortunate or bad. They mean more than this. If you carefully think about it, you will see that something more than bad cannot very well exist. No matter how unfortunate it is to lose your mate or your job, it still is only unfortunate. Even when you deem it extremely or outstandingly unfortunate, it still cannot be more than that. And the term awful, when it leads to panic or depression, really means-think about it now; do not merely take our word for it!-much more than 90 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING unfortunate. It tends to mean that your loss is as bad as any loss could be–one hundred percent bad. Most unlikely!-since it could almost always be even worse. And it means that your loss is so bad that it absolutely must not exist. But, of course, it does exist. So, awful is an unrealistic, gross exaggeration. Awfulizing makes your feelings of grief worse than they otherwise would be and makes you less able to cope with them. 3. It may seem a quibble to keep using terms like unfortunate, disadvantageous, and inconvenient, while avoiding terms like awful, horrible, and terrible. But it is far more than a quibble! For if you convince yourself that it is exceptionally unfortunate when your mate rejects you, you strongly imply that you would find it distinctly fortunate if you persuaded him or her to return to your relationship-and that you would see it as fortunate if you could relate well to another partner. Consequently, you will be motivated, by conceiving this loss as unfortunate, to do something about it: for example, get into another good relationship or enjoy yourself even though you are alone. But if you convince yourself that rejection is awful, you will tend to do little about it-except: (a) mull endlessly about its awfulness; (b) put yourself down for having created that awful result; ( c) convince yourself that you feel too upset to do anything about relating again to another partner; (d) foolishly predict that you can never have a desirable relationship again; ( e) damn yourself totally and “prove” to yourself that a worm like you doesn’t deserve acceptance; and (f) convince yourself that the Demon of Awfulness has irrevocably clutched you and that you have no power to help yourself or to cope with such incredible horror. Your seeing any unfortunate Activating Experience or Adversity as awful, horrible, terrible deludes you that you absolutely cannot cope with the awful essence of the universe that plagues you with such ghastliness. Now matter how unfortunate or undesirable an event is, you still are able to cope with it. But if you see it as truly terrible, you surrender almost all control you may have over it (and over your feelings about it), and you subject yourself to worse misfortune. 4. If you face yourself honestly, you can admit that when you view some loss or frustration as awful, you usually mean that because it is quite disadvantageous, it should not, must not, ought not, exist. REFUSING TO FEEL DESPERATELY UNHAPPY 91 You don’t merely see it as undesirable but claim that the universe shouldn’t foist it on you. Nor do you mean that because of its badness this event preferably should not exist. You mean that it absolutely should not! This kind of shoulding, musting, and oughting is unrealistic, illogical, and self-defeating for several reasons: a. As far as we know, no absolute shoulds, oughts, and musts exist in the world. You can legitimately say, “Jfl want to survive, I must take reasonably good care of my health,” because you do not make this must absolute, but make it contingent on your goal. But if you say, “I must survive, no matter how I take care of my health,” you make an absolutistic statement and claim that a special law of the universe exists which says that under all conditions you must survive. Such a law doesn’t exist. You dogmatically invent it. b. When you devoutly believe in absolutistic shoulds, oughts, or musts, you are incredibly grandiose and claim God-like powers that you do not possess. For your statement, “I must not get rejected by my partner and therefore it is awful that he or she has left me,” actually means, “Because I want very much to have my partner love me, he or she must.” Well, what sense does that make? Do you-really–control your mate’s (or anyone else’s) feelings? Are you-truly!-the King of Kings or the Mother of the Universe? Lots of luck! c. Whenever you say that something must exist, when it actually does not, you foolishly contradict yourself. If people truly must love you, then an unqualified law of the universe states that they have no other choice, and that they have to favor you. But if you find it awful when you see they no longer love you, you believe that they really must do what they are not doing. How could this contradictory state of affairs ever exist? If they must love you, then they obviously do (for the fates so command); and if they now don’t, then your must can’t exist. You can’t at one and the same time, vehemently contend that people must love you and that they don’t. Whatever must exist clearly does. Your alleging that absolute mustness exists is obviously false. If it did, you’d never have any problems getting what you “must” get! d. If you think about it, you will see that any devout belief in an absolute must will cause you to feel anxious. For it is highly 92 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING probable that what you say must exist actually (especially under some conditions) won’t exist-and then you’ll tend to feel destroyed. If you say, “People must always love me sincerely,” you set things up so that you will not merely feel sad and regretful if they don’t, but also arrange that you will feel utterly despairing. For you really mean, by this statement, “If they ever stop loving me, I will be a thoroughly inadequate person who cannot possibly accept myself or lead an enjoyable existence.” Well! If you really believe this hogwash you not only place some of your happiness on the line, but also, if people stop caring for you, you risk losing all happiness. You not only fail in your relationship with them, but you also risk you, your
entire present and future. Knowing the great penalty involved-that you will insist on losing yourself in case you lose them-you will almost always make yourself very anxious (rather than healthily concerned) about achieving a good relationship. To make matters still worse, once you profoundly believe, “People must always love me sincerely,” not only do you prepare an anxious bed of thorns in case they don’t, but you also keep lying in the same thorny bed when they do. For if you say to yourself, “Oh! People really do love me now. How wonderful! What a great person that makes me!” you will almost inevitably think, a short while later, “But suppose they no longer love me tomorrow? How awful! What a worthless person I would then become!” So even when you do get what you think you must get, you still are panicked over the possibility that you will lose it in the future. For there always remains, in our changeable world, the strong possibility that you will lose it. People who now dote on you, for example, may die; move to a distant part of the world; suffer severe physical or emotional problems; naturally cease to care for you; or otherwise change their feelings. How, then, can you unanxiously live with any absolutistic musts about their loving you? You can see, then, how you can healthily feel deep loss and sorrow and how you can unhealthily feel depressed, panicked, and self-downing when you lose a loved person or goal. Unhappiness, we say, when it includes the former feelings, seems quite sane and legitimate. But unhappiness that involves awfulizing and horribilizing is unnecessary. You largely create depression and anguish not by the REFUSING TO FEEL DESPERATELY UNHAPPY 93 Activating Experiences that happen in your life (at point A), but by your Belief System (at point B). And because you can choose your Beliefs, and because you can consider losses unfortunate and unpleasant instead of awful and terrible, you really have substantial control over your feelings. If you clearly see exactly what you do to create them and if you will use your head to change them! Having said this, let us emphasize that we do not believe that any human can, for any length of time, feel perfectly or completely happy. Your frantic search for a perfect anything, in fact, almost dooms you to misery. You aren’t the kind of animal that achieves perfection in virtually anything-especially perfect happiness. Because of your ever-changing experiences, you are subject to hundreds of irritations, pains, ills, diseases, and stresses. So you can overcome many of your physical and emotional handicaps, as we show in this book. But not all! For example, you can usually tackle and change your feeling of deep depression. But you can effectively tackle it largely because you feel it steadily, and because you have sufficient time to think about it, track back its origins and dispute the thinking with which you create and sustain it. Brief negative feelings, on the other hand, cannot as easily be tackled, because you feel them fleetingly and may not have much chance to explore and change them. You rarely completely win the battle against psychological pain. When you feel miserable because of some Irrational Beliefs and you discover and change these, you rarely keep them away forever, but from time to time revive them. So you had better keep changing your demands and insistences. For instance, you may invent the idea that you cannot live without someone’s approval and may keep making yourself immensely miserable because of this Belief. Then, after much hard thinking, you may finally believe that you can live satisfactorily without your friend’s support. But from time to time, you will probably revive the notion that your life is valueless without his or her or some other person’s approval. So once again you’d better actively Dispute and surrender this self-defeating Belief. Let us hasten to add that you will usually find the task of surrendering your self-defeating Beliefs easier as you persist. If you consistently seek out and Dispute your disturbed philosophies, you will find that their influence weakens. Eventually, some of them 94 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING almost entirely lose their power to harass you. Almost. For the day may well come when, if only for a brief time, the same thought with which you once drove yourself crazy again returns, until you keep challenging and changing it. You tend to have several powerful ideas that often lead to emotional disturbance. Biologically, you easily think in these ways. Socially, you live in cultures that often encourage you to think irrationally. Take, by way of illustration, the idea of your having to achieve outstanding success. Quite possibly, you have some innate tendencies like most humans, to try to perform very well: to strive to run the fastest, garden the best, or climb the highest. As Robert White has ably shown, you strongly prefer to master problems, relationships, and other challenges. Considering the advantages the mastery urges have for human survival, we may well surmise that they are partly inherited. To this innate tendency, we can add the competitive spirit that most (though not all) cultures emphasize and we can understand the high achievement drive of many people reared in these cultures. Consequently, if you have grown up in a competitive society and are depressed when you do not live up to its and your own demands for success, you may have difficulty challenging this demand. For you will then keep rationally fighting against characteristics or attitudes that are deeply ingrained in your “nature.” Difficult, however, does not mean impossible. Of course, you will find it hard to think and to act rationally in an irrational world. Of course you will have trouble reasoning your way out of circumstances which have handicapped you for many years. All right, it is difficult. But it also is difficult for a blind man to learn to read Braille, a victim of polio to use his muscles again, or a normal person to swing from a trapeze, learn ballet dancing, or play the piano well. Tough! But they-and you-still can do it. Many critics of a rational approach to living also deem it “unnatural” for a person to act consistently rationally. They say that the nature of the beast just isn’t that way. They are somewhat correct. For if you are born and reared with many irrational tendencies you may often find it “unnatural” to use your reasoning powers to minimize these tendencies. REFUSING TO FEEL DESPERATELY UNHAPPY 95 However, it is equally “unnatural” for people to wear shoes, employ contraceptives, study foreign languages, drive cars, and do many other acts that oppose their inborn tendencies and their early upbringing. But we may also ask: How sane are you if you rigidly stick only to “perfectly natural” behavior? Not very! I shall always remember the young and potentially attractive woman, Miriam, who was referred to me (A.E.) by her partner, John. She refused to take care of her body and her appearance and, at the age of twenty-three, already showed serious signs of overweight and flabbiness. When I asked her why she didn’t take better care of herself even though her friend (whom she said she cared for and wanted to marry) was quite displeased with her appearance, she said: “But would that really seem honest? Should I pretend, with lovely clothes and makeup and stuff like that, to be more beautiful than I really am? Would I then be true to myself-or to John? Wouldn’t he know, actually, that I didn’t look the way I appeared on the surface, and wouldn’t he resent me all the more? If he can’t accept me this way, without the elegant clothes and makeup routine, if he can’t accept me in my true state, what kind of love does he really have for me anyway?” I did my best to show Miriam that, quite apart from John and his opinion of her looks, she could consider several reasons why she herself would want to take better care of her body: For her health, for instance; for her own aesthetic feelings when she looked in a mirror; and for the vocational advantages her good looks might bring. To no avail. Miriam kept returning to the theme of how
