Take Control of Your FEELINGS

Eliminating stress, overcoming depression, dealing with worry and anxiety are all more in your control than you think.

Who’s Controlling Your Happiness?

By Dr. David L. Thomas, LMHC

Who’s in control of your happiness? Are you in someone’s spell or do you have complete command of your feelings? The key to a life filled with happiness is to first identify where your emotions are coming from.

Before you can take on the task of changing how you feel—and maintaining true happiness in your everyday life– it’s important to understand some basics about your thinking—your self-talk. It’s astounding how what you say to yourself affects how you feel!

By understanding, and utilizing rational thinking, it becomes easy to muscle the stress right out of your life. What’s rational thinking? The best answer is: The opposite of irrational thinking.

And it’s actually something that is not new. Much of its origin can be traced back to Greek and Roman philosophers, such as Zeno of Citium, Epicurus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.

More familiar names include ancient Asian philosophers, such as Confucius, Guatama Buddha, and Lao-Tsu.  Others too had a hand in the teachings, but more importantly: Are the basic ideas valid?

The assumption that we as humans are mainly responsible for how we think, feel, and behave is one of the cornerstones to change.  IT IS NOTthe events in our lives, which “cause” us to feel certain ways, such as depressed, anxious, guilty, or angry, but much more importantly it is how we think about these events which drive human emotions.

Subsequently, the behavior that follows is an extension of these emotions and both are directly related to how you think.  Therefore, if you want to change how you feel, and adopt new behaviors, it’s important for you to know what kind of thinking is driving the feelings you wish to rid.  Dispute it, challenge it, and replace it with new ideas, which promote health and happiness.

Some people resist the idea that others are not the cause of their emotions.  It’s common, yet quite irrational, to say: “He made me mad;” “this upcoming interview is making me a nervous wreck;” “I feel so bad that I hurt his feelings,” etc.

But the idea that you are mainly responsible for how you think, feel, and behave can be validated with a simple example.

The one I often use is this: let’s say we are at a social event interacting with old and new friends.  I decide to tell a joke.  This joke has sexual overtones and it is a mixed crowd.

One joke: we’ll call it the event. Is it reasonable to suggest that we’re going to get multiple reactions, feelings from the group?  Probably so! One joke, many reactions.

If it were true that events are responsible for how we feel then it would follow that each person would feel the same.  But they don’t!  How come?  The reason is each person thinks differently about the joke.

Thoughts are based upon 1) genetics, what some people call hard wiring, 2) your learning history both your direct teaching as well as the experiential learning or life experiences, and 3) how you feel at that time. 

You may be tired, hungry, had a long day, which will also affect how you think.  All this is the basis of your thinking and largely responsible for how you react to the joke.  One joke, multiple reactions. 

The joke does not have the power to create human emotions. Words cannot come out of my mouth, float through the air, bounce off the walls, jump into you body, and create an emotional reaction.

We say that thoughts are mainly responsible because we as humans have four basic life

processes: Perception, Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior.  These interrelate and therefore we cannot think without feeling, feel without behaving, behave without perceiving, nor engage in any life process in isolation. 

Our focus is on thinking because it is the most responsible for sustained emotions and behavior, which are the ones which most concern us.  Learn to identify your thinking, so you can maintain steady in light of difficult moments. This is how you’ll achieve a life filled with much more happiness.

Dr. David L. Thomas, LMHC

Whitford-Thomas Group, Inc.


Learn Healthy Thinking VS. Unhealthy Thinking to Feel Better.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (a form of CBT) is ideally suited for depression, anxiety, stress, anger, and more.

Understanding Irrational Thinking
by John Turton, Counsellor

Irrational is to say that the thinking does not match the reality, or what is actually  there, compared to what is perceived or interpreted in a person’s thinking.

(You may find it helpful to read “Irrational Beliefs vs. Rational Beliefs” before reading further.)

To describe a belief as irrational is to say that:

  1. It DISTORTS REALITY (It is a misinterpretation of what is happening).
  2. It involves some illogical ways of evaluating yourself, others, and the world around you:
  3. It blocks you from achieving your goals.
  4. It creates extreme emotions that persist, and which distress and immobilise.
  5. It leads to behaviours that harm yourself, others, and your life in general.

The three levels of thinking
Every individual has a set of general ‘rules’ – usually subconscious – that determines how they react to life. When an event triggers off a train of thought, what someone consciously thinks depends on the general rules they subconsciously apply to the event.

Let’s say that a person holds the rule: “To be worthwhile, I must succeed at everything I do.” If they happen to fail an examination, this event – coupled with the underlying rule – will lead them to the conclusion: “I’m not worthwhile.” Identifying underlying, general rules involves going beyond the surface INFERENCES to the client’s EVALUATIONS or PERSONAL MEANINGS. (continued below)

 1. Inferences (the things we “infer”)
In everyday life, events and circumstances trigger off two levels of thinking: inferring and evaluating. 

First, we make guesses or INFERENCES about what is ‘going on’ – what we think has happened, is happening, or will be happening. Inferences are statements of ‘fact’ (or at least what we think are the facts. They can be true or false). Inferences that are irrational usually consist of the following ‘distortions of reality’:

  • Black and white thinking Seeing things in extremes, with no middle ground – good or bad, perfect versus useless, success or failure, right against wrong, moral versus immoral, and so on.
    Also known as ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING.
  • Filtering: Seeing all that is wrong with oneself or the world, while ignoring any positives.
  • Over-generalisation Building up one thing about oneself or one’s circumstances and ending up thinking that it represents the whole situation. For example: “Everything’s going wrong”, “Because of
    this mistake, I’m a total failure”. Or, similarly, believing that some thing which has happened once or twice is happening all the time, or that it will be a never-ending pattern: “I’ll always be a failure”, “No-one will ever want to love me”, and the like.
  • Mind-reading Making guesses about what other people are thinking, such as: “She ignored me on purpose”, or “He’s mad at me”.
  • Fortune-telling Treating beliefs about the future as though they were actual realities rather than mere predictions, or example: “I’ll be depressed forever”, “Things can only get worse”.
  • Emotional reasoning Thinking that because we feel a certain way, this is how it really is: “I feel like a failure, so I must be one”, “If I’m angry, you must have done something to make me so”, and the like.
  • Personalising Assuming that something is directly connected with oneself, but without evidence: “Everyone is looking at me”, “It must have been me that made her feel bad”, and so on.

