In REBT I not only attempt to help you reduce unwanted feelings and behaviors that bring you to consult a psychologist but I seek to help facilitate a more enduring, profound, transformative change. Ellis called this a profound philosophical change. Some people now are speaking of transformative experiences. What do we mean by this in REBT?
When you come to embrace a few core concepts of REBT you are headed down the road towards major psychological transformation. What are these concepts?
- The Principle of Emotional Responsibility
- Unconditional Self-Acceptance
- High Frustration & Discomfort Tolerance
- Life and Other Acceptance
The Principle of Emotional Responsibility
Following in the footsteps of Stoic philosophers, REBT teaches that adversity occurs to all of us. In fact, life is a series of good, bad, and neutral events. The good and the neutral events are not tied to emotional problems but the bad or negative events, the adversities of life, for some people often are tied to significant emotional problems. REBT teaches people that although the adversities of life contribute to our emotional upset people tend to unknowingly do their fair share to take this opportunity and largely cause their emotional upset by holding unrealistic, rigid, and extreme attitudes about how things absolutely should be. Once people adopt the Principle of Emotional Responsibility and stop contributing and largely creating their emotional upset when they encounter adversity, major transformation occurs. One is liberated in the sense that adversities remain difficult but we are better able to tolerate the continuous stream of adversities that are a part of life. We are better able to work at creatively addressing the adversities we encounter to whatever extent this can be done and to live well with those that cannot be eliminated and have some happiness despite their inconvenient, annoying presence in our lives.
I have often pondered which core principle of REBT is the single most important. This is a difficult question but Unconditional Self-Acceptance may very well be that principle, second perhaps, only to the Principle of Emotional Responsibility. We tend to grow up learning to rate both what we do and who we are. This ends up making life a never ending test to do well by our standards or the standards others set for us and we agree to adopt. When we rate ourselves we conditionally accept ourselves if and only if we do well, meet the grade, and achieve our goal. We tend to suffer from anxiety as we approach each test. Depression and shame result when we fail the test or do less well than we ideally could have done. REBT teaches that people, as people, cannot be validly rated. What can only be validly rated is what we do in the context of our personal goals but because we are evolving and complex organisms we cannot rate ourselves as people, beings, nor rate our essence. When people stop trying to rate themselves as people they start living life to enjoy themselves not prove themselves. They continue to strive for excellence but the failure to achieve a goal does not lead to self-inflicted feelings of worthlessness or devaluation of the self. Going from rating yourself to only rating what you do or the individual characteristics of your present self without summing those characteristics is quite transformative. Life is no longer an emotional roller-coaster ride and the door to calculated risk taking is opened. One can begin to do things for healthy, practical reasons, not neurotic reasons to prove themselves as people, their worthiness to themselves or others. Unconditional self-acceptance, a concept unique to REBT, is quite transformative!
High Frustration & Discomfort Tolerance
We tend to live in a sound bite, instant gratification, and instant success world. We have largely engineered physical activity out of our lives. We often need to do less and less to get what we want and many of us seem to come to expect that we get what we want quickly. In many ways we are being influenced to become short-term pleasure seekers or short-term hedonists.
REBT is not against achieving goals easily but it encourages you to see that it is in your best interest to cultivate the capacity to stick with effort towards important longer-term goals. Ellis spoke of discomfort disturbance and argued it was a fundamental aspect of the human condition. We all sometimes yearn for quick and easy success. We all tend to whine, at one time or another, when we are blocked by people or life and can't get things exactly as we want them. However, REBT shows you how to bear and tolerate frustration and discomfort so you can achieve longer-term goals which require sustained effort and creativity over a longer period of time. REBT teaches high frustration and discomfort tolerance and the attitudes that underpin it because you will end up enjoying greater and more robust pleasure, satisfaction and meaning if you do not have to quit when the going gets difficult. Cultivating enhanced degrees of frustration and discomfort tolerance opens new doors in life. This capacity is very transformative.
Life and Other Acceptance
In my view we generally do not teach our children acceptance. We live in a technological world and we focus on teaching children to solve problems. However, regardless of who we are, sooner or later, we find that some problems are very complex and lead to difficult life conditions that either cannot be solved or take a very long time to solve. Some problems require a great deal of time to merely improve or modify. At other times we often only have two bad solutions to pick from when choosing a course of action. REBT teaches you how not to disturb yourself and to have acceptance under these conditions. Froggatt and Dryden have very nicely provided a very precise definition of acceptance in REBT:
To accept something is to (1) acknowledge that it exists, (2) acknowledge that all the conditions are in place for it to exist (3) believe that while it is preferable for this reality not to exist, it does not follow that it must not exist, and (4) resolve to change the existing conditions if they can be changed and adjust constructively and move on if they can't be changed.
REBT teaches you how to apply this concept of acceptance to all aspects of life and to other people. As we cultivate life and other acceptance we experience a major transformation. Disturbance becomes much less frequent and much shorter lived when it occurs. This allows us to tolerate the will of nature and to roll with the punches of life. If this is not transformative then I am not exactly sure what is.