artificial, how unnatural, she would be if she tried to look more attractive. I came within a hair of angering myself and telling her what she could do with her blasted feelings of “integrity”-such as get herself to a nunnery and have done with it! Reason, however, prevailed. I reminded myself for the twentieth time that I’d better not label Miriam a “real nut” but merely see her as a mixed-up, defensive woman who, out of severe underlying fright, stubbornly held to her “integrity” because she desperately felt that she could not let go of it. I also told myself that even if I utterly failed to help her change her self-sabotaging philosophies, I would not have to devalue myself as a therapist or as a person. I would merely have one more good, if alas unsuccessful, try under my belt; and I might 96 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING even learn something from my “defeat.” So back I went to our therapeutic contest. “Look,” I said, “you are too intelligent to believe the kind of hogwash you keep handing yourself and handing me.” “What do you mean, hogwash?” she asked rather belligerently. “Just what I said, h-o-g-w-a-s-h. And you already know, to some extent, what I mean. I can see that by the somewhat phony way in which you lift your eyebrows. But, more explicitly, you keep saying that you cannot do anything artificial and unnatural to make yourself look better, because that would make you dishonest. Right?” “Yes, I keep saying that-and, whether you think so or not, I mean just that.” “Perhaps so; but I don’t feel so sure. Let’s take your argument, for a moment, to its logical extremes, to see whether it will hold up. You won’t use makeup or attractive clothing because you call them unnatural. All right. How about drinking glasses, knives, forks, spoons, and other eating utensils. Do you find them unnatural?” “Well, in a sense, yes. But not in the sense I mean.” “No, not in the nonsense you mean. But what ‘sense’ do you mean?” Of course, she couldn’t tell me. She reverted to saying again, in a vague and evasive manner, that she just didn’t think it right and natural to make herself look good, but that somehow she found it right and natural for her to use knives, forks, and spoons. I saw that both of us kept getting nowhere, so I interrupted: “Look: Why do you keep handing me this nonsense? Why don’t we try, instead, to discover why you don’t use the words right and natural, consistently, and why you find helping yourself with one device OK, such as wearing glasses, but helping yourself with another device, such as suitably tailored clothes, not OK. As I said before, you usually are intelligent. Now surely you have some reason why you remain so inconsistent. Why do you?” She at first denied her inconsistency. But I wouldn’t buy that and kept showing her how inconsistent she was. I said I would discuss with her why and not whether she was inconsistent. She finally seemed willing to discuss her self-contradictions. So I said: “I don’t want to try to convince you that you have only abnormal or pathological reasons for your inconsistency. Many therapists REFUSING TO FEEL DESPERATELY UNHAPPY 97 practically insist that everything a client does must be pathological. In Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, however, we look for some of the healthy reasons why people do things that defeat their own ends.” “So if I consistently refuse to use artificial aids to improve my looks, you think that I may have some healthy, as well as unhealthy, reasons for this?” “Right. Let’s take a fairly obvious healthy reason. You said before that if your boyfriend cannot accept you the way you look, without artificial aids, what kind of love does he really have for you? Well, that view is partly accurate. For if he only loves you because of your looks, his love will be superficial and probably unlasting. You may then ask, Who needs this kind of love?” “Yes-who needs it?” “Right. Therefore, you sanely question how far you may go to make yourself look beautiful, so that he may not love you only for your looks. And that reason for refusing to use artificial beauty aids, while at the same time using eyeglasses or forks and knives, seems healthy. But when you take this same good reason and exaggerate it, so that you refuse to use beauty aids for your own aesthetic and health satisfactions, we’d better look for possible disturbed reasons for your inconsistency.” “Such as?” “Such as your underlying fear that if you try to look good, you may still fail, because you may believe that you really will remain ugly, no matter how you fix yourself up. Or you may fear that you may succeed, look fine, and still fail to marry John. Because he may not love you in spite of your good looks.” “But may I not seem unattractive to him, no matter what I do? And may I not look fine to him and still ultimately be rejected by him?” “Oh, certainly. Of course. We always remain in danger of trying to win someone’s approval and of nonetheless falling on our faces and not getting what we go after. True.” “But wouldn’t that be terrible if I dieted, wore the right clothes, and otherwise fixed myself up and still lost John?” “It most certainly would not be terrible-unless you insist on making it so. It would be highly inconvenient, of course, very frustrating, and sad to lose John. But why would it be terrible? 98 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING Would you die of it? Would the ground open up and swallow you up? Would you remain unable to get another boyfriend or enjoy life at all, even if you were alone?” “I don’t know. I don’t know what I would do ifl really lost John.” “You’ve now pinpointed your disturbance. You believe, quite harmfully, that it would be terrible to lose John, and that you wouldn’t know what to do if you lost him. By having these Beliefs, by translating a frustration into a horror, you tend to bring about that very “horror.” By believing that you can’t live successfully without John, you practically make certain that you really can’t.” “And because I believe it would be terrible to lose John, and know that I may lose him no matter what I do with myself physically, I deliberately shy away from doing much to keep him? I run away from him in advance, so that I will not suffer the torments of the damned later on?” “Exactly. You sanely want John-because he presumably has traits suited to you. Then you tell yourself that because you want him you must have him, and would be destroyed if you did not. Then you ‘logically’ give up trying for him in advance, so as not to feel hurt later. Or, more specifically, you set up exceptionally difficult rules of the game-such as your refusing to try any beauty aids. You assume that ifhe still loves you in spite of your restricting rules, he will later love you forever and never leave you.” “But does that seem so crazy?” “Yes-because it practically never works. Like fearing that your maid will bring back the wrong groceries and therefore demanding that she have a Ph.D. degree in home economics before you hire her. How good a chance do you have of finding anyone with a Ph.D. in home economics who will want to work as a maid?” “I see what you mean. I’d have little chance of finding such a maid. Similarly, I have little chance ofretaining John’s love ifl keep making these unreasonable demands on him?” “Right. So instead of demanding that he change his preferences, while retaining your own neurotic demand for undying love, had you better not work to change your own nutty needs for total love security?” “Hmm. I never saw it that way before.” “Emotional disturbance often consists of taking a healthy wish for REFUSING TO FEEL DESPERATELY UNHAPPY 99 approval and turning it into an unhealthy demand. Then refusing to do much to win it. Think about this and you’ll probably see it more clearly.” Miriam did think about it, began to diet and take care of her appearance, and started to win more of John’s attention. Her case shows that people often simultaneously behave reasonably and unreasonably. They act intelligently and stupidly, thinkingly and suggestibly. Although they rationally pursue what they want, they also irrationally undermine themselves. Rational living, like all aspects
of life, is a process, an experiment. Hardly a necessity! Stated differently: Adults often act in an immature, childish . manner. One of the essences of their humanity is fallibility. Consequently, they find it exceptionally easy to do sloppy, wishfulfilling thinking. And thereby often get what they don’t want. But the fact that you may easily behave childishly doesn’t mean that you must. You can teach yourself to practice mature, reflective thinking. If you do, you will hardly be completely level headed or happy. But you can train yourself to rarely feel desperately miserable or depressed. If, again, you work at it. Suppose, however, that nothing seems to work. Suppose, you have a long history of severe depression, have some close family members who are also depressed, and have tried various therapies with no success. You may possibly have biological or biochemical problems that help make you “irrationally” miserable. Investigate this possibility and if your depression–or other severe psychological problems-seem to go with your innate tendencies to be disturbed, consider using medication, psychotherapy, and other means to cope with them. Changing your irrational thinking is fine. But think about other forms of treatment too. CHAPTER4 How You Create Your Feelings How can we understand and regulate emotion? Thousands of books and articles have tried to answer this question-none of them, as yet, with any certainty. Let us now, without a perfect answer as our goal, see if we can shed some light on this puzzling question. Emotion is a life process that includes perceiving, moving, and thinking. It is a combination of several seemingly separate, yet actually closely related, elements. The famous neurologist, Stanley Cobb, pointed out that emotion includes: 1. An internal feeling state, usually accompanied by interpretations of–yes, thoughts about-what is happening to you. 2. A whole set of physiological changes, which help you keep in touch with and maintain a normal balance in your environment. 