2. Evaluations                                                         
As well as making inferences about things that happen, we go beyond the ‘facts’ to EVALUATE (give a value or qualify) them in terms of what they MEAN TO US. Evaluations/meanings are sometimes conscious, though often are beneath awareness. Irrational evaluations consist of one or more of the following three types:

  • Catastrophising There are two main forms of catastrophising. ‘AWFULISING’ is exaggerating the consequences of past, present or future events; seeing something as: awful; terrible; horrible; the worst that could happen. It often leads to ‘CAN’T-STAND-IT-ITIS’ – the idea that one can’t bear (put up with; withstand; overcome) some circumstance or event. Both types serve the purpose of making people feel worse about their problems.
  • Demanding (musts and shoulds) Also known as ‘MUSTURBATING’, demanding refers to the way people use unconditional shoulds and absolutistic musts – believing that certain things must or must not happen, and that certain conditions (for example success, love, or approval) are absolute necessities. Demanding implies that certain ‘LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE’ exist and must be adhered to. Demands can be directed either toward oneself or others. This is probably the ‘core’ of irrational thinking: if we kept all our wants and rule-for-living as preferences, they would cause us little trouble.
  • People-rating (putting a label or value on others) People-rating refers to the process of evaluating one’s entire self (or someone else’s). In other words, trying to determine the total value of a person or judging their worth. It represents an overgeneralization. The person evaluates a specific trait, behaviour or action according to some standard of desirability or worth. Then they apply the evaluation to their total person – eg. “I did a bad thing, therefore I am a bad person.” People-rating can lead to reactions like self-downing, depression, defensiveness, grandiosity, hostility, or overconcern with approval and disapproval.

3. Rules [for LIVING]
Rules, as we saw earlier, are the underlying beliefs that guide how we react to life. What SPECIFIC EVENTS mean to someone (how they evaluate them) depends on the underlying (subconscious or automatic thinking). [Editor’s note: In summary the list below is the Irrational Beliefs we tend to hold, and by holding them they create the emotional uproars in our lives.]  

Dr. Albert Ellis proposed that a small number of core beliefs underlie most unhelpful emotions and behaviours. Here is a list of such ‘RULES FOR LIVING’

  1. I need love and approval from those significant to me – and I must avoid disapproval from any source.
  2. To be worthwhile as a person I must achieve, succeed at whatever I do, and make no mistakes.
  3. People should always do the right thing. When they behave obnoxiously, unfairly or selfishly, they must be
    blamed and punished.
  4. Things must be the way I want them to be, otherwise life will be intolerable.
  5. My unhappiness is caused by things that are outside my control, so there is little I can do to feel any better.
  6. I must worry about things that could be dangerous, unpleasant or frightening, otherwise they might happen.
  7. I can be happier by avoiding life’s difficulties, unpleasantness, and responsibilities.
  8. Everyone needs to depend on someone stronger than themselves.
  9. Events in my past are the cause of my problems – and they continue to influence my feelings and behaviours now.
  10. I should become upset when other people have problems, and feel unhappy when they’re sad.
  11. I shouldn’t have to feel discomfort and pain – I can’t stand them and must avoid them at all costs.
  12. Every problem should have an ideal solution – and it’s intolerable when one can’t be found.

Go here to read the 12 Irrational Beliefs and learn how to easily dispute them.

Bear in mind, that these rules here all represent absolutes held in the thinking, that cannot be sustained or fulfilled. They are a mismatch with reality and what can be delivered to them by reality. This is why when these rules, or inner thinking and beliefs are challenged by reality (what is actual rather than desired or perceived) the person who holds those beliefs, if left un-disputed, will become disturbed emotionally, and in their behaviour.

John Turton, Counsellor


Rational RELATIONSHIP Counseling

Marriage: Vicious and Delicious Circles
By Dr. Michael R. Edelstein

Marriages are said to be made in Heaven, which may be why they don’t work here on Earth.   –THOMAS SZASZ, The Untamed Tongue

Like most married couples, Carol and Steve agreed perfectly on what was wrong with their marriage — the other person’s reprehensible behavior.

As they entered my office for the first time, I immediately noticed their physical resemblance — they could have passed for brother and sister. They were both lean, dark-haired, and smartly dressed.

I introduced myself and offered a friendly handshake. They both responded mechanically and without warmth. Both answered my questions sullenly and refused to be drawn into free-flowing conversation.

In their answers, they accused each other of various relationship crimes. Carol, 32, was trying to balance a new career with raising a young child. She complained bitterly that Steve rarely talked to her, was overinvolved in his work, and spent too many evenings away from home. She sounded distant, as though she had already given up the relationship.

Steve, a year older than Carol, was a family practice physician. He lamented that Carol no longer responded to his amorous advances, never took his child-rearing advice seriously, and was under the thumb of her mother. He sounded hurt and betrayed.

Something Only You Can Do

I plunged in and gave them their first lesson in healthy relating and emoting, just as it was explained by the Roman philosopher Epictetus over 2,000 years ago: Only you can upset yourself about events. The events themselves, no matter how obnoxious, can never upset you.

