I recently read this book, How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything, by Albert Ellis. This is an amazing book. And the only bad thing about it might be the title. The book aims to present Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy or REBT in a self-help format. I just totally loved the message of the book. It includes the stoic philosophy that we create our own feelings through our thoughts and not external events. Let us start by first talking about the ABCs of rational emotive therapy.
A is the activating event. It can be any specific person or event that pushes your buttons.
B stands for the beliefs. This is what we think about the thing that happens.
C stands for consequences, and it includes our feelings and behaviors after the specific situation that happened at point A.
What REBT says is that after a specific event happens at point A, the main thing that determines how we feel at Point C is our beliefs. So the key to change our feelings is to change the way we think about the event. This is where it becomes exciting. REBT not only helps us to identify the irrational belief that creates undesired emotion, but it also gives us the necessary tools to dispute such beliefs and replace them with more rational thinking.
According to REBT, most of our emotional suffering comes from absolute musts that we hold, and there are three basic musts that we usually have:
1- I must perform well, or else I am not a good person.
2- People must treat me fairly, or else they are rotten people.
3- Life must give me all I want or else I can't be happy at all.
These are very common types of irrational beliefs that can lead to a lot of suffering. For example, assume your boss is yelling at you. Do you only feel sorry, sad, or regretful? Do you also feel angry and depressed? Sorry or sad are OK feelings. But anger and depression are always a reaction, and they are avoidable. Just examine your thoughts. If you are angry and depressed, you probably thinking something like, "My boss must not criticize me like that. I can't bear that kind of continual criticism." But it's not written anywhere that your boss is forbidden to yell or criticize, and you can't fully prevent that because that's not up to you. What you can prevent and control are your exaggerated feelings due to a reaction to what someone else does, and to avoid overreaction, drop your musts and replace them with preferences and desires.
Having a preference is OK, but often when people want something, they think that they must get it, and that's where neuroses and anxieties start.
Now, how can REBT help you lead a happier life?
This is what Ellis says: by taking your emotional suffering and the irrational beliefs that you mainly used to create them, and by using the scientific method to rip them up. Then you'll be free of the emotional suffering.
To make this clear, let's consider the following irrational belief. "I must be approved by people whom I find important and it's awful if I am not." This is the scientific method that REBT suggests to analyze this belief.
Is this belief realistic? Clearly not. No law of the universe says I have to be approved by people whom I find important. On the contrary, there is a law of probability that says many of the people I prefer to approve of me definitely will not.
Is this belief flexible? Definitely not, because it holds that under all conditions and at all times, people I find important absolutely have to approve of me.
Can this belief be falsified? Yes, because important people can disapprove of me, and I can still find life desirable.
Does this belief prove deservingness? No. I can't prove that even if I act nicely to important people, there is a rule of the universe that they have to approve of me.
And finally, does this belief show that I will act well and get good and happy results by holding it? On the contrary, no matter how hard I try to get people to approve of me, I can easily fail. And if I think that they have to like me, I will most probably feel depressed when they don't do what they supposedly must.
You don't have to let go of your preference. You just eliminate your musts. As long as you tell yourself that I would really like to achieve X, but I don't have to. This can eliminate a lot of emotional suffering in your life from these types of irrational beliefs that a specific thing must happen the way I want.
To make REBT work and improve your life, you must constantly use it to correct your thought patterns and dispute your irrational beliefs.