3. Various patterns of active behavior, stimulated by your environment and constantly interacting with it, expressing your stirred-up physiological state and expressing your more or less agitated psychological reactions. Because you mainly react to other people, your emotion is simultaneously physiological, psychological, and social. Question: Is Dr. Cobb’s definition of emotion accepted by all psychologists and psychiatrists? Answer: No. As Horace English and Ava English point out, in their Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychological Terms, we cannot define emotion without referring to several conflicting theories. Emotion has no single cause or result. It arises through a three-way process: first, through some kind of physical stimulation of the 23 24 A GUIDE TO RA TI ON AL LIVING special emotional center of our brains (called the hypothalamus) and the nerve network of our bodies (called the autonomic nervous system). Second, through our perceiving and moving (technically called our sensorimotor) processes. Third, through our desiring and thinking (our conation and cognition). Normally, our emotional centers as well as our perceiving, moving, and thinking centers are quite excitable and receptive. Then a stimulus impinges upon and affects them. We can directly apply this stimulus (in rather unusual cases) to the emotional centers-for example, by electrically stimulating parts of the brain or by taking exciting or depressing drugs which act on our central and autonomic nervous system. Or we can (more usually) stimulate them indirectly, through our perceiving, moving, and thinking, thereby affecting our central nervous system and brain pathways which, in turn, influence our emotional (hypothalamic and autonomic) centers. If you wish to control your feelings, then, you may do so in three major ways. Suppose, for example, you feel highly excitable and wish to calm down. You can directly do so by electrical or biochemical means-such as by taking tranquilizing drugs. Or, second, through your perceiving-moving (sensorimotor) system, by doing relaxation exercises, dancing, doing yoga, or using breathing techniques. Third, you can use your willing-thinking processes by imagining tranquil scenes, or focusing on calming thoughts. Which combination of these ways of controlling your emotional state will be most effective? That depends largely on how disturbed you feel and in what ways you wish to change or control your feeling. Question: If we have three effective methods of controlling our emotions, why do you emphasize one of them in REBT? Answer: For several reasons. First, we do not specialize in medicine or biophysics, and therefore do not stress medical, bioelectrical, or other physical methods. We often refer clients to physicians, physiotherapists, masseurs, and other individuals who specialize in such modes of treatment; and we favor combining some of these methods with REBT. But they are not especially our thing. Second, we agree that several physical means of reducing tensions and changing human behavior-such as yoga, dancing, and massage-may have beneficial effects. But we are skeptical of vast claims frequently made for these techniques. They largely HOW YOU CREATE YOUR FEELINGS 25 consist of distraction, and help you focus on your body rather than on the thoughts and fantasies with which you tend to plague yourself. Consequently, they calm you but don’t lead to a deep-reaching cure. They help you feel better instead of get better, and rarely lead to elegant philosophical changes, which consist of profound changes in some of your core dysfunctional beliefs, such as your self-damnation and awfulizing. Unless combined with thinking-desiring methods, they are limited. Thus, you may reduce your depression by using drugs or relaxation techniques. But unless you begin to think more clearly and surrender some of your Irrational Beliefs, you will tend to depress yourself again when you stop the drugs or exercises. To effect permanent and deep-seated improvement, philosophic changes seem to be best. Again, we often encourage our clients to use medication, relaxation techniques, movement therapy, yoga exercises, or other physical approaches. We believe that these techniques may help. And we teach, as we shall show later, many emotive, dramatic, fantasy, self-management, and behavior modification methods. More than most other schools of therapy, REBT employs a comprehensive, integrative approach to treatment. We still hold, however, that if you would most thoroughly and permanently change your disturbed feelings, you’d better use considerable reasoning. Because a large element (though not the whole) of destructive emotion stems from unrealistic, illogical, and self-sabotaging thinking. Question: Granted that biological and sensorimotor therapies are limited. But are not rational approaches to conscious thought equally superficial? Have not psychoanalysts long ago established the fact that unconscious processes create much emotional behavior? How can we learn to control and change the thoughts behind our feelings when these thoughts are buried deeply in our unconscious minds? Answer: A good point! And one that we cannot answer in a word. As we shall keep showing throughout this book, what psychoanalysts keep referring to as “deeply unconscious thoughts” are mostly what Freud originally called preconscious ideas. These thoughts and feelings are not immediately accessible to our awareness. But we can fairly easily learn to discover them by working back from the feelings and behaviors that go with them. 26 A GUIDE TO RA TI ON AL LIVING Whatever your emotional upsets are, REBT shows you how to find the thoughts that underlie them-and thereby succeed in deciphering the “unconscious” messages you transmit to yourself. Once you begin to see, understand, and begin to Dispute the Irrational Beliefs that go with your unhealthy feelings, you make yourself aware of your “unconscious” thoughts and greatly enhance your power to change them and reduce your disturbances. Let us note again that a large part of what we call emotion stems from a certain kind-a biased, prejudic
ed, and strongly eyaluative kind-of thinking. What we usually label as thinking consists of a relatively calm appraisal of a situation, a cool-headed analysis of its elements, and a reasonable conclusion about it. Thus, when you calmly think, you observe a piece of bread, see one part of it is moldy, remember that eating mold previously made you ill, and therefore cut off the moldy part and eat the rest of the bread. When you agitatedly think and emote, however, you may observe the same piece of bread and remember your previous experience with the moldy bread so violently that you may make yourself feel nauseated, throw away the whole piece of bread, and go hungry. When you emote, in this instance, you do as much thinking as when you healthily think about the bread. But you do a different kind of thinking-thinking so prejudiced about your unpleasant prior experience that you do it in a biased, overgeneralized, and ineffective way. When you unagitatedly think, you use the maximum information available to you-the information that moldy bread is unpleasant and unmoldy bread is good. But when you frantically think and emote, you use only part of the information available-that moldy bread is “nauseating” and is therefore not to be eaten at all. Thinking does not mean unemotional; nor does emotional mean unthinking. When you think, you usually are less biased by previous experiences and prejudices than when you feel “emotional.” You therefore tend to employ more of the available information and to do less overgeneralizing. You then act more flexibly about making decisions. Question: Hadn’t you better watch your step? After first making a four-way division of human behavior into the acts of perceiving, moving, thinking, and feeling, you now talk about a “thinking” and HOW YOU CREATE YOUR FEELINGS 27 an “emotional” individual as if you had never made your previous distinctions. Answer: Right! No exclusively thinking or emotional persons exist, since everyone simultaneously perceives, moves, thinks, and feels. However, to use our previous terms, some people perceive, move, think, and feel; while others perceive, move, think, andfeel. The latter often do a kind of thinking different from the former, and hence predominantly feel. While the others, with their calmer and less prejudiced type of cognition, more often predominantly think. All people, however, when not in some kind of coma, think and emote. More important: We all feel, but many of us have unhealthy feelings much of the time, while others have largely healthy ones. No matter how honestly and strongly you feel your feelings, they aren’t holy; and some therapists have misled us in this respect. They hold that all authentic and intense feelings are “good.” Well, not exactly! That depends on your goals. You do not merely feel; nor do you just (for no good reason) feel. You feel, rather, because you mainly evaluate things as “good” or “bad,” favorable or disadvantageous to your chosen goals. And your feelings motivate-move-you to survive and feel happy (or unhappy) while surviving. You feel, for example, good about living and bad about dying. So, because of these feelings, you avoid swimming too far out to sea, driving your car at ninety-five miles an hour, jumping off cliffs, and consuming poisonous foods. If you didn’t have these feelings, how long would you survive? You also feel, now that you have chosen to live, that you prefer different kinds of pleasures; that you desire productivity rather than idleness; that you choose efficiency instead of inefficiency; that you like creativity; that you enjoy absorption in long-range pursuits (such as building a business or writing a novel); and that you desire intimate relations with others. Notice that all the words in italics involve feelings and that without them, you would not experience pleasure, joy, efficiency, creativity, and love. Your feelings not only help to keep you alive; they also aid you to survive happily. Feelings, then, go with your values and purposes-especially your survival and happiness. When they help you achieve these goals, we 28 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING call them healthy feelings. When they block your basic goals, we call them unhealthy. REBT shows you how to distinguish clearly between healthy negative emotions, such as your feeling real sorrow or annoyance when you don’t get what you want, and unhealthy or selfdefeating emotions, such as your feeling depressed, self-downing, or enraged under the same conditions. By the same token, REBT helps you discriminate between rational and irrational thinking. It holds that rational thinking normally leads to healthy and irrational thinking to unhealthy emoting. What do we call rational thinking? That kind that assists you (1) to survive and (2) to achieve the goals or values you select to make your survival pleasurable, enjoyable, or worthwhile. Select? Yes, individually and socially select. Dr. Maxie Maultsby, a rational emotive behavioral psychiatrist, outlines four main characteristics of rational thinking, which we modify as follows: 1. Rational Beliefs (RBs) accept and largely follow social reality-the “facts” and rules of the community in which you choose to live. You rationally follow most of these “facts” and rules even when you dislike them. 2. If you act on it, a Rational Belief will most likely help preserve your life and limb. 3. If you act on RBs, they help you achieve your personally chosen goals most quickly and efficiently. 4. If you act on RBs, they minimize your inner personal conflict and your sabotaging of your environment. These Rational Beliefs seem sensible enough but they are to some degree individualistic. REBT aids happy individualism but also-along with Alfred Adler-stresses social interaction. We therefore add: 5. Rational Beliefs-and healthy feelings and behaviors-are socially interested, and help preserve, perpetuate, and enhance the happiness of the group in which you choose to live and of the human race as a whole. What we call emotion, then, seems to include, first, a certain kind of forceful thinking-a kind strongly influenced by your biology and by your previous perceptions and experiences. Second, intense bodily responses, such as feelings of pleasure or disgust. Third, tendencies HOW YOU CREA TE YOUR FEELINGS 29 toward positive or negative actions in regard to the events that accompany your strong thinking and emoting. In other words: Emotion accompanies a kind of powerful, vigorous, prejudiced, or “hot” thought. “Cool” thinking often is a relatively calm, less biased, reflective kind of judgment. Thus, if we compare one apple with another, we may thoughtfully conclude that it has more firmness, fewer blemishes, and better color and therefore feel “good” about it. But if we have had very pleasant experiences with blemished apples (if we, for instance, successfully bobbed for one at a Halloween party and, as a prize, kissed an attractive member of the other sex); or if we have had unpleasant prior experiences with unblemished apples (if we ate too many and felt ill), we may excitedly, rashly, and prejudicially-meaning, emotionally-react quite differently! Thinking and emoting are closely connected but at times differ because what we call thinking is a more tranquil, less activitydirected mode of judging. But what we call emoting is a less tranquil, more bodily involved, and more action-oriented mode of behavior. Question: Do you really contend that all emotion directly follows thought and can under no condition exist without thinking? Answer: No, we do not believe or say that. Emotion may briefly exist without thought. An individual, for instance, steps on your toe and you spontaneously, immediately get angry. Or you hear a piece of music and you instantly begin to feel warm and excited. Or you learn that a close friend died and you begin to feel sad. Under these conditions, you may feel emotional with little or no associated thinking. Perhaps, however, even in these cases you do, with split-second rapidity, start thinking to yourself: “This person who stepped on my toe is a louse!” or “This music sounds wonderful!” or “Oh, how awful that