“But when my wife rejects my sexual advances night after night, month after month, that’s very, very disappointing,” Steve interrupted, sitting on his anger.

“Yes, it is,” I said supportively.

“In fact it’s infuriating,” Steve added, getting more visibly upset.

“You choose to infuriate yourself about it,” I corrected, holding my ground. Now he began to get angry with me.

“I choose to infuriate myself about it? Carol’s the one who chooses which TV channel to watch all night,” Steve replied sarcastically.

“Yes, but you choose your reaction to that. Suppose a hundred husbands like you all had wives like Carol, who rejected their sexual advances every night. Would all one hundred of them be equally upset?”

“Well maybe not equally. Even I’m in a forgiving mood at times,” Steve said thoughtfully, his anger diminishing.

“Right. Some would be even angrier than you. Others would feel about equally as angry. Some would feel only mildly angry. And one or two would just feel keenly disappointed, without becoming angry at all.”

“I think I see what you mean.”

“And you can choose to feel keenly disappointed without becoming furious.”

Like most people, Steve wasn’t immediately convinced of this, but he was intrigued enough to give the idea a chance.

Taking the “Must” Out of Your Marriage

Suppose that you, like Carol and Steve, and most human beings on the surface of this planet, believe that your partner is upsetting you. What can you do? You can tackle the problem in three stages:

  1. Take responsibility for your upset;
  2. Identify your “musts”;
  3. Dispute your “musts.
  4. Take responsibility for your upset. Face the fact that no one else can ever upset you. Only you can upset yourself. No one can get into your gut and churn it up. Only you can do that, by the way you think.
  5. Identify your “musts.” Once you have fully acknowledged that only you can upset your own emotions, identify precisely what you’re telling yourself. The culprit can usually be found in one of three basic “musts”: a demand on oneself, a demand on other people, or a demand on “The Universe”. In marital frictions, these “musts” take the following forms:

    = “Must” #1 (a demand on oneself): “I MUST do well by my mate and get her approval, or I’m no good.”
    = “Must” #2 (a demand on others): “My mate MUST treat me well, or she’s no good.”
    = “Must” #3 (a demand on circumstances, or on The Universe): “The relationship MUST go well, or life’s no good.”

    Try to discover what you’re demanding of yourself, your partner, and your relationship. Not until you’ve identified your key “must” can you most effectively reduce your distress. As is often the case with feuding couples, Steve’s and Carol’s self-defeating thinking included all three “musts.”

    Steve’s “must” #1: “Because Carol is rejecting me, that conclusively proves what I’ve always suspected — that I’m just not good enough for her and will never have the loving, supportive wife that I MUST have.”

    Carol’s “must” #1: “I MUST have Steve’s undivided attention, and if I don’t get it that means he doesn’t care for me at all and that I’m worthless.”

    Steve’s “must” #2: “Since I’m her husband and she’s my wife, and I feel like having sex, she MUST always comply or else she’s a louse and deserves to roast in hell.”

    Carol’s “must” #2: “Steve SHOULD spend more time at home with the family, and he’s a louse because he doesn’t.”

    Steve’s “must” #3: “The relationship MUST provide me with sexual satisfaction whenever I desire it, and I CAN’T STAND being frustrated when I’m horny.”

    Carol’s “must” #3: “The marriage MUST last forever and never have significant problems, or else life is awful, terrible, and horrible.”

    6. Dispute your “musts.” Question and challenge those beliefs which are upsetting you. Once you’ve exposed your “musts” to the pitiless light of day, ruthlessly attack them. .

The only reason you could remain disturbed about marital problems is that you are vigorously and persistently telling yourself nonsense about them. Change that warped view to a “must”-free one, and the emotional disturbance will probably diminish, or even vanish.

You make that change by asking yourself, in writing or in your head, again and again: “What is the evidence for that “must,” “awful,” or “can’t stand it”?

Steve did ask himself — in the form of written Three Minute Exercises — “What is the evidence I MUST have an invariably supportive wife?” “What is the evidence she MUST comply with all my sexual requests?” “What is the evidence the relationship MUST provide me with total satisfaction?”

And he concluded, over and over: “No damned evidence. No reason I HAVE TO have an ever-supportive wife, since she may choose not to support me at times. She doesn’t always HAVE TO comply with my sexual requests, since I don’t run the universe. The relationship doesn’t HAVE TO provide me with total satisfaction since life and relationships often consist of one hassle after another.”

The Three Minute Exercise is a quick and easy method for analyzing and treating any emotional or behavioral disturbance. We label that disturbance “C” for “Consequence”. We then identify “A”, the “Activating Event,” the situation or occurrence which seems to precipitate the Consequence. Next, we try to find the “B” or irrational “Belief” that combines with the Activating Event to cause the Consequence. This “B” will usually be a “must” or unreasonable demand.

The next stage, “D”, is to dispute the irrational Belief, simply by questioning it, which leads to “E”, for “Effective new thinking,” a statement of the more reasonable way of thinking which denies “B.” Finally, if this works out OK, we arrive at “F”, the new, better “Feeling” which replaces “C.”

Once this method has been learned, it can be applied in three minutes, whenever the occasion arises. Actually learning the method, of course, takes somewhat longer.

Here, in one of Steve’s Three Minute Exercises, is how he reached some of those conclusions:

Steve’s Three Minute Exercise

A. (Activating event): Carol rejects my sexual advances.

B. (irrational Belief): She MUST have sex with me whenever I want it.

C. (emotional Consequence): Anger, fury, rage.

D. (Disputing): Why MUST she have sex with me whenever I want it?

E. (Effective new thinking): There’s no law of the universe stating Carol MUST have sex with me whenever I want it. I strongly prefer she does, but I don’t run the universe and I can’t control her inclinations.

