People often disturb themselves over what others do or fail to do by holding rigid beliefs such as:
“My husband absolutely should not be as impatient with me.”
“My adolescent absolutely should take my good advice.”
“My colleague must not be so competitive and manipulative.”
“People should be kind, fair and honest as I am.”
In REBT we encourage you to keep your fundamental values but to think in a flexible way about getting what you want. Absolute shoulds and musts are not flexible but are dogmatic ways of thinking. They lead to unhealthy negative emotions that interfere with relationships. There are few things written in stone as to how others are to be. Question your absolute shoulds and musts and see that there is no reason why a loved one, colleague, or fellow citizen absolutely should or must be as you wish them to be. There are plenty of reasons why you may prefer them to be a certain way, so hold onto to your preferences. Accept fallible humans “as is” without absolute shoulds and musts if you wish to live well with them.
Secondly, if you wish to effectively relate to others avoid confusing your opinion with the facts. There is unlikely an absolute truth to be mutually discovered. The context that events unfold in is an important consideration to be taken into account. This is not to say that all opinions equally match the available observable data of the context. REBT encourages you to observe reality carefully, have an opinion about what is going on in reality but do not hold it dogmatically and insist you know the absolute truth if you wish to effectively relate to your fellow human beings. Be willing to have an opinion that is disconfirmed by observable data and also be willing to admit that your opinion is wrong when it can be shown through observation that your point of view has flaws. Also be willing to agree to disagree without ill feelings.
Thirdly, in REBT we encourage semantic precision in the language you use to think and speak. If you think, “She always put herself first” you are probably overgeneralizing about what is actually going on in reality. Overgeneralizing about what you and others do will likely lead to all sorts of unhealthy emotional reactions and interfere with effectively relating to other people. It would be better if you were more careful with language and said to yourself “She very often puts herself first but occasionally does not” then you would more likely be thinking about reality as it is and then have a healthier emotional reaction to what is actually going on between you and the other person.
Finally, avoid globally rating people as either saints or sinners. You will be more likely to experience relationship problems if you do either but let’s focus on the perils of globally rating other people in a negative way. Global negative ratings of people tend to lead to unhealthy negative emotions and are probably overgeneralizations and distortions of what is likely to be going on in reality. People clearly misbehave and do all sorts of “bad” or “misguided” things to one another. However, fallible humans are very complex and do many, many things over the course of a lifetime. It is easier to get along with people when you only rate their deeds in the contexts of your values and their values rather than rating the person. Acknowledge that people are evolving and ever changing beings not to mention highly unpredictable. When people misbehave, it is good and self-helping for you to acknowledge their misbehavior, but it is not helpful to think of those people as bad, worthless, inadequate, etc. as this tends to ignore two things. It ignores instances when they have acted well in the past and it also presumes that the person will continue to misbehave. When you see a person as “bad” you are inclined to not perceive subsequent acts that are relatively good in the context of your values. You never can predict with absolute certainty how someone will act in the future so it pays to avoid labeling the person in a static way. Instead train yourself to only rate what others do or have done up to this point in time. This point of view is well represented in the biblical phrase “condemn the sin, not the sinner.” Hold people accountable for their deeds and when appropriate penalize them for those deeds. However, if you wish to avoid emotional upset that interferes with effective human relationships avoid confusing a person’s deeds with their essence. People are in a state of evolution and it is best to appreciate this as you think about them.
Are these four mistakes easily made by fallible humans? Sadly, the answer is yes. These mistakes tend to drive people apart. However, you do have the capacity to think about your thinking and how you relate to others. Work to limit how often you make these four mistakes. Strive to implement the teachings of REBT but accept that as a fallible human you will make these self-defeating mistakes and contribute to interpersonal tension and conflict. Strive to unconditionally accept yourself with the errors you make. Condemn your sin, not the sinner.