“Irrational beliefs are like sexual differences between males and females. If you don’t find them, you haven’t looked in the right place.”
Harmful irrational beliefs are at the heart of needless human emotional turbulences including anxiety and depression. Recognize them. Purge them. Live a life liberated from them.
Albert Ellis, the founder of rational emotive behavior therapy, was probably the best therapist ever in helping people recognize and defuse harmful irrational beliefs and to go on to lead happier, healthier, lives. He found that people irrationally distress themselves when they place unrealistic demands on themselves, others, and life. For example, if you believe that the world should conform to your expectations, you’ll routinely experience upsetting disparities between this conviction and reality. However, you may not see the connection.
What would Dr. Ellis help you do to see an irrational thinking connection in a negative feeling and behaving pattern? Ellis would often start with the question, what are you telling yourself? Then, he would help you sort out rational from irrational thinking. He would help you work on changing self-defeating thoughts, emotions and behaviors. You’d progressively replace them with a functional outlook, emotions regulated by reality, and constructive actions.
Believing, Behaving, and Changing
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), a la Albert Ellis, has such an abundance of beneficial uses and interventions to build resilience that it’s challenging to describe them all. Here are 12 of Al Ellis’ insights that I find especially useful. I hope you find then as useful as I have found them to be.
1. All humans are fallible. However, we aren’t equally fallible or equally physically healthy. We do well to recognize our fallibilities when they get in the way of our goals, and do something positive to get past them when it important that we do so.
2. Ellis’ rational ethic was simple and straightforward. Do what makes you happiest, which may be unlike exactly what makes anyone else happy, so long as you don’t needlessly and intentionally harm another person.
3. Good, bad, or ugly, how you interpret your experiences influences how you feel and what you do. However, this is not an either\or reaction. Language adds shades of gray to the meanings that we ascribe to events.
4. Ellis’s separation of rational and irrational thinking is a pivotal understanding. However, those who suffer from irrationalities may not see the flaws in their thinking. For example, a Quaker once said to his wife “The entire world is crazy except thee and me and sometimes I think thee are.” This old quip has a hidden point. The man did not recognize the irrationality in his own statement. Overgeneralizing is irrational.
5. Ellis’ genius lay in his ability to boil down the great complexity of human thought and words, to the philosophical essence of “I must…, You must....or The world must…as the root causation of much human “emotional disturbance.” Knowledge of these thought patterns allow self-examination of our own thinking in this regard.
6. The Ellis clarification of the almost simultaneous interaction of our perception of life (Activating A) events, our mental processes or Beliefs (B) and our emotionally based/action Consequences (C) provided a basis to apply methods of science and logic to identify and Dispute (D) our illogic or self-limiting, inefficient thinking. This process allows us to identify and work toward an Effective New Philosophy (E). For example, you may not like your neighbor’s political ideology, but you can accept the fact that she hold to views that are different from yours, without upsetting yourself over the difference.
7. Our higher cognitive processes are separate from our primitive brain or limbic system reactions, which interact with our thinking processes. Thus, you have some, but far from 100% “free will”. You can consciously use your will to your best advantage when you take personal responsibility, and don’t shirk the necessary effort.
8. Ellis opts for acceptance and assignment of personal responsibility without the additional attachment of irrational blame. Irrational blame implies personal, or other, denigration, or need for some kind of punishment. Tangling yourself in blame and punishment may actually interfere with self-improvement and achievements.
9. Ellis’s inclusion of Korzybskian General Semantics is unique in therapy systems, in demonstrating how our use of language affects our perceptions, beliefs, emotions and behavior. This is a nonlinear system, characterized by acknowledging and explaining the role of thinking in emotion and behavior, more so than is done in other therapies.
10. Ellis’s emphasis on some kind of homework was, at first, disdained or ignored by practitioners of other therapies. He emphasized getting his clients to test out new ideas and ways of behaving outside of therapy. Ellis was right! Psychological (behavioral) homework now has strong research support. The message is this: do the necessary work to achieve a happier and less troubled existence. Ellis practiced what he preached. As any fallible human being, he was not perfect. Nevertheless, he was a damned good model! He fashioned a psychotherapy system that laid the foundation for modern CBT methods, most of which are less efficient and effective that the rational, emotive, behavioral system that he devised.
11. Over a 60-year career, no one has seen as many clients over their career. He wrote about 85 books and over 500 hundreds articles. He weekly conducted workshops and gave lectures throughout his 60 year career. He obviously loved his work!
12. Humor was inseparable from Al’s fallibility and personal ways of surviving. This helped him, beyond a doubt, in coping with the difficulty of living with insulin dependent diabetes into his 90’s. My take: whenever you can find a way to laugh and enjoy life, do so.
Ellis’ clarity of thinking and writing appears (to me) unequalled in the psychotherapy field.
Dr. John Minor wrote this blog especially for this series. John, a psychotherapist and adjunct professor, is a long-time colleague and friend of Albert Ellis.
For more information on rational emotive behavior therapy, click on Albert Ellis Network
Albert Ellis Revisited (Carlson & Knaus 2013) is the Albert Ellis Tribute Book Series centennial yearbook. The publisher, Routledge, offers a 20% discount on the book. Control click on this link: Albert Ellis Revisited. Type the code Ellis for the discount. The book qualifies for free shipping and handling. Bill Knaus donated his royalties from this book to the Denan Project.
The other articles in this series are:
If you have trouble with anxiety click on the anxiety blog in this series: Three Core Anxieties and How to Calm Them
If you have anxiety over sex, see the sex blog in this series. Click on Ten Commandments to Stop Quick Ejaculation
If you want to use rational self-help methods, click on 13 Tips to Make Self-Help Therapy Work for You
If you suffer from guilt, click on Escape the Guilt Trap
If you want a strong relationship click on 5 Mental Traps Relationships Can't Escape
Thumbnail photo by Dale Jarvis, AreaOne Art and Design, Fayetteville NC
© Dr. John Minor
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