Since she’s an independent human being with free will and free choice, she may decide not to have sex at times, perhaps even much of the time. That’s very unpleasant, but hardly a horror. Although I distinctly do not like cold, unsexy behavior in my wife, I can stand what I don’t like.

Rather than eating myself up inside about it, I had better face the fact once and for all that whenever I make an advance, Carol may reject me. How unfortunate! But in reality, the cost of enjoying the advantages of any marriage consists of suffering the disadvantages. I can accept that.

F. (new Feeling): Displeasure rather than anger.

The aim of a Three Minute Exercise is not to make you feel that the unpleasant stimulus (the Activating Event) is welcome, or a matter of no account or slight importance. You will usually continue to feel that the Activating Event (in this case Carol’s unresponsiveness) is unfortunate, unwelcome, or distasteful. Feeling that way will not unduly disturb you. The object of the exercise is to fully understand and appreciate, at the “gut” level, that, while you definitely prefer that things be different, there is no “must” about this.

How Vicious Circles Work

Nearly all serious marital problems involve vicious circles. A vicious circle arises when one partner’s response to the other partner’s unwelcome behavior actually encourages more of that unwelcome behavior. In the case of Carol and Steve, one vicious circle went like this:

  1. Steve didn’t like the infrequency of sex with Carol.
  2. Steve chose to react by trying to pressure Carol into having sex, by displaying coldness and hostility when this didn’t work, by spending less time with Carol, and by being less inclined to share concerns with her.
  3. Carol chose to respond by being less inclined to have sex.

A vicious circle can always be described from at least two points of view. In this case, we could equally well describe it as:

  1. Carol didn’t like Steve’s pressuring, coldness, and staying away.
  2. Carol chose to react by less frequently agreeing to sex.
  3. Steve chose to react to less frequent sex by pressuring, coldness, and staying away.

As a result of Steve’s Three Minute Exercise, some vicious circles were replaced by delicious circles. As Steve succeeded in reducing his resentment about Carol’s lack of sexual interest, Carol interpreted Steve as less antagonistic and more supportive. Much to Steve’s delight, sex became more frequent.

Steve then became more interested in spending more time with Carol and stopped devoting such long hours to work. Steve became more comfortable with sharing things with her. They talked things over more often, and Carol began to feel more comfortable about not always conforming to her mother’s wishes. She began to let Steve have his way more often with the kids’ upbringing. These events began a process in which Carol and Steve abandoned their resentment of each other, became more affectionate, and gave up any thought of ending their relationship.

It Takes Two to Tangle

In any vicious circle, each partner plays a necessary role. It follows that a vicious circle can be broken by either partner’s unilateral act. In this case, the vicious circle could have been broken by Steve unilaterally behaving in more desirable ways toward Carol, or it could have been broken by Carol deciding to agree to sex more often. This doesn’t mean that the outcome would be equally satisfactory for both parties, but either party can halt the vicious circle.

Some Common Vicious Circles

  1. Sheila wants Mark to talk to her more and tells him so.
  2. Mark feels criticized.
  3. Mark clams up.
  4. Charmaine thinks that Victor has become less interested in sex.
  5. Charmaine gets used to this idea, draws back, and becomes less physically affectionate.
  6. Victor notices this behavior of Charmaine’s, and also draws back.

1. Frank often works late at the office.

2. Alice feels slighted and acts more coolly to Frank.

3. Frank feels that home is a less welcoming place, and becomes more inclined to work late at the office.

  1. Andrea criticizes her lover Holly for not giving positive feedback.
  2. Holly feels resentful at being criticized.
  3. Holly becomes even less inclined to give Andrea positive feedback.

  4. Bill feels hurt by Jennifer’s insistent scolding.
  5. Bill reacts by becoming quiet and withdrawn.
  6. Exasperated by Bill’s unresponsive behavior, Jennifer tries to “get through to him” by scolding him more sharply and more frequently.
  1. Ruth is tormented by the thought that Harold has his mind on other women.
  2. Ruth chooses to react by always being ready to pounce on Harold, sharply monitoring the direction of his eyes and his thoughts.
  3. Harold doesn’t like receiving this suspicious attention, and finds consolation in day-dreaming about other women.

Applying Problem-Separation to Vicious Circles

A reader of my “Ask Dr. Mike” column recently presented me with this common marital dilemma: “My husband puts in such long hours at work that I rarely see him. When I do, he has nothing to say. I’m feeling resentful and hurt. Can you help me?”

I told her that she had two very different problems. Her Practical Problem was how to get her husband to spend more time with her and be more communicative. Her Emotional Problem was that she was unnecessarily upsetting herself.

Whenever someone is suffering emotionally, I have found that a simple procedure is immensely helpful in clarifying the situation:

  1. Identify the Practical Problem.
  2. Identify the Emotional Problem.
  3. Get the sufferer to look at the connection between her Practical Problem and her Emotional Problem.
    So I advised this reader to begin by tackling her Emotional Problem. It always has at its core some demand — of herself, another person, or a situation.

Her thinking went something like this: “My husband SHOULD spend more time with me. He MUST care for me. I SHOULD not allow him to treat me this way. I MUST do something to rekindle his love for me.” It was this kind of unreasonableness — fueled by her “musts” and “shoulds” — that was upsetting her, not her husband’s displeasing actions.

She would cease to be distraught if she changed her beliefs, getting rid of her “shoulds” and “musts.” She would view her plight differently if she said: “I strongly PREFER my husband spend more time with me, but I’m determined to enjoy my own projects when he’s not around. I don’t LIKE it when he ignores me, but I don’t run the universe and I don’t control him. I keenly DESIRE that he treat me better, but I’m never a worm, even if he doesn’t. I certainly WOULD LIKE to influence him, so I will act determinedly, not desperately.”

