The best way to understand your upset about your upset is to use the familiar ABC model of emotion which is always taught in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Let us say you often get angry at loved ones and co-workers and have some awareness that your anger is self-defeating. You admit lightly to yourself that you are making it hard for people to relate to you and enjoy your good qualities. However, due to your tendency to blame yourself and others you tend to feel shame for your anger episodes. So let’s say your loved one does something you do not like. You are tired and come home from work tense and instead of relaxing a bit you discharge your tension in the form of an anger outburst at your loved one. So the first (A) or activating event here is the trigger for your anger. It might be something that your loved does that is not exactly as you would desire it to be. You feel angry at point (C) and between your loved one’s imperfect behaviors at point (A) and your emotional response of anger at point (C) is your beliefs at point (B). Your primary upset is due to your demands at point (B) which may very well go something like this:
“My spouse must do things my way since my way is so much better!”
“I cannot stand it when my spouse does things imperfectly!”
“It is awful that my spouse has once again done things imperfect.”
Following your anger outburst you then think about your outburst and feel guilty for being so rigid and demanding and getting so angry over a relatively minor matter. Here is where you can find your upset about your upset. The new activating event (A) is your anger outburst. You feel guilty at point (C) about having lost your temper and your beliefs at point (B) which cause your upset (i.e. guilt) about your upset may very well go something like this:
“I absolutely should not have lost my cool yet again over such a minor thing.”
“My spouse does not deserve to be the target of such anger.”
“I am such a bad person for doing such an unnecessary thing to my spouse.”
In Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy we teach the principal of unconditional self-acceptance with emotional and behavioral responsibility. So I would show you how you initially disturbed yourself by demanding perfection from your spouse (the primary source of your anger) and you are also not unconditionally accepting yourself once having misbehaved which is the source of your guilt or upset over your initial upset. People often fail to see that they can be fully responsible for their misbehavior without blaming themselves. Self-blame leads to guilt and almost never helps you to modify your behavior in the future. So instead of self-blame you could adopt a new philosophy about what has occurred. You could see that your loved one may have done something imperfectly but you have disturbed yourself about their imperfect behavior. You could acknowledge your emotional and behavioral responsibility for your anger upset instead of externalizing the source of your unhealthy anger. Simultaneously you could fully accept yourself as a fallible human who has misbehaved. Acknowledging your misbehavior is really a way of rating what you have done without rating you the total person. You could feel a healthy feeling of remorse over what you have done. You could unconditionally accept yourself as a person with your good, neutral and bad behaviors and traits. Finally, you could resolve to work at changing your behavior going forward and learning how to have true tolerance for when your loved one does not do as you perfectly please.
REBT is a very useful philosophy and psychotherapy because it is comprehensive and teaches the client how to deal with their initial upset and their secondary upset or what is called their upset about their upset. Utilizing REBT takes work and practice but with effort you can learn to modify both your semiautomatic reactions of upset as well as your instances of upset about upset!
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Matweychuk to learn how Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy can help you overcome your personal problems call 646.666.3108 or send an email toDrM@alumni.upenn.edu