Welcome back to those that are watching. In part 1 I introduced the concept of feeling the way we think and I defined the word rational as it pertains to these lessons. For this section, we are going to concentrate on the idea of rational thinking and how it can start to help you live a happier life.
If emotional disturbances are caused by the thoughts that proceed them, then it becomes obvious that to start having less emotional issues one has to change how they think about activating events in their life. Let me give a few examples first.
The activating event: Your parents have decided to divorce after 30 years of marriage.
Your possible irrational thoughts about the event: Oh my god it’s awful! How can they do this to each other and us kids? This cannot happen! I just know it’s my mother’s/father’s fault! The family will never be the same.
The most likely feelings that arise from those irrational thoughts: Anger, frustration, deep sorrow and sadness.
Why are those thoughts irrational? Because in each case they are not productive to your mental health and also not logical or likely true. Let’s tackle each thought and why it wouldn’t be rational.
Oh my god it’s awful! – Why is it awful? It’s their decision and likely not one taken lightly. It is also a decision that has nothing to do with you. With your labeling it awful you’ve made a decision, without all or any evidence that their decision is bad or wrong. That isn’t logical.
How can they do this to each other and us kids? They aren’t doing anything to their children. They are making a decision about their future personal relationship that has been ongoing since before you were likely born (Unless of course they are step parents). They are splitting up because their relationship isn’t working for one or both of them. They aren’t doing anything to each other or you.
This cannot happen! Why not? Is there some cosmic law that says parents have to stay together or that your specific parents must not make decisions you don’t like? In REBT, this is called a must statement. It must not happen! A pure illogical statement.
I just know it’s my mother’s/father’s fault! And exactly how would you know that? Why does it have to be anyone’s fault? One thing that is certain, no matter how close to you are to one, or both of your parents you simply have no idea what their relationship involves because you aren’t one of them. It’s an impossibility. All this statement can do is lead to unneeded and unwarranted drama.
The family will never be the same. This is less irrational than it is just plain silly. Of course the family dynamics will change, but change itself is benign. It’s what you tell yourself about change that is either productive or not productive. Family dynamics change over time. To complain about that is akin to complaining that the sun rises in the east. A fat lot of good it will do you.
So, now we’ve seen how these statements are irrational, what could we tell ourselves about that activating event that would be both productive and rational?
Oh wow, that must be a very hard decision to make after thirty years. This statement it likely to lead to feeling of compassion for them both and a willingness to let them know you are there for them. This also doesn’t assign blame to one or the other.
I wonder what led them to make such a big decision in their lives? This question can led to positive dialogue with them both about the decision. While one or both might be resentful of the decision, the question at least gets you to better understand your parents current state of mind and better equipped to handle challenges that might arise.
This is a big change for the family, but our family is resilient and with time things will settle down again. This is the most rational thing you could tell yourself because of the obvious truth of it. It acknowledges that things will change, but doesn’t assign that change a negative or positive label.
Wow, there might be some hard feelings involved with them and likely to be some blame thrown about, but that’s normal in anything like this and I don’t have partake in that because it wouldn’t help anyone involved, plus, they are both human and as such will make mistakes. We all make mistakes, it doesn’t make either of them less human or less lovable. This obviously allows you to steer clear of blame altogether and is the best option for keeping a happy and healthy relationship with both parents.
the first set of statements about the event will certainly lead to great emotional disturbance about the event and the other better equips you to handle a tough situation. One is irrational because it works against you being a happy and healthy person and one is rational because it helps you reach that goal.
A second example:
The activating event: You’ve caught your partner texting someone else things of a sexual nature.
Your possible irrational thoughts about the event: How can they do this to me? This is the end of our relationship and I have no idea what I’m going to do without them in my life. Why does this always happen to me? Why does everyone cheat? I simple can’t go through this again!
The most likely feelings that arise from those irrational thoughts: Anger, frustration, deep sorrow, sadness, and feelings of betrayal.
Again, let’s look at why those thoughts would be irrational.
How can they do this to me? They didn’t do anything to you. They made a very poor decision about their personal boundaries that are likely to have consequences, but it is very unlikely that they did it to upset you personally. Their selfishness is not about you.
This is the end of our relationship and I have no idea what I’m going to do without them in my life. While it might well be the end of the relationship, that is up to you two to discuss, you know what you are going to do without them in your life if it comes to that. You will go on living. Life doesn’t end because things don’t go as you planned, unless of course that event is the plane you are in falling out of the sky. This is awfulizing an event.
Why does this always happen to me? It most likely doesn’t always happen to you and even if every relationship you have been in has had this event take place, it means nothing about what will happen in the future and it’s not productive to say to yourself now.
Why does everyone cheat? They don’t. Some people have learned how to communicate well in a relationship and how to set personal boundaries. The person you are with currently has not.
I simply can’t go through this again! Well you have no choice. It happened and you are going to have to deal with it. This is another variation of saying something MUST not happen. You can and will deal with it. How you deal with it is entirely up to you.
So what could we say to ourselves to avoid deep emotional disturbance about this event?
Well that’s rather unfortunate. It seems my partner is making decisions that are not conducive to us staying together. Here we are keeping things to simple facts. It allows us to further examine what took place without becoming so upset that it clouds our thinking.
I wonder what it is about me that allows me to keep getting into relationships of this type? I should take a nice long break and examine myself before jumping into another relationship to avoid this in the future. This would be instead of saying why does this always happen to me.
Well breakups are never easy things, but I am sure I will make it through this one as I have others before this. This positive statement acknowledges that things might get rough, but keeps you optimistic about the future.
Well obviously things aren’t going as planned in this relationship, but if I want to make this one work, we are going to have to sit down and have a real conversation about communication and what our personal boundaries are. And if we figure out we are not on the same page, we can go our separate ways. This again is keeping a clear head and it lays out a plan of action instead of awfulizing the event or dwelling on how things MUST be.
By now you must be thinking, who in their right minds can keep such a level head about these things? How am I just going to stop myself from negative self talk in the moment? Well the answer to both is similar. People that practice changing how they view things keep a level head and the only way to stop yourself in the moment it to identify the negative self talk and practice turning it into positive self talk.
Nothing in life happens instantaneously and no one is perfect. I pride myself in being rational but still catch myself falling into old habits of thinking from time to time. The difference is that I don’t stay in those patterns long. I catch myself, I change my views and thus how I feel about an event and I move on. I don’t beat myself up for not being perfect (Another example of irrational thinking is beating yourself up for not being perfect), I just fix things and move on.
The first step in learning to do any of this is identifying what it is you are telling yourself to get yourself so upset about an event. Here is the homework part of this. Take the next week or so to do this –
Make sure you have a pad and paper with you at darn near all times. Next time you find yourself upset about something, stop and think hard about what it is that you are telling yourself about that event. Write those thoughts down. Then, sometime later, when you have calmed down, look at what you wrote and try your hardest to think of some other way you could have viewed the same event that would have not gotten you as upset.
If you need help in seeing ways to think positively about an event, just write me a comment explaining the activating event and I’ll help out. Remember, this is just the first step. In part three we will continue to look at different events and how we might see them different and we’ll tackle some more common irrational thoughts most humans have.
I am Diego Abrams and this is Triscele Life and Relationships. See you for part 3.