This more realistic thinking would be the best bet for solving her Emotional Problem. I advised her next to attack her Practical Problem systematically:

  1. “Make a concerted effort to discuss the issue with your husband. Convey your concern and find out how he feels about it.
  2. “In later discussions, suggest various remedies to the problem until you find some he is willing to try. For instance, have him tell you about his day or ask you about yours, discuss plans for future shared evenings, weekends, or vacations, or reminisce about past times together.
  3. “Even if he is at first unwilling to consider any modifications or talk at all, persist in bringing it up.

“If after some concerted effort you still get nowhere, consider other approaches:

  1. “Court him, and make the relationship so heavenly he decides to improve.
  2. “Suggest a deal, whereby you agree to alter some of your behaviors, in exchange for him agreeing to alter some of his.
  3. “Assume he’ll never reform, and just improve your own life.
  4. “Coolly assess the prudence of divorce. If the minuses of the marriage outweigh the pluses, and if this cannot be changed, divorce is the logical option. In that case, give an ultimatum as a last resort (and be prepared to stick to it), something like: ‘Although I love you, unless you take this seriously, or make changes, or get therapy, I’m leaving.’

“If, while attempting the above strategies, you find yourself becoming resentful, angry, or hurt, that means you are again creating emotional issues out of practical ones. Use the same technique again: Find your unrealistic ‘should’ or ‘must,’ then confront and refute it, kick it out, and resolutely return to implementing your problem-solving strategies.”

Often, people who take this advice find that their Practical Problem quickly becomes a whole lot easier. Once they start to question the demand that underlies their Emotional Problem, they may cease playing out one of the steps in a vicious circle. The woman reader, for example, may well have reacted to her husband’s staying away with some behavior that encouraged him to stay away. This behavior might include yelling at him, becoming tearful, or withholding sex. Once she recognizes her belief that he MUST spend more time with her to be pure foolishness, she may find herself easing back on some of these unhelpful responses.

However, the method of separating Emotional and Practical Problems is the best method, regardless of whether it also breaks a vicious circle. The possibility does exist that the other person’s behavior will not improve, even if you start to behave more rationally! But acting rationally is still the best policy.

A Disagreeable Duo

Donald and Donna agreed that their marriage was rapidly going down the tubes. When they spoke to each other in my office, they were both tight-lipped and reserved, Donald slightly defiant in his manner, and Donna quivering with injured dignity.

They had met while working at a small software company and had been married for three and a half stormy years before they finally came to me for counseling. Donald sported a trim blond beard and a lean and hungry look, while Donna carried 20 extra pounds.

Donald described himself as enjoying hard work. He frequently stayed late at the office. In addition, he was currently immersed in two other projects: adding a porch to their house and restoring his boat.

He complained that Donna felt like a failure and kept letting him know it. She was usually depressed, yet always had to have the last word. Donna, he said, would pressure him and get angry whenever he didn’t immediately take her hints to do needed chores around the house.

“She cuts me up and tells me I’m a failure. She tries to control me by telling me exactly how to run my life. She rants and raves when I don’t do every little thing her way, and then I get depressed and feel as though I have to walk on eggshells to avoid an emotional explosion.”

I turned to Donna, who seemed to be seething with suppressed emotion: “And what’s your side?”

She responded tersely that he had become more contentious lately. In the middle of an argument he would raise his voice, swear, kick, and punch things. He was unreliable, promising to fix things and then never getting to them. When he did work on some project, he would always leave a terrible mess. He was cold and indifferent except for sex, and he would always favor his own kids over hers.

Donna abruptly stopped talking and stared sullenly into space, fighting back tears. Since an emotional catharsis in the office would prove a waste of their valuable time and money, I offered Donna a tissue but continued my dialogue with Donald.

Counseling Half a Couple

Donna didn’t return after the first session, so I worked on the marriage with Donald alone. It was a bit like swimming with one hand tied behind my back — slow, difficult, and quite a challenge, with a diminished chance of total success. However, I explained to Donald about vicious circles and how one person could often improve matters by breaking the circle.

Later, I encouraged Donald to keep a “therapy notebook,” divided into various sections with titles such as “Irrational Beliefs,” “Situations where I get upset,” and “Undesirable emotions I experience.”

Over the next few weeks, Donald collected a number of his “Irrational Beliefs”:

  • Donna SHOULD not continually pressure me!
  • She MUST not cut me up!
  • Life OUGHT not to consist of unnecessary problems!
  • Donna SHOULD never say I’m a failure!
  • I SHOULD not have to restrict myself!
  • I MUST not upset Donna, and it’s AWFUL when she becomes so hostile and weepy!
  • Donna SHOULD not try to control my life!
  • I HAVE TO help the kids, or I’m a louse!
  • I MUST make the relationship succeed!
  • Donna MUST not punish me for not doing things her way!
  • My ex-wife MUST not endanger my relationship with the kids!

Over the next few sessions, Donald and I devised these homework assignments to improve the marriage:

  1. Write out a Three Minute Exercise every day and bring the past seven days’ output to me every week.
  2. Give Donna positive feedback every day.
  3. Speak to Donna without swearing.
  4. Speak to Donna without raising my voice.
  5. Speak to Donna without kicking or punching things.
  6. Go along with her nutty demands whenever possible, and when not possible, don’t become excited about it.
  7. Calmly do my own thing at times.
  8. Set up conversation times with Donna.
  9. Push myself to show affection to Donna, especially when I don’t feel like it.
  10. Read How to Live with a Neurotic by Albert Ellis.
  11. Remind myself twice a day of the bottom line: “I’m doing it for me.”
  12. Implement the above strategies for four months, then leave if they don’t work.

