Albert Ellis: Confident and Kicking

Albert Ellis is a stoic philosopher with a sailor's mouth. A half-century ago, Ellis drew from Seneca and Epictetus in devising rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), a way of thinking about thinking that ushered in psychology's cognitive revolution. Now 93 years old, Ellis has challenged and cursed the irrational beliefs of multiple generations. Ellis famously overcame his own timidity by forcing himself to approach women. Today he battles illness and ignominy with equal pluck: He was kicked off the board of his own institute in 2005 (a judge reinstated him last year, though the dispute continues). Ellis has authored more than 75 books, including a forthcoming one about love. Arguably America's most eminent living psychologist, Ellis steadfastly maintains that we're all "out of our f***ing minds."

NP: Who is the most socially confident person you've met?

AE: I am.

Did your confidence help you cope with initial opposition to REBT?

Yes. I encountered opposition from practically everybody, including psychologists. But I never considered giving up because I thought there was no other way.

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How are you handling the dispute with your institute?

I use REBT to see only what is really there and not exaggerate it. Still, it is the hardest thing I've ever dealt with. This has confirmed my belief that human nature is very irrational.

You're no stranger to controversy. Some might say that the conflict with the institute is par for the course.

I fight injustice wherever it is.

One tenet of REBT is stoicism. How do you use it to cope with seemingly horrible events?

Some things are bad, a few things are exceptionally bad but not awful, and no matter how bad it is, you can stand it.

Will a person who simply behaves in a self-confident manner feel more confident?

Yes. Keep moving, moving, moving. I encourage people to try scary things and not to give a s**t when they're rejected.

What's it like to be a newlywed in your 90s?

It's great. Debbie [Joffe Ellis] is the woman I really, really love. She's made me more other-directed than I used to be.

What constitutes a meaningful, happy existence?

Having goals but not rigidly following them.

What is your most satisfying accomplishment?

The fact that I live my own philosophy.

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