my friend died!” Perhaps only after you have had these rapid-fire and “unconscious” thoughts you then begin to feel emotional. In any event, assuming that you don’t, at the very beginning, have any conscious or unconscious thought accompanying your emotion, you virtually never sustain an emotional outburst without bolstering it with ideas. For unless you keep telling yourself something on the order of “That louse who stepped on my toe shouldn’t have done that!” or “How could he do a horrible thing like that to me!” the pain 30 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING of having your toe stepped on will soon die and your emotional reaction will die with the pain. Of course, you may keep getting your toe stepped on and your continuing pain may help sustain your anger. But assuming that your pain stops, you normally sustain your emotional response by some kind of thinking. Maybe it just persists, but that seems unlikely. Similarly with pleasant feelings. By continuing to listen to certain music and having your sensations prolonged, your feelings of warmth and excitement may be sustained. But even then you will have difficulty sustaining your feelings unless you keep telling yourself something like: “I find this music great!” “Oh, how I love those harmonies!” “What a wonderful composer!” and so on. In the case of the death of one of your close friends or relatives, you will easily make yourself depressed, because you have lost someone for whom you truly care. But even in this instance you will find it difficult to sustain your depression unless you keep reminding yourself: “Oh, how terrible that he has died!” or “How could she have died so young?” or something of that sort. Sustained emotion, then, normally requires repeated evaluations. We say “normally” because emotional circuits, once they have begun to react to some physical or psychological stimulus, can also keep resounding under their own power. Drugs or electrical impulses can also keep acting directly on emotion-carrying nervous circuits (such as the cells of the hypothalamus and autonomic nervous system) and thereby keep you emotionally aroused. Usually, however, continued direct stimulation of your emotion-producing centers does not occur. You make it reoccur by re-stimulating yourself with arousing ideas. Question: Granting that thoughts usually precede, follow, and sustain human feelings, must these thoughts literally consist of words, phrases, and sentences that people “say to themselves”? Does all thinking consist of self-verbalizations? Answer: No. You can think in terms of images, symbols, and other non-verbal processes. However, practically all of us, by the time we reach adulthood, seem to do most of our important thinking and emoting through self-talk or internalized sentences. Humans, are uniquely language-creating animals, and learn from early childhood to state their thoughts, perceptions, and feelings in HOW YOU CREATE YOUR FEELINGS 31 words, phrases, and sentences. They usually find this easier than to think in pictures, sounds, touch units, or other possible methods. To illustrate, let us take the example of a man, Bill, who is interviewed for a job (at point A, his Activating Experience). Before the interview, he will often start talking to himself (at point B, his Belief System) along the following lines: “I wonder if I’ll get this job … .I wish I didn’t have to face the interview, because I won’t enjoy it and they may reject me …. But if I don’t face it, I certainly won’t get the job …. Besides, what difference does it make if they do reject me? I really have nothing to lose thereby …. While if I don’t try for the job, I may have a lot to lose … .I’d better, then, take the interview, get it over with, and see whether I am accepted.” By telling himself these kinds of sentences, Bill thinks. And we may call his thoughts Rational Beliefs (RBs) because they help him to get what he values or wants-the job which he seeks. He therefore feels healthy emotional Consequences (at point C)-determination to get the job; positive action to go for the interview; and feelings of disappointment and annoyance ifhe is rejected. If, however, Bill creates for himself unhealthy emotional Consequences (C), he usually does so by telling himself different sentences that include Irrational Beliefs (IBs): “Suppose I go for this interview, make a fool of myself, and don’t get the job …. That would be awful! … Or suppose I go for the interview, get the job and then am incompetent. … How horrible! I would be a worm!” By telling himself these kinds of sentences, and including the irrational negative evaluation, “That would be awful!” or “How horrible! I would be a worm!” Bill changes his Rational Beliefs (RBs) to Irrational Beliefs (IBs) about his job-seeking situation. We can see then, that for all practical purposes, his evaluative internalized Beliefs create his emotional reactions. He feels in his gut, in his body; but he largely creates his feelings in his head. Positive human emotions, then, such as feelings oflove or elation, often accompany or result from positive internal Beliefs such as “This is good!” And healthy negative human emotions (like feelings of displeasure and disappointment) accompany Rational Beliefs such as “This is frustrating and bad.” Similarly, unhealthy negative emotions 32 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING (like depression and rage) go with Irrational Beliefs such as “This is awful! I would be a worm!” Without having-consciously or unconsciously-such strong Beliefs as these, we would not feel very much. Question: If what you say is true, why do so few people, including few members of the psychological profession, clearly see that thinking and emoting go together and that they largely stem from internal Beliefs? Pure ignorance on their part? Answer: In part, yes. Many people, including mental health professionals, just don’t bother to look closely at emotions and therefore don’t see the thoughts that go with them. Others look closely enough, but only in the light of some prejudice, such as classical psychoanalysis. Some rigid Freudians will not consider the possibility that you can understand and change your emotion by observing and changing your beliefs just like some true believers, as Eric Hoffer pointed out, will not consider anything other than their bigoted interpretations of “reality.” We flexibly contend: You can change your thinking and the emotions that go with it by discovering and changing your strong Beliefs. We hold, more importantly, that you often needlessly create unhealthy emotions-such depression, anxiety, rage, and feelings of worthlessness-and that you can remodel them if you will change your thinking and follow it up with effective action. Question: Can you eliminate all negative emotions by controlling your thinking? Answer: Hardly. Many strong feelings, such as outpourings of fear or grief, almost inevitably follow danger or loss. Thus, if your parent or child dies, you immediately tend to feel great sorrow or grief. These emotions, based on real threats to your well-being, have biological roots and you could hardly survive without them. Certain negative feelings greatly aid survival. Thus, if you did not feel displeased, sorry, regretful, annoyed, irritated, frustrated, or disappointed when you suffered hunger, injury, or defeat, would you avoid harmful happenings? Or would you push yourself to get the things you really want? Many emotions, moreover, add to your health and happiness. Your joy at hearing a beautiful piece of music, watching a lovely sunset, or successfully finishing a difficult task does not exactly HOW YOU CREATE YOUR FEELINGS 33 preserve your life. But a life with no such feelings would be drab and unrewarding. Your striving, therefore, to eliminate all emotions hardly helps. Being unemotional would dehumanize you and your loved ones. To be healthy and happy you seek meaning in your life-emotional meaning! Philosophers who ask us to achieve a state of pure “soul” or pure intellect, devoid of all “crass” emotions, actually would make us pure robots. If we achieved this “superior” state, we might, like some of our powerful compu
ters, effectively solve certain problems. But feel any pleasure or satisfaction? Not exactly! Question: Ridding the world of emotion, then, or completely substituting intellect for feeling, definitely does not thrill you? Correct? Answer: Quite correct! If anything, we want to help inhibited and listless people to achieve more honest feeling, higher pitches of emotion. We favor passionate experiencing. We merely oppose overwhelming negative, self-defeating, highly exaggerated emotionalizing that tends to sabotage your goals of survival and joyfulness. We also encourage your honestly, openly, and nonjudgmentally getting in touch with your feelings-as long as you do not think that you must feel them perfectly. For what you really or truly feel you often cannot exactly determine. You make yourself enraged, for example, at a friend who lets you down. Then you make yourself feel guilty because you hate him. Then you violently recall the “wrongs” he has done you and keep incensing yourself at him, thereby covering up or driving away your guilt. What do you really feel in this case: rage? guilt? defensive hatred? sorrow? regret? self-hatred? Who can, with absolute accuracy, say? Yes, you are, as a human, highly suggestible. Yes, you can easily hide or increase your feelings. Yes, your moods are susceptible to alcohol, drugs, food, others’ words and moods, and a host of other influences. This proves that you can feel, from moment to moment, almost any way you choose or do not choose to feel. All your feelings Gust because you honestly feel them) are authentic. But none of them is absolutely and certainly “true.” Anyway, you’d better recognize, as honestly and as accurately as 34 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING you can, your basic feelings. Do you, at a given time, feel loving, hating, or indifferent? angry or determined? concerned, anxious, or unconcerned? How can you tell? Mainly by accepting yourself fully with whatever feelings you have; by distinguishing clearly the “goodness” or “badness” of your feelings from the “goodness” or “badness” of you. REBT particularly helps you get in touch with your feelings by showing you how to stop rating yourself for having (or not having) them. Thinking rationally, you can first choose to accept yourself with your feelings-even harmful ones like depression and hatred. You can actually, then, show interest in and curiosity about your feelings. You can say to yourself: “How fascinating it is, (instead of How awful it is) that a basically intelligent person like me keeps acting so foolishly and negatively!” You can see that you largely choose to create your self-downing feelings, and that you can choose to change them if you really want to work at doing so. You can also discriminate your healthy (self-fulfilling) from your unhealthy (self-damning) feelings. You can see the difference between your constructively feeling displeased with your acts and your destructively feeling horrified about them. You can distinguish between your feeling disappointed with others’ behavior and your feeling enraged at their behavior and your commanding that they change it. REBT, in other words, helps you to more fully and openly observe your feelings, acknowledge that they exist, accept yourself with them, determine their usefulness, and eventually choose to feel what you want to feel and what will help you get more of what you want in life. Its highly rational methods, paradoxically enough, can put you more in touch with your feelings and help you react more emotionally than you previously allowed yourselfl CHAPTERS Thinking Yourself Out Of Emotional Disturbances Many therapy clients are difficult