Donald’s Three Minute Exercise

(Activating event): Donna seems angry at me for something I did, but I haven’t the foggiest notion of what.

A. (Activating event): Donna seems angry at me for something I did, but I haven’t the foggiest notion of what.
B. (irrational Belief): I MUST not upset Donna. It’s AWFUL she’s so upset. I’m a skunk.
C. (emotional Consequences): Depression. Walking on eggshells.
D. (Disputing): Why MUST I not upset Donna? How is it AWFUL she’s so upset? How am I a skunk?
E. (Effective new thinking): Although I prefer not to distress Donna, no law of the universe states that I MUST not distress Donna. At worst I’m an imperfect person acting imperfectly, not a skunk.

Being human and fallible, Donna will disturb herself when she chooses to. I’m not in control of that. It’s sad that she does that to herself, but not the end of the world. She has angered herself in the past and survived, and unfortunately will anger herself in the future, but will probably survive. Depressing myself about it just makes matters worse, and doesn’t help Donna.

By philosophically accepting that all relationships have their difficulties, that another relationship might have fewer (or more) hassles, but never zero, I will diminish the distress I’ve been creating for myself.

As long as the advantages of this relationship outweigh the disadvantages, it would be wise to hang in while attempting to improve it, and minimize my unrealistic notions about it.

F. (new Feeling): Regret rather than depression. Being myself rather than walking on eggshells.

During the four-month trial period, Donald succeeded at softening his stubbornness, acting more attentively, giving Donna positive feedback, and greatly reducing his tantrums.

For her part, Donna appeared to become overtly less critical, but did not change significantly enough to make the relationship worth it for Donald. Not surprisingly, the last I heard from him he had left the marriage and was pleased he had finally done so.

It’s difficult for most individuals to be untroubled simply living with themselves. When two people attempt a partnership together, their problems are often compounded. However, when couples conscientiously use the Three Minute Therapy approach, they dramatically increase their chances of having a fulfilling relationship.


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Real life examples of how to make REBT work for you

What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about the things.
EPICTETUS (ca. A.D. 50-130)

Nearly everything in my book, Three Minute Therapy, flows from a single, simple fact: the way you feel, emotionally, arises from the way you think. Your feelings come from your thinking. For most people, this truth is usually overlooked or denied. Here are some typical statements from my clients:

“I’m furious ’cause my eight-year-old didn’t get to bed last night until 1 A.M.”

“I’m awfully afraid Jim won’t show up for this appointment” (spoken by Jim’s wife while waiting for her husband in my office).

“One impossible deadline after another. No wonder I’m so stressed out when I get home from work.”

“I’ve just discovered that my husband and my best friend have been carrying on for three weeks while lying to my face” (spoken by a wife, to explain her feelings of terrible injury and jealousy).

“My husband never talks to me: I’m so depressed.”

“I was raised by two alcoholic parents. No wonder I’m an alcoholic.” 

All these statements suggest that when something happens to you, when some event occurs in your life, that happening or event is sufficient to explain how you feel about it.

What these people are really saying is that exposure to a keenly obnoxious, disagreeable Activating event (we’ll call this event “A”) directly causes the emotional Consequence (call this “C”). These clients-along with most people-are expressing their view that there is a direct link between A and C, the unpleasant situation and their upset feeling.

Your Thoughts and Your Feelings

This is a very popular theory, but it’s a false theory. Events do not directly affect our psyches the way a needle in the arm causes pain (even then the pain has to go through our brain before we can feel it).

To get a glimpse of the correct theory, imagine that you are about to enter a room where someone awaits you. Your emotions will be related to your preconceptions, your thoughts or Beliefs (which we’ll refer to as “B”).

If you expect a violent criminal, you may very well feel afraid. If instead you anticipate that it’s your young child who has been missing for days, you’re likely to feel greatly relieved and overjoyed.

However, your beliefs, expectations, and anticipations-your B’s-are things that you generate and controlAnd it’s B that creates C: beliefs create emotions. A or the Activating event alone does not create emotions.

Suppose a hundred airplane passengers are unexpectedly given parachutes and instructed to jump from the plane (A). If a physical situation alone could cause emotions-if A could directly cause C-then all the hundred people would feel the same way. But obviously those who regard skydiving positively (B) are going to have a (C) very different from the others.

The fact that feelings come from thinking was known to the ancient Greek Stoics and to many Buddhist teachers. It has more recently been rediscovered by Dr. Albert Ellis and other psychologists and has been tested in practice by thousands of therapists.

Your Childhood is Irrelevant to Your Present Problems

Everyone knows that individuals respond very differently to similar events. Jane dreads her upcoming examination so intensely that she can’t sleep the night before, and walks into the examination hall shaking with terror. Her friend Barbara, who’s taking the same test, remains quite unruffled.

Clearly, a person’s response to events is not entirely explained by the events themselves, but owes something to the person. However, instead of looking at that person’s conscious beliefs, for example Jane’s beliefs about the test, therapists often try to explain the person’s feelings and actions through their “unconscious” minds.

Sigmund Freud developed this way of explaining human behavior early in the twentieth century, a method popularized by many Hollywood movies from the 1930s on.

Freud believed that our feelings and actions are caused by “unconscious” impulses-things that are in our minds but that we don’t know about…our minds are filled with dark, disguised forces of which we’re normally quite unaware. How did these mysterious forces get there? They allegedly originated in our childhood experiences.

Jane’s fear of the test might be explained by incidents in her early childhood. Freud believed that the way to cure Jane is to uncover the buried memories of those incidents, have Jane relive those incidents, and show how they cause Jane’s present anxiety about tests.

