Although it may not be obvious at first REBT teaches that these emotions are helpful for us to feel. When we do not get what we want or what we value these are the sensible negative emotions we could feel if we have a flexible and nonextreme belief system. REBT philosophy points out that each of us is entitled to our own set of values and preferences. Put another way each of us is entitled to want what we want. When we do not get what we want we will feel a negative emotion. This feeling is an important signal that never should be ignored or medicated away with food, drugs, or alcohol. These healthy negative emotions mean we are in touch with reality and have detected that we are not getting what we want or may soon lose having what we want. Secondly, these emotions will motivate us to change the situation so it is closer to our liking if it can be changed. If we did not feel any emotion when we did not get what we value or have lost what we value we would be numb to life and not very inclined to change what can be changed. We would put up with negative situations and fiddle while Rome burned!
Healthy negative emotions come from having preferences, even rather strong preferences but which are nonetheless preferences, which are not being met. For example, we will feel concern when we think:
“I see that there is some threat out there and I had better take steps to prudently deal with this threat before it happens (problem solving). I would prefer not to be facing this threat but sadly this is part of my reality right now (realism). This treat is bad but it is not helpful for me to view it as awful for a number of reasons. Doing so is not valid as there are other threats that could occur that are worse and more importantly it never helps me to view things as awful. When I view threats as awful I will tend to feel very anxious and inclined to do self-defeating things. I may pity myself which never helps me cope with a threat. It is far better to see this threat as VERY bad and that I can stand to face this threat (discomfort tolerance) and I can accept that my best efforts may not avert the threat from coming to pass (tolerance and acceptance).If that threat comes to pass that will be very bad (sorrow) but I still can have some pleasure in life despite the existence of this adversity in my life if I philosophically accept it.”
This healthy credo will lead to concern and is an example of the REBT philosophy which would we could hold in the face of a threat. If we were to cling to this credo we would feel concern and that would be good and motivating. Clinging to this credo is not easy but that is no reason to not do the difficult thing of working hard to cling to this credo. If we stopped holding this credo we would feel anxiety, panic, perhaps unhealthy anger or self-pity. We would think more or less along the following lines:
“This threat must not exist, it is awful that it does, I don’t deserve it, and I can’t bear to do anything about trying to prevent this threat! Poor me I don’t deserve this cross to bear. I have no choice but to be miserable, whine and complain in a fashion that suits me (silently or loudly) and to feel sorry for myself. If none of these methods work then I am free to delude myself that the treat won’t come to pass and I will pretend I do not have to do anything about it.”
This self-defeating philosophy will leave us to a whole host of strong and self-defeating negative emotions (e.g. anxiety, depression and self-pity) and we will be more inclined to drink, avoid, self-medicate, procrastinate, and to stick our head in the sand about the problem.
Is it easy to feel the healthy negative emotions (concern in this example) when we encounter problems? No it is far easier for fallible humans to experience the unhealthy emotions of anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, hurt, unhealthy anger, unhealthy jealousy, and unhealthy envy. The default way of thinking is for fallible humans to demand, command, whine and complain that threats and problems should not occur and that life should be easy, comfortable, safe, predictable, and as we arbitrarily define it to be. All humans at times do it despite the fact it leads to misery and inaction! Thankfully, despite this strong biological tendency to think crookedly and immaturely about problems and threats we also have the capacity to think in a sensible, sane, and mature way about problems. REBT taps into this self-helping but difficult to access capacity to think in a sensible way about problems and threats. It shows you how to think sensibly when it is most difficult to do so. It precisely spells out how to think in order to cope and be resilient in the face of adversity. If you push yourself to do as REBT teaches you will feel negative feelings about your personal threats which are very adaptive and motivating. You will be at your best when the going gets rough! You will be energized to do what you can do to face the threat and to deal with it.
In order to use REBT you need to understand this point. Particular negative feelings are damn good! They are the fuel of action. Action leads to the prevention of problems and to the improvement of life conditions. The problem is sometimes we feel unhealthy negative emotions (e.g. depression, shame, anxiety, self-pity, guilt, unhealthy anger) all of which stem from our irrational rigid, immature philosophy and which block us from changing what can be changed. REBT helps you give up the irrational, self-defeating philosophy and unhealthy negative feelings which block us from changing what can be changed.
So push yourself to do what is most difficult but well within your capacity as a thinking human to do and hold flexible and nonextreme beliefs about your threats, loses and other adversities so that you feel the appropriate, healthy and motivating negative feelings of concern, sadness, remorse, disappointment, sorrow, healthy anger, healthy jealousy, and healthy envy. With these emotions go and take action and change what can be changed!