customers, but one in particular, Donna, abused the privilege. No matter how often I (A.E.) tried to show her that she could control her own emotional destiny, if only she believed that she could, Donna kept coming up with all kinds of excuses and evasions. “I know you’ve shown many other clients how to handle their feelings,” she said, “but I just can’t seem to do it. Maybe I work differently. Maybe they’ve got something that I lack.” “Yes, maybe they have got something that you haven’t,” I agreed. “Recently acquired corks to plug up the holes in their heads. And I’ve shown them where to get the corks. Now, why do I have so much trouble showing you?” “Yes, why haven’t you shown me? Lord knows, I’ve tried to see what you keep telling me.” “You mean Lord knows you keep thinking you try to see. But maybe the trouble lies there-you’ve convinced yourself that you try to see how you bother yourself. Having convinced yourself that you are trying, you find no reason to actually try. So you quickly give up and don’t really make much of an effort. Now if I could only help you work at finding and changing your self-defeating Beliefs, your enormous rage against your mother and your brother would most likely dwindle.” “But how can I work at a thing like that? I find my Beliefs so indefinite.” “They only seem indefinite. Because you do so little to grasp them-to see your own Beliefs and to strongly examine them. 35 36 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING Actually, exploring your thoughts and feelings is like playing the piano or playing tennis-which you once told me you do very well.” “Oh, but that is much different. Playing tennis is something physical. Not at all like thinking or getting enraged or anything like that.” “Ah, now I think I’ve got you!” I exclaimed. “What do you mean?” Donna asked. I found it almost laughable (had it not been so tragic) that she was so afraid that I might have her, and that she might have to surrender her rage. “You say that playing tennis involves something physical. And on the surface, of course, it does. You make muscle movements with your eyes and your arms and your hands, and somehow the ball keeps going over the net. And, looking at your muscles moving and the ball flying, you think of the whole process as physical, almost mechanical.” “Is that wrong?” “Yes, it is. Suppose your opponent hits the ball to you. You try to hit it back over the net, preferably where she won’t easily reach and return it. So you run after the ball (using your legs), reach out for it (using your arms), swing at it (using your arms and wrist). But what makes you run this way or that way, stretch out or pull back your arms, tum your wrist to the left or right?” “What makes me-? Well, I guess my eyes do. I see the ball over here or over there. I see where I want to place it, and I move accordingly.” “Fine. But do you see by magic? Do you miraculously get your sight to direct your legs this way, your arms that way, your wrist still another way?” “No, not by any magic. It results from-” Donna stopped, troubled. “Could you,” I asked, “could you possibly direct your shots by thinking? Could you be seeing your partner’s ball going over here or over there, and think it best to return it on this or that comer of the court? Could you be thinking, again, that you can reach the ball by stretching out your arm in this direction, and your wrist in this other direction, and so on and so forth?” “You mean, I don’t play as mechanically and physically as I seem to do? I really direct my actions by my thinking? You mean I THINKING YOURSELF OUT OF EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCES 37 continually tell myself, while playing the game, to do this and that, and to stretch my arm out here or turn my wrist over this way? Do you mean that?” “Well, doesn’t that explain what you really do while you play this so-called physical game of tennis? Don’t you, during every single minute of the play, continually direct your arm to do this and your wrist to do that? And don’t you do this directing by real, hard thinking?” “Come to think of it-and I must admit I never have thought of it that way before-I guess I really do. I never noticed! The whole thing-why, the whole thing is really mental. Amazing!” “Yes, amazing! Even this highly ‘physical’ game works mentally. And you keep working at this game-and not only working by running, stretching, and turning your wrist, but working at thinking about what to do during the game. And your work of thinking really makes you play well. In fact, your main p
ractice in playing tennis consists of thinking practice. Right?” “When you put it that way, I guess so. Funny! And I thought I only played physically. I guess I see now what you mean by working at changing my beliefs and changing my emotions. In tennis, I work at changing my position and my stroke and other movements. But I actually work thoughtfully and not just mechanically.” “Exactly. Now if you apply the same method you use at tennis to changing the beliefs behind your disturbed emotions, your game of life will begin to improve almost as quickly and as well as your game of tennis.” After this breakthrough, I had less trouble persuading Donna to work at changing her beliefs and her emotions. Back, now, to our main theme. Accepting human emotions as desirable, the important question remains: Do you have to keep feeling unhealthy emotions, such as sustained anxiety or hostility? Largely, no. You may feel healthy sustained negative emotions: as, for example, when you suffer continuous discomfort or pain and you keep feeling sorry, regretful, or annoyed about this. Under such conditions, you would certainly not make yourself healthily feel glad or indifferent. Many sustained negative feelings, however, may stem from discomfort or pain. Your child dies, for instance, and for many weeks 38 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING or months you healthily grieve about her death. But as the weeks, months, and years go by, you may keep mulling over your sorrow and keep awfulizing about it. “How terrible,” you keep telling yourself, “that my child died! There is no justice in the world, considering how young and innocent she was. How awful! She shouldn’t have died! I can’t stand the thought of her no longer living!” Naturally, with these thoughts, you never allow yourself to get over your shock about your child’s death and go on with your life. Instead you constantly dwell on your loss, insist that you have nothing more to live for, and lament that the world must not treat you as cruelly as it does. Not only, then, will you feel healthy grief, but you will also make yourself severely depressed. This kind of disturbed negative emotion you needlessly exaggerate. It stems from your demands about what absolutely should and should not occur. It is partly your invention, and one you could change by straighter thinking. How do we reach this “strange” conclusion? By extending some of our earlier concepts of thinking and emoting. For if unhealthy negative emotion largely results from your own thinking, you have a choice as to what you can think and how you can feel. That is one of the main advantages of your being human: you can choose, usually, to think one thing or another; and if you make your goal living and enjoying, you’ll aid this goal with one kind of thinking and sabotage it with another kind. Naturally, you’d better pick the first rather than the second kind of thinking. You can, of course, choose to change, push aside, sweep under the rug, or repress practically all negative thinking. But would you then be wise or rational? You can choose to ignore the fact, for example, that a large amount of crime, pollution, and overpopulation needlessly exists. Through such avoidance, you will choose to avoid feeling healthy sadness and frustration about these unfortunate happenings. But if you refuse to do the kind of healthy negative thinking that would make you feel sad about poor conditions, will you truly aid your and your loved one’s survival and happiness? Or will you help others in your community? We doubt it. Many negative thoughts and feelings, therefore, help you preserve and enjoy yourself. Others do not. Learn to distinguish the former from the latter, and to choose accordingly! THINKING YOURSELF OUT OF EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCES 39 If sustained feelings usually stem from your conscious and unconscious thinking, you rarely feel glad or sad just because of outside events. Rather, you make yourself happy or miserable by your perceptions, attitudes, and thoughts about these outside events. This principle, which we have rediscovered from our therapy sessions with thousands of clients, originally was noted by several ancient philosophers, notably the famous Stoic, Epictetus, who in the first century A.D. wrote in the Enchiridion: “People are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them.” William Shakespeare, many centuries later, restated this in Hamlet: “There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Not completely true-but true enough! Recent postmodern philosophy reemphasizes this view, and points out that there is no absolute “right” or “wrong”-only what we humans see as “proper” and “improper.” Even “rational” and “irrational” cannot be completely defined for all conditions but are somewhat relative. By Rational Beliefs we mean those that usually work-produce the results you want-under usual conditions. Rational Behavior is never written in stone! As a case in point, let us tum for a moment to Geraldine, a highly intelligent and efficient thirty-three-year-old client who came to see me (R.A.H.) six months after she obtained a divorce and became depressed. Although she had felt miserable during her marriage to an irresponsible and dependent husband, she was no happier since her divorce. Her husband, Tom, had drunk to excess, run around with other women, and lost many jobs. But when Geraldine came to see me, she wondered if she had made a mistake in divorcing him. “Why do you think you made a mistake by leaving Tom?” I asked. “Because I consider divorce wrong,” she replied. “I think when people get married, they should stay married.” “Yet you do not belong to a religious group that takes that position. You do not believe that heaven somehow makes and seals marriages, do you?” “No, I don’t even believe in a heaven. I just feel wrong about divorce and I blame myself for splitting. I have felt even more miserable since I left than I felt when living with Tom.” “But look,” I asked, “where do you think your feelings about divorce being wrong originated? Do you think you had them at birth? Do you think that humans have built-in feelings, like built-in taste 40 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING buds, that tell them how to distinguish right from wrong Your taste buds tell you what is salty, sweet, sour, or bitter. Do your feelings tell you what is right or wrong?” The young divorcee laughed. “You make it sound pretty silly. No, I don’t suppose I have inborn feelings about right or wrong. I had to learn to feel as I do.” Seeing a good opening, I rushed in where less directive therapists often fear to tread. “Exactly,” I said. “You had to learn to feel as you do. Like all humans, you have innate tendencies to learn, including tendencies to learn strong prejudices-such as those about divorce. And what you learned you can unlearn or modify. So even though you can’t prove that divorce is always bad, you could have easily picked up this idea-probably from your parents, teachers, stories, or movies. And you have turned this idea into the rule: ” ‘Only bad people get divorces. I got a divorce. So I must be a bad person. Yes, really rotten! What a no-good, awful, terrible person I am!'” “Sounds dreadfully familiar,” she said with a rather bitter laugh. “It certainly does,” I resumed. “You somehow picked up or created beliefs like these-otherwise you would not feel as disturbed as you do. Over and over again, you have kept repeating this stuff. And now you have added, ‘Because I did this horrible thing, getting a divorce, I deserve damnation for my terrible act. I deserve to feel even more miserable and unhappy than when I lived with that lousy husband of mine!”‘ She ruefully smiled, “Right again!” “So of course,” I continued, “you feel depressed. Anyone who keeps thinking of herself as a rotten person and of how much she deserves misery because of her rottenness will almost certainly feel depressed. If I, for example, started telling myself right this minute that I had no value because I never learned to play the violin, to ice skate, or to win at tiddlywinks, I could quickly make myself feel dejected. “Then I could also tell myself, like you are do