This excavation of Jane’s “unconscious mind” can be a long and expensive process. The therapist encourages the patient to reconstruct some childhood incident, and to accept the therapist’s theory about how this is related to the patient’s current problems.

This approach to solving people’s problems has become very well-known, and many people expect therapists to be interested in the details of their childhood.

But there’s actually NOT a scrap of solid evidence that memories of childhood agonies have much to do with a person’s continuing emotional difficulties, nor that uncovering those agonies will do anything to help the person now.

Even where a person’s current problems really are related to a past unpleasant experience, it’s the person’s present thinking about that experience that does the damage, NOT the experience itself.

The theory that our feelings and behavior are governed by “unconscious” forces is not only unsubstantiated–it could be harmful. 

If people with problems believe this theory, they could become demoralized. The theory suggests to people with emotional problems that they are the puppets of dark forces they cannot control or even recognize.

Instead of encouraging clients to feel that they are responsible for their problems and that they can do something about them right away, the theory suggests that the individual is helpless, even possessed. The individual is, in effect, encouraged to give up the struggle to be rational and effective.

“Shoulds” and “Musts”

Your feelings come from your thinking. This doesn’t mean that if you tell yourself everything is fine and you have no problems, then you will feel fine and your problems will disappear. 

The Three Minute Therapy method does NOT recommend “thinking positively,” telling yourself to cheer up, or fondly dwelling on comfortable images that everything is wonderful.

The advice glibly offered to emotional sufferers-“Worrying doesn’t do any good, so why worry?”-is usually of little help because the anxious person doesn’t know how to stop worrying. 

Such a person has a definite system of beliefs, which has become a fixed dogma, and which automatically generates distress. Without attacking and changing that system of beliefs, there will probably be little progress in reducing anxiety.

But the sufferer doesn’t think much about the system of beliefs, doesn’t consider that the beliefs might be questionable, and doesn’t notice how the beliefs lead to counterproductive and self-destructive behavior.

To start on the path to healthy thought patterns, it’s first necessary to identify the sufferer’s system of beliefs. This isn’t a lengthy process of excavating “unconscious” memories. Usually a few minutes of asking simple questions will elicit a person’s faulty thinking. 

If someone asks you whether you have a belief about the persistence of physical objects, you will probably be puzzled and hesitate to give a definite reply, or you may even reply in the negative.

However, you don’t pay much attention to the possibility that the chair you are sitting on will suddenly vanish, causing you to painfully bruise your buttocks on the floor. In this sense, you do indeed subscribe to a belief in the persistence of physical objects, and this belief determines your behavior. In this case, of course, the belief is broadly true.

In the same way, the beliefs responsible for emotional problems are deeply-rooted, unconsidered assumptions. And these beliefs are FALSE!  

Fortunately, when we wish to identify these beliefs, we start with an advantage. We already have a good idea, on the basis of the theories of Albert Ellis, and the experience of thousands of therapists employing his method, of the mistaken beliefs many people hold.

Such beliefs show a common pattern. They take the form of demands-“musts” or “shoulds.” For instance, a person faced with a public speaking assignment may believe that he MUST not look foolish in public, and that to do so would be TERRIBLE.

While it’s reasonable not to want to look foolish in public, it’s harmful to demand that this be guaranteed not to occur. Thus, the first step in curing public speaking anxiety is to accept, fully and without reservation, that nothing can possibly give you an iron-clad guarantee that you will not look foolish in public. You may possibly look foolish in public-to do so would be unfortunate, but not terrible.

The beliefs that give people emotional problems are evaluative beliefs. Virtually all emotion comes from evaluative thinking. Thus, if you just make a simple observation you will not feel emotion.

Let’s consider a statement such as “Jake admires me.”

That’s an assertion of fact only.

By itself it does not spawn feelings.

But if you add an evaluation, then you produce an emotion.

For example: “I like Jake admiring me.” “I love Jake admiring me.” “I dislike Jake admiring me.” “I loathe Jake admiring me.”

The strength of any “like” exists on a scale from 0 percent to 99.9 percent. (You can never prefer something at the 100 percent level because no matter how strongly you desire it, theoretically you could always yearn for it even more.)

If you prefer to be admired by Jake only slightly (at the 10 percent level, say) you will feel mildly pleased that he’s admiring you and mildly displeased should he despise you.

If, on the other hand, you prefer it at the 90 percent level, you will feel rather great when Jake admires you and greatly disappointed if he doesn’t. Thus preferences create emotions. Since the preferences are based on a scale from 0 percent to 99.9 percent, appropriate or reasonable emotions come from preferences.

On the other hand inappropriate or unreasonable emotions come from demands rather than preferences. What we call “demands” consist of magical, absolutistic, moralistic notions, and take the form of “musts” and “shoulds.”

For example: “Jake absolutely MUST admire me and it would be awful if he doesn’t!”

“Musts” and “shoulds” lead to dysfunctional emotions-emotions that eat away at you, such as angeranxietydepressionguilt, and self-pity. Demandingness also leads to self-defeating behaviors such as procrastination, violence, and addictions, including alcoholism, substance abuse, overeating, gambling, and compulsive shopping.

The key to the Three Minute Therapy method is that it’s perfectly rational and generally helpful to have preferences, especially quite strong preferences, but it’s irrational and harmful to turn these preferences into demands or “musts.”

The majority of emotional problems arise because individuals believe that something or other MUST be, or not be.

For example: “I MUST do well at school” (instead of “I PREFER to do well at school”); “I MUST not feel anxious” (instead of “It’s UNFORTUNATE that I sometimes feel anxious”); or “My spouse MUST not behave coldly toward me” (instead of “I find it UNPLEASANT when my spouse behaves coldly toward me”).

