1. We always have a choice in the attitudes we hold, and these determine our feelings. Negative emotions are part of life and can be healthy (but still negative) as in the case of emotions such as concern, disappointment, sorrow, and productive anger.
2. Rigid attitudes (i.e., Demandingness) lie at the core of emotional disturbance. We disturb ourselves by holding rigid attitudes. We express these with words like musts, shoulds, have to’s, etc. Absolutistic thinking is what REBT targets for change. The three fundamental positions at the heart of psychological disturbance are:
A. I must perform perfectly well, and if I do not, I am a lesser person or a worthless person.
B. You must treat me as I think you “should” treat me or else you are a lesser person or a bad person.
C. Life conditions must be relatively easy, comfortable, fair, predictable, and pleasurable or it is awful, unbearable and life is totally bad.
2. Fallible humans categorize and rate themselves. They then place some people into a good category and others into the lesser or bad category. Ellis called this ego disturbance when we measure ourselves and put ourselves into the negative category. He argued this never helps us do better, but it results in self-created depression, guilt, shame, anger, and performance anxiety. When we put other people into categories, we tend to either elevate some into “Saints” or denigrate others into “Sinners.” When we elevate others, we often will be prone to denigrate ourselves (ego disturbance), and when we denigrate or condemn others, will tend to make ourselves angry and sometimes create invalid feelings of superiority. He argued it was invalid to rate people as people but that it was possible to evaluate what they do from the standpoint of one’s goals and values.
3. Low Discomfort Tolerance (i.e., discomfort disturbance) or demanding that life conditions must be smooth, comfortable, secure, predictable, and pleasurable or it is awful, unbearable and life is 100% bad leads to procrastination, underachievement, addiction and other harmful avoidance behavior. People can train themselves to tolerate the discomforts of life and to bear them more gracefully and without emotional disturbance, but this takes work and practice. If a person gives it careful consideration, they usually come to see that the effort at adopting healthier attitudes about the discomfort of life and goal achievement is well worth it.
Bottom-line: Emotional disturbance usually boils down to demandingness, ego disturbance, or discomfort disturbance. Look for the “must” or “absolute shoulds” you place on yourself, others, and life conditions. Debate with yourself and question those “musts.” Do they help you live in this world? Are they true or false? The answer to these questions is that the “Musts and Absolute Shoulds” tend to impair our emotional functioning and they are NOT true. Keep your preferences, wishes, desires, and hopes but see that you, others and life conditions never have to be ideal or otherwise as you want them to be. Then keep reminding yourself of this wisdom and teach yourself how not to disturb yourself over things you cannot control while at the same time adopting healthy flexible attitudes that enable you to cope with the adversities of life.