ing, how much I deserved to feel miserable because, after all, I had my chance to learn to play the violin or become a champion at tiddlywinks, and I messed up my chances. What a real worthless skunk this made me! Oh, my God, what a real skunk!” THINKING YOURSELF OUT OF EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCES 41 My client laughed, as I satirically kept emphasizing my doom. “I make it sound silly,” I said. “But with a purpose-to show you that you act just as foolishly when you start berating yourself about your divorce.” “I am beginning to understand what you mean,” she said. “I do say these kind of things to myself. But how can I stop? Don’t you see the vast difference between getting a divorce, and not winning at tiddlywinks?” “Granted. But has your getting a divorce really made you any more of a horrible, terrible, or worthless person than my not learning to be a tiddlywinks champion?” “Well, you’ll have to admit that I made a serious mistake when I married an irresponsible person like Tom. And maybe if I had behaved more maturely myself, I could have helped him to grow up.” “OK, agreed. You did make a mistake to marry Tom. And perhaps you did so because you were immature at the time of your marriage. All right, so you made a mistake, a neurotic mistake. But does this mean that you should damn yourself forever for your mistake?” “No, I guess not. But how about a wife’s responsibility to her husband? Don’t you think that I should have stayed with him and tried to help him get over his severe problems?” “A very lovely, and sometimes even practical, thought. But didn’t you tell me that you tried to help him and he refused to acknowledge that he was disturbed? And didn’t you say that he strongly opposed your going for therapy during your marriage, let alone his going for help, too?” “Yes, he did. °The mere mention of the word psychologist or marriage counselor sent him into a fit of temper. He’d never think of going or even letting me go for help.” “The main thing you could have done would have been to play psychotherapist to him, and in your state, you’d hardly have been effective. Why beat yourself down? You made a mistake in marrying. You did your best to improve your marriage. You were blocked, mainly by your husband, but partly by your own upset feelings. So you finally got out of the marriage, as almost any sensible person would have done. Now what crime have you committed? Why do you insist on blaming yourself? You think, erroneously, your unhappy situation makes you miserable. But does the situation upset 42 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING you–0r what you keep telling yourself about this situation?” “I see your point. Although my marital situation never was good, you are saying that I now don’t have to give myself such a hard time about it. Quite a point of view you have there!” “Yes, I like it myself-and often use it for my own life. But now let us help you to make it your point of view, not because I hold it but because you figure out that it really will work better for you. Not even a poor marriage and a difficult divorce need disturb you. In fact, if I can really help you to adopt this attitude, I can’t imagine there being anything that you would severely upset yourself about.” “You really mean that, don’t you?” “Yes, I mean it-and truly believe it!” And so, to some extent, did Geraldine believe it after another few months of REBT. Whereas she previously kept telling herself how “horrible” she was for not achieving her marital ideal, she now began to substitute problem-solving thoughts for her old self-beatings. In one of her last conferences with me, she said: “You know, I looked into the mirror yesterday morning and said to myself, ‘Geraldine, you behave like a happy, fairly bright, increasingly mature kid. I am getting mighty fond of you.’ And then I laughed with real joy.” “Fine,” I said. “But don’t lead yourself up the garden path ofrating yourself highly because you act so much better. For then you will put yourself down, once again, if you act worse. Try to stick to ‘I like behaving so much better’ rather than ‘I like myself for behaving this well.'” “Yes, I see what you mean,” she replied. “I am glad you warned me about that. Rating myself I unfortunately do most easily. But I’ll fight it!” Geraldine discovered that her feelings were not caused by her unsuccessful marriage or her divorce but from her evaluations of herself about these “failures.” When she changed her self-damning thoughts, her emotions changed from depression and despair to sorrow and regret-and these healthy negative feelings encouraged her to change her life conditions. Not all our clients, like Geraldine, quickly see that they create their own depressed feelings about divorce and then decide to unconditionally accept themselves. Sometimes they require longer before they take this view. But persistence, by them and their therapist, really helps! THINKING YOURSELF OUT OF EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCES 43 If you and other people theoretically can change your disturbed thoughts and feelings, but you actually often refrain from doing so and keep making yourself miserable, the question arises: Why? What blocks you (and them) from thinking effectively and emoting healthily? The main barriers to constructive thinking and emoting include: (1) Some people are incapable of clear thinking. Or (2) they are intelligent enough to think straight, but just do not know how to do so. Or (3) they are sufficiently intelligent and educated but are too disturbed to put their intelligence or knowledge to good use. As noted in one of our previous books, How to Live with a “Neurotic,” neurosis essentially consists of stupid behavior by non-stupid people. Otherwise stated: Disturbed people are potentially capable but do not realize how self-defeatingly they act. Or they understand how they harm themselves but, for some irrational reasons, persist in doing so. We assume that you and our other readers are intelligent, rather than stupid, and that you either do not know how to stop upsetting yourself, or know how to stop but so far are not trying hard enough to stop. If so, what can you do? In the next chapter, we shall try to show how you can recognize and reduce your neurotic behavior. CHAPTER 6 Recognizing and Reducing Neurotic Behavior Sensible thinking, we contend, usually leads to healthy emoting. Stupidity, ignorance, and disturbance block clear thinking and lead to overemotional or apathetic feelings. Let us consider some examples. A twenty-two-year-old male, Allen, says that he does not want to finish his dental training because he dislikes some of his subjects and has trouble studying. He therefore concludes that he will quit school and go into business. When we probe Allen’s motivations more deeply, we discover that he really likes dentistry but avoids it because, first, his parents keep pressuring him to become a dentist and he loathes their pressuring. Second, he doesn’t get along too well with his classmates and feels unpopular. Third, he is sure that he doesn’t have the manual dexterity and manipulative ability required of a real good dentist. Allen keeps sabotaging his own goals because he has no insight into his partly unconscious thinking. He starts with the conscious notion that he “naturally” dislikes some of his dental subjects. But after some direct questioning he quickly admits that he is angry about his parents’ domination, he needs the esteem of his classmates, and is horrified about ultimately failing as a dentist. His “natural” dislike for some of his subjects stems mainly from his highly “unnatural” underlying philosophy: “Oh, my Lord! What a weak person I am if I do not achieve great independence, popularity, and competence!” When, in the course of REBT, Allen discovers these Irrational Beliefs, and when, more importantly, he questions and challenges them, he may well decide to return to school and to work through his 45 46 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING self-induced horror about his parental, social, and competence difficulties. Thus, he can ask himself: “How can my parents actually dominate me if I refuse to let them do so? And why is it awful, and why must I consider myself a s
lob ifl continue to let them dominate me?” And he can dispute his horribilizing: “Why is it horrible if I am not popular at school or never get acknowledged as the best dentist that ever existed? Granted, that this would be inconvenient, but what would make it horrible?” By this kind of disputing, challenging, and questioning his own self-defeating beliefs, he can change his stupid thinking and the overemotionalized reactions it brings on-such as his needless anxiety and flight from dentistry. A female client, Naomi, had a similar problem but more insight. She knew that she wanted to teach and also knew that she had made no effort to study teaching because she was sure she couldn’t do it well. She also suspected that she often tried to punish herself for promiscuous sex she had had a year ago. Even though she presumably had some insight into her feeling worthless, she continued to defeat herself and to behave neurotically. Naomi did not realize that her self-downing and her sexual guilt stemmed from ignorance and faulty thinking. She originally put herself down because she accepted the very critical views of her older sister, who jealously did not want Naomi to think well of herself. Then, working on the unquestioned assumption that she had little scholastic ability, Naomi began to avoid her schoolwork and thereby to “prove” to herself that she had no skill-thus reinforcing her original sister-aided self-downing. Naomi’s sexual promiscuity, moreover, largely stemmed from her same self-criticism. Feeling worthless and “knowing” that boys would not care for her, she took the easiest way of winning them by bartering her body for their attentions. She based her guilt about her promiscuity on the arbitrary notion, also taken over from her sister, that she was wicked for being so sexually loose. Even though she seemed to know that she condemned herself for her sexual behavior and also sabotaged her desire to teach, Naomi actually had only partial insight. She did not see her two basic premises and realize their irrationality: ( 1) that she could not teach well and that therefore had no worth; and (2) that she deserved damnation for being promiscuous. RECOGNIZING AND REDUCING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR 47 A fuller understanding of her self-defeating behavior led to farreaching changes in Naomi’s thoughts and actions. First, I (A.E.) helped her to question the connection between possibly teaching poorly and her personal worth and to see that there is really no such connection. She began to understand that we have no way of rating our totality, our essence as a human; and that, in making such a global rating, we harm rather than help ourselves. Thus, she could accept herself merely because she decided to do so-whether or not she succeeded at teaching. And she could enjoy herself considerably even when she failed. Ironically, as usually happens, acquiring this kind of unconditional self-acceptance (USA) helped her to concentrate much better on her schoolwork, to achieve better grades, and to start taking education courses. Second, I helped Naomi to challenge the so-called wickedness of her promiscuity and to understand that although she may have made mistakes (by having affairs with males whom she did not really enjoy as lovers), this hardly made her a louse who deserved damnation for these errors. By surrendering her philosophy of lousehood, she stopped sabotaging her endeavors and helped herself work toward her goal of teaching. The case of this client, as perhaps of most individuals who come for therapy, exemplifies the differences among what we call Insight No. 1, Insight No. 2, and Insight No. 3. Insight No. 1 is the fairly conventional kind of understanding postulated by Freud: knowledge that you have a problem and that certain events precede this problem. Thus, Allen, whose case we observed at the beginning of this chapter, knew that he had a problem with his career, but thought it stemmed from his dislike of certain subjects and not from his anxiety about social and vocational failure. Not knowing the beliefs behind his problem, he did not really have sufficient “insight.” Naomi had more insight, because she not only recognized her failure at her chosen career, but also knew or suspected that (1) she lacked confidence and (2) she kept trying to punish herself for her previous sexual promiscuity. Knowing, therefore, some of her motives for her ineffective behavior, she had a considerable amount of “insight”–or what we call Insight No. 1. She only vaguely, however, had Insight No. 1, because she knew that she lacked confidence but didn’t clearly see that this lack of confidence 48 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING consisted, more concretely, of her telling herself: “My older, very critical sister views me as inadequate. How absolutely terrible if she is correct about this! Perhaps she is. In fact, I feel sure she is and that I can never perform adequately!” This young woman also knew that she felt guilty and self-punitive about her previous premarital affairs. But she did not specifically see that her guilt and self-punishment resulted from her internalized Beliefs: “Many people view promiscuity as wicked. I have behaved promiscuously. Therefore I am really a wicked person!” And: “People often agree that those who act badly deserve punishment for their sins. I have been promiscuous with males for whom I did not really care. Therefore, I must punish myself!” Although, then, this client definitely had a good measure of Insight No. 1, she had it so vaguely that it was only partial. As for Insight No. 2, she had little. For Insight No. 2 consists of seeing clearly that the Irrational Beliefs that you create and acquire in your early life still continue, largely because you keep reindoctrinating yourself with them-you consciously and unconsciously work fairly hard to perpetuate them. Thus, Naomi kept telling herself, over and over again, “I absolutely should not have been promiscuous! In order to expunge my sins and lead a happy life today, I have to keep punishing myself and must continue to cleanse myself.” Without this kind of constant self-reinforcement, her early ideas (including those taken from her sister) would probably extinguish. So Insight No. 2-which Naomi only vaguely had at the start of therapy-would have consisted of her clearly seeing that she had not worked at extinguishing her traumatizing Beliefs and that she still actively hung on to them. Insight No. 3 was far from Naomi’s horizon. This consists of the wholehearted belief, “Now that I have discovered Insights No. 1 and 2, and fully acknowledge my self-creation and continued reinforcement of my Irrational Beliefs, I had better reduce my disturbances by steadily, persistently, and vigorously working to change these Beliefs-and to act against them.” More concretely, when Naomi acquired Insight No. 1 and No. 2, she could then go on to No. 3: “How fascinating that I have kept convincing myself that I absolutely should not have been promiscuous and that I have to keep punishing myself for my errors. RECOGNIZING AND REDUCING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR 49 As long as I keep believing this hogwash, how can I feel anything but self-downing and depression? Well, I’d better keep strongly disputing and challenging these nutty beliefs until I give them up!” Naomi and I worked togetµer to help her achieve these three important insights. By using them and following them with other hard therapeutic work during the next year, she finally solved her main problems. She not only got a teaching job and did quite well at it during this period but also kept having non-marital sex with a few suitable partners, enjoyed it considerably, and felt no guilt about it. We contend, in other words, that much neurotic (self-sabotaging) behavior results from basic ignorance or lack of insight. Although humans may behave neurotically because of certain biological conditions (such as severe hormonal imbalances or deficiencies in their neurotransmitters), they don’t often do so purely for biochemical reasons. Usually, they largely create their disturbances by their own ideas, which they consciously and/or unconsciously hold. Even when
they suffer from severe traumas such as child abuse, incest, or rape, it is not only these extremely bad events that upset them and lead to post-traumatic stress disorders, but also their horrifying reactionstheir awfulizing beliefs, about these traumas. Thus, as in the cases of Allen and Naomi, people may know that they resist going to school because they fight against parental pressure. Or they may unconsciously resist going to school without clear awareness that they are balking against parental domination. Or they may realize that they punish themselves for sexual guilt. Or they may punish themselves without realizing they do so because of this kind of guilt. In any event, whether or not people consciously are aware of their Irrational Beliefs, they would rarely act neurotically without them. Thus, in the instances given in this chapter, if the young dental student, Allen, had not made himself so irrationally fearful of parental domination and vocational failure that he gave up studying, we would not find his wanting to leave school unhealthy and would conclude that he clearly saw the facts oflife and acted sensibly about them. And ifthe student of education, Naomi, rationally accepted her sister’s view of sex, she might have concluded that though her promiscuity was “bad,” that this would never make her a “bad person.” 50 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING We cannot justify our pronounced feelings of failure, Beliefs in our worthlessness, and unthinking acceptances of others’ damning tendencies. Not because they are absolutely wrong, or because they contradict the laws of the universe. But simply because, on good practical grounds, they almost always are self-defeating and needlessly prevent us from getting many of the things we healthily desire. Moreover, self-downing beliefs and emotions usually stem from unrealistic overgeneralizations that we cannot scientifically uphold. They contain magical, demonizing philosophies that are definitional, unprovable, and unfalsifiable. If you say to yourself, for example, “I have failed at this task”-such as winning someone’s love or succeeding at a job-“and I find that unfortunate,” you make a statement that you can back up or disprove. For you (and others) can observe whether you really have failed and what disadvantages (in regard to certain of your personal goals) will probably follow from your failing. Once you desire to succeed, it is “bad” or “ineffective” to fail. If you say to yourself, however, “Because I have failed at this task, it is awful and it makes me a rotten person,” you make a statement that you cannot prove or disprove. For awfulness, an essentially undefinable term, does not really mean very disadvantageous. It means one hundred percent disadvantageous, unfortunate, obnoxious, or inconvenient. Your finding it awful when you fail, moreover, means that you think you can’t stand failing and that you therefore must not fail. But, of course, you can stand failing; and the universe hardly insists that you should not or must not fail! Your conclusion, again, that failing makes you a rotten person means that (1) you unfortunately have failed; that (2) since you have intrinsic, essential rottenness, you will always and only fail; and that (3) you deserve damnation (such as eternal punishment) for failing. Although you can back up the first of these three meanings, because it is your preference to succeed, you cannot uphold the second and third meanings. Except by arbitrary definition! Although, therefore, we can confirm your failing at something, we cannot confirm your all-inclusive label that you are afailure. You may devoutly call yourself a failure (even with a capital F!), but that label is a self-defeating overgeneralization. RECOGNIZING AND REDUCING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR 51 Stated differently: Unhealthy, self-destructive emotion-such as your feeling rage, depression, worthlessness, or anxiety-mainly results from your (consciously or unconsciously) prejudiced, senseless ideas and almost inevitably leads to inefficient, selfsabotaging behavior (which we call neurosis). When you are neurotic, you can employ several temporary methods to help lessen your disturbance. Thus, you can change your job or your marital status; take a vacation; develop a vital interest in some area; work at succeeding at professional or other pursuits; consume quantities of alcohol, marijuana, heroin, tranquilizers, psychic energizers, or other drugs; devote yourself to a cult; or try various other distractions. Almost any or all of these kinds of diversions may temporarily work. For they essentially induce you, when you are irrationally devoted to some set of disturbance-provoking ideas (which we may call x), to distract yourself to some other set of ideas (which we may cally). As long as you keep thinking ofy ideas instead of x ideas, you may not feel too troubled. Unfortunately, this kind of distraction rarely solves your basic problems. For no matter how vigorously or often you may divert yourself toy ideas, you still really believe in and have not given up x ideas. So you strongly keep tending to return to the neurotic behavior related to x ideas. Take Mrs. J., for example. People viewed her, at the age ofthirtyeight, as a beautiful and talented woman. When she did not lie in bed all day with a horrible migraine headache or did not fight viciously with her husband and two teen-age children, she was a charming companion, hostess, and club-woman. So, to keep herself unangry and relatively free from migraine, Mrs. J. drank heavily, gobbled tranquilizers, and passionately devoted herself to a New Spiritism group which believed in reincarnation and taught that life in this sorry vale of tears is just a prelude to endless Real Lives to come. It almost worked. Getting half crocked most of the time, and passionately teaching others her spiritist views, Mrs. J. found relatively little time to upset herself, to feel enraged at others, and to retreat into her migraine headaches. But when the liquor wore off, and her images of life in the afterworld hardly solved her problems in this world, her neurotic symptoms returned full blast. In fact, she was so unable to contain her rage against her associates that even her 52 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING spiritist friends began to object to her behavior and take her out of some of the high positions that they at first delighted in giving her. Seeing that even this new group deserted her, Mrs. J. made herself more enraged and began to have a complete breakdown. Came the dawn. And, more by brute force than gentle persuasion, her husband dragged Mrs. J. into therapy by telling her that unless she did something to help herself, he and the children would pack up and leave. It required only a few sessions to reveal that she profoundly believed that because her parents were punitive during her childhood, the rest of the world owed her complete kindness. All her close associates, especially her husband and children, she thought, absolutely should lean over backward to make life easy for her-and thereby compensate for her unduly hard childhood. When, in the normal course of human events, Mrs. J. found that her close relatives and friends somehow did not feel the way she did about catering to her, she made herself furious, and did her best to ram their “rank injustices” down their throats. When everything went her way-which of course it rarely did-she felt fine. But when balked or frustrated, she felt miserable and tried to distract herself by making others equally miserable. Alcohol and tranquilizers often made Mrs. J. “feel good” for a short while-at which time all life’s “injustices” didn’t seem so unjust. And her spiritistic views, which promised her the best of all possible afterworlds, also temporarily diverted her from her injustice collecting. But such distractions did not last. Nor did they change her devout beliefs that the world absolutely should be a kinder, easier place and that her associates must make up for the horrors of her past by catering to her in the present. In the course of a year and a half of individual and group REBT, I (R.A.H.) helped Mrs. J. first acquire Insight