Allied with the judgment that something must (or must not) happen is the judgment that when it doesn’t (or does) happen, this is awful, terrible, horrible, shameful, or unbearable.

In many different ways, we will show how these judgments lead to personal difficulties. Thinking in terms of “musts” is the essence of unrealistic, irrational thinking, as well as self-defeating behavior. (Continued)

Page 2 > 3



by Dr. Michael R. Edelstein

High self-esteem is now viewed much as cocaine was in the 1880s–a wondrous new cure for all ills, miraculously free of dangerous side-effects.

Self-esteem is both the sacred cow and the golden calf of our culture. Nothing is esteemed higher than self-esteem, and no self-esteem can be too high. Nathaniel Branden, a leading exponent of self-esteem, raises the question: “Is it possible to have too much self-esteem?” and gives the resounding answer: “No, it is not, no more than it is possible to have too much physical health.”

What Self-Esteem Is

To esteem something means to have a high opinion of it. To have high self-esteem means holding a high opinion of oneself. This high opinion is usually based on a high overall rating of oneself as a person, and this high rating is in turn based on evaluating one’s actual performance. There are two popular views of self-esteem. One is the theory that it’s good for people to feel good about themselves, irrespective of how well or badly they have actually performed. If they esteem themselves highly, they will automatically do better–and even if they don’t do better, well, they’ll at least feel happier. This theory has been applied in recent years as an educational technique, the “self-esteem curriculum,” devoted to convincing students that they are wonderful and “special.” Educationally, it has yielded disappointing results.

The other approach to self-esteem seems to be popular with libertarians. This approach views self-esteem as something earned. If we perform better, we will then feel better about ourselves. We will rate ourselves more highly, and this will cause us to feel better. Feeling better is therefore our psychological reward for performing better. Usually, it’s also supposed to cause us, in turn, to perform even better.

At first glance, these two approaches seem to have little in common, but on closer examination, the first approach usually turns out to be a variant of the second. The teacher who tries to cultivate high self-esteem in her students usually does not say: “Feel good, no matter how badly you do!” Instead, the teacher deliberately lowers standards, so that the students get lots of praise for very minor achievements, while poor or mediocre work is accepted as adequate or better. And the proponents of earned self-esteem, when they confront the fact that many individuals make themselves needlessly miserable by comparing their performance to some ideal, also advise those individuals to lower their standards, so that they will feel better at a lower threshold of achievement.

In practice, therefore, both approaches to building self-esteem have a common thread: a person judges his performance to be good, then he forms a higher opinion of himself, not just his performance. Then he basks in the glow of contemplating what a terrific person he is. Then, he feels happier, and performs even better.

Doubts about High Self-Esteem

Psychiatrists, politicians, educators, and religious leaders have all been drafted into the movement to make people feel good about themselves. High self-esteem is the enchanting magic powder which will bring sobriety and civility to the teenage gangsters of the inner cities as well as bliss and fulfillment to depressed suburban housewives.

A multitude of therapists and gurus are quick to identify low self-esteem as the root cause of emotional disturbance, addiction, poor relationships, failure to learn in school, child abuse, and a host of other ills. Yet the evidence points in the other direction.

Studies on issues from smoking to violence, along with comprehensive reviews of the entire self-esteem literature, not only cast doubt on the benefits of high self-esteem but suggest that it might even be harmful.

Psychologists at Iowa State University have linked high self-esteem with the failure to quit smoking. “People with high self-esteem have difficulty admitting their behavior has been unhealthy and/or unwise,” writes researcher Frederick Gibbons.

A study popularized by Charles Krauthammer, writing in Time magazine, investigated the self-concepts of 13-year-olds in Britain, Canada, Ireland, Korea, Spain, and the United States. Each was administered a standardized math test. In addition, they were asked to rate the statement: “I am good at mathematics.” The Americans judged their abilities the most highly (68 percent agreed with the statement!). On the actual math test, the Americans came last. Krauthammer concludes: “American students may not know their math, but they have evidently absorbed the lessons of the newly fashionable self-esteem curriculum wherein kids are taught to feel good about themselves.”

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University and the University of Virginia conducted a comparison of evidence from a variety of studies concerning individuals involved with aggressive behavior of all kinds: assault, homicide, rape, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, political terror, prejudice, oppression, and genocide. In some studies, self-esteem was specifically measured; in others it was inferred. The authors concluded that “aggressive, violent, and hostile people consistently express favorable views of themselves.” It’s therefore pointless to treat rapists, murderers, and muggers by convincing them that they are superior beings, for this is precisely what such criminals typically believe already.

These researchers considered the possibility that in such cases observable high self-esteem was a disguised form of low self-esteem, but were unable to find any corroboration for it. The authors conclude that “the societal pursuit of high self-esteem for everyone may literally end up doing considerable harm.”

According to American Educator, psychologist and researcher Roy Baumeister has “probably published more studies on self-esteem in the past 20 years that anybody else in the U.S. (or elsewhere).” As Baumeister has observed, many violent crimes result when an individual defends a swollen self-image against a perceived attack. “They’ll lash out to try to head off anything that might lower their self-esteem.”

Baumeister concludes that “the enthusiastic claims of the self-esteem movement mostly range from fantasy to hogwash. . . . Yes, a few people here and there end up worse off because their self-esteem was too low. Then, again, other people end up worse off because their self-esteem was too high. And most of the time self-esteem makes surprisingly little difference.”

A comprehensive review of the self-esteem literature found that: “the associations between self-esteem, and its expected consequences are mixed, insignificant, or absent. This nonrelationship holds between self-esteem and teen age pregnancy, self-esteem and child abuse, self-esteem