No. 1: namely, that her extreme hostility and migrainous upsets largely stemmed from her own behavior, and not just from the “rottenness” of others. They went with the irrational philosophy: “Because I suffered in the past, people must treat me with utter kindness today.” After helping Mrs. J. to see some of the main Beliefs behind her neurotic behavior, I then (with the help of the members of her therapy group) led her to Insights No. 2 and 3: “Now that I see that I largely create my disturbances with my often-repeated internalized Beliefs RECOGNIZING AND REDUCING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR 53 about the ‘horrible injustice’ of it all, I’d better keep disputing, questioning, challenging, and changing these Beliefs. For I not only keep convincing myself that people treat me unkindly and unfairly-which at times they really may do-but that such unfairness shouldn’t exist and it is horrible when it does. Well, what makes it horrible? Nothing, of course. Unfortunate, yes-because I don’t keep getting what I want. But horrible? Only ifl define it so! “And why must not people treat me the unkind way they often do? I can find no reason why they must not-though I can think of many reasons why I would like them not to! If people don’t cater to me the way I prefer, tough! But I’d better convince myself that I can still lead a happy existence, especially by catering to myself!” When she began to get Insights No. 2 and 3-that she kept reiterating her demanding philosophy and that she’d better keep working at changing it and the enraged feelings to which it ledMrs. J. reduced her drinking to a cocktail or two a day, threw away her tranquilizers, and felt remarkably less enraged at her husband, children, and friends, even when (as fallible humans) they did act unjustly. The more she accepted social reality, and refused any longer to make it “awful,” the less devoutly spiritistic she became. As she said at one of her closing therapy sessions: “Why do I have to worry about highly questionable afterlives when I now know how to make this life so enjoyable?” Additional Thoughts On Recognizing and Reducing Neurotic Behavior By Robert H. Moore, Ph.D. (Contributor to the second edition of A Guide to Rational Living.) Neurotic or self-defeating behavior is not very hard to recognize intuitively-especially in others. When it comes to spotting our own irrationalities, however, most of us are at least partially blind. To be consistent in determining who is or isn’t neurotic and what particular behavior does or doesn’t qualify as self-defeating, we had best adopt some criteria to guide us. Dr. Maxie C. Maultsby, Jr. notes that those people behave irrationally or neurotically who 1. frequently perceive things inaccurately 2. seriously jeopardize their own safety 54 A GUIDE TO RA TI ON AL LIVING 3. habitually impede their own progress toward their chosen goals 4. often experience more inner turmoil than they feel comfortable with 5. needlessly create conflict between themselves and others Let’s take a look at some specific behaviors that meet each of these five criteria: Frequently Perceive Things Inaccurately: Actually, most of us don’t perceive things inaccurately as often as we embellish them inaccurately. We usually see whatever we see, and hear whatever we hear, without distorting it too badly. What leads us down the garden path to various “misperceptions” is the normal process of filling in the blanks in an attempt to see the bigger picture. This we do routinely by assuming, inferring, guessing, supposing, interpreting, projecting, speculating, deducing, extrapolating, presuming, conjecturing, attributing, hypothesizing, divining, and reading between the lines. Please understand; it is a privileged part of our human intellect to be able to “see” beyond the reach of our sensory organs in these ways. There’s nothing at all inherently wrong with using our extraordinary mental faculties. It is the responsibility of each of us, however, to use them reasonably and unbiasedly as possible. It is in this responsibility that many of us, to one degree or another, fail. Neurotics often fail rather badly. Like those who look at the world “through rose-colored glasses,” neurotics dye what they perceive with their irrational beliefs and expectations. They frequently elevate their wildest guesses and groundless assumptions about what they see and hear to the level of certainty. Worse, they do so against reason and the sworn testimony of friends and loved ones. Examples: “She’s pregnant, and you can bet it isn’t by her husband.” “I don’t buy that best-man-for-the-job hogwash. It’s all politics around here.” People often substitute their moral values and personal opinions for their descriptions and, accordingly, issue subjective judgments and appraisals when asked for a more objective account of events. Guided by their suspicions, neurotics also frequently attribute peculiar, unfriendly, or downright hostile motives and purposes to others, and they are not above indicting groups as large as an entire race or sex. Examples: “She hates me, !just know it. I may as well RECOGNIZING AND REDUCING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR 55 quit before she fires me.” “You know his kind; they’re all alike.” Seriously Jeopardize Their Own Safety: Great things are sometimes accomplished by people bold enough to take calculated risks. However, mostly sane, calculated risk takers do not indulge in unprotected sex with a variety of partners; pop any pill someone offers them at a party; trade commodities with the rent money; ride motorcycles without wearing protective headgear; continue to smoke after they’ve developed emphysema; overeat to the point of taxing their hearts and other vital organs; drive their cars at speeds well above the limits; fail to file their income tax returns year after year; stay slim by inducing themselves to vomit; or shun the use of sun blockers in order to remain deeply tanned. Habitually Impede Their Own Progress Toward Their Chosen Goals: People with neuroses sometimes allow their disturbances, inhibitions, or unrealistic expectations to sabotage their careers and personal lives. The following case example illustrates how effectively even bright and capable people can shoot themselves in the foot: Debbie P. graduated Phi Beta Kappa from a major state university but thereafter could not seem to get her personal and professional priorities in order. Although keenly interested in building a career as a social worker, she was so debilitated by a profound sense of personal inadequacy that on many days she couldn’t bring herself to schedule an interview at the clinic where she worked. Overcome by her anxieties, unable to relate comfortably with her professional colleagues, and too embarrassed to reveal her lack of self-acceptance to a therapist, Debbie one day abruptly quit her job and abandoned her career altogether. Shortly thereafter, she packed all her worldly belongings into the back of the van of a fellow who was also out of work, and left town. Often Experience More Inner Turmoil than They Can Comfortably Bear: Unlike those whose neurotic tendencies sabotage their career or personal goals, some brave souls forge ahead and accomplish their purposes in life but pay a great price in personal stress along the way. They almost always make the mistake of thinking that their anxiety is justified by their great responsibilities, the unreasonableness of their associates, or by a special streak of misfortune. Thus, mistakenly believing that the cause of their upsets is entirely beyond their control, they rarely see themselves as –~——————————· 56 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING candidates for the therapy they really could use. Somehow they fail to notice that they have numerous friends and co-workers who deal day to day with similar responsibilities, associates, and misfortunes, and who do so without feeling emotional turmoil. So they drag on through life erupting in anger, withdrawing in a pout, collapsing in despair, and blaming everything and everyone but themselves for their misery. They often develop various psychosomatic ills-such as ulcers, high blood pressure, colitis, faintin
g spells, skin rashes, headaches, allergic reactions, and unusual fatigue. Worse, they frequently wind up addicted to one or more mood-altering drugs. Needlessly Create Conflict Between Themselves and Others: Driven by various Irrational Beliefs, some people make a habit of fighting with themselves and others. They don’t directly cause others to deal with them angrily or upsettedly, but their approach is so antagonistic, or their communication skills so poor, that it would take the patience of a saint to hold a pleasant conversation with them. Here are some of the habits and ploys with which such people unwittingly (and occasionally wittingly) sabotage their relationships. They a. tell you what you “really mean,” often over your vigorous objection b. tell you to take whatever they’ve said “any way you like” c. insist that you don’t or shouldn’t feel as you do about something d. end a conversation with you before they’ve understood what you’re trying to say e. expect you to understand or agree with them because you’ve “talked about this before” f. deliberately exaggerate or distort your viewpoint in order to make it appear ridiculous g. react to anything remotely resembling criticism as if they had been stabbed in the back h. hold you responsible for their happiness, their misery, or their general quality of life Dr. Maultsby’s five criteria make an excellent rule of thumb for identifying irrational or neurotic behavior. But what makes people behave in such obviously self-defeating ways? A discussion of the roots of neurosis is mainly a discussion of RECOGNIZING AND REDUCING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR 57 distorted thinking. From the point of view of mind/brain as computer, most human beings are innately poor programmers. They seldom succeed in setting themselves up to get along very happily in an imperfect world. Neurotics are especially bad at it. Although irrational behavior is sometimes due to faulty “hardware,” such as neurologic impairment, it is also due to faulty “software,” to selfcreated, self-defeating Irrational Beliefs. In REBT, we observe that neurotic behavior results mainly from the natural human tendency to inflate personal preferences into absolutistic demands. We note that people often tend to act out their wishes and desires as if they were needs and musts. They frequently elevate their personal goals and expectations into rigid and irrational rules that everyone, including themselves, must obey. Having done so, they easily become disturbed when someone breaks their rules, or things don’t go their way. The mechanism of such an emotional disturbance is not difficult to grasp. It looks, at first blush, as though it’s just a matter of “stimulus” and “response”-as if something unfortunate happens to people (the stimulus), and that that, by itself, causes them to get upset (the response). But it looks that way only because, when something unfortunate happens, the key element of emotional arousal-their irrational thinking-leaps into action almost instantaneously and, of course, largely out of sight. The actual mechanism of an emotional disturbance is a stimulusbe/ief response, or as we say in REBT: “Action-Belief-Consequence.” These are the terms behind REBT’s well-known ABC model of emotional arousal. Bottom line: it’s not our life events (Actions) that, themselves, directly disturb us (produce unpleasant emotional Consequences). It’s our irrational demandingness, our shoulds, oughts, and musts (Beliefs), that largely do the job. Wanting our lives to go along smoothly without mishap and preferring that our friends, family, and co-workers behave at least civilly, if not pleasantly, is rational enough. Insisting that things ought to go smoothly, that mishap must not occur, and that the important people in our lives should behave as we have told them so many times we need them to behave, on the other hand, is fundamentally irrational. Yet, as a species, we naturally tend to think in these distorted and self-defeating ways. 58 A GUIDE TO RATIONAL LIVING Fortunately, we need not yield to this natural tendency and remain neurotic for the rest of our lives. As the ones primarily responsible for the way we think, we can correct our errors, “debug” our faulty programming, and overcome this common human failing. We can strive conscientiously to 1. increase our objectivity and eliminate confusing facts and inferences 2. break any habit with which we habitually put ourselves at risk 3. rid ourselves of agendas that conflict with our higher priorities 4. replace self-defeating demands and damnation with realistic preferences and appraisals 5. accept ourselves and others as the fallible human beings we actually are Can we really change such well-practiced mental attitudes? Definitely. Will it be easy? No-but those who work diligently with the cognitive, emotive, and behavioral “tools” of REBT have an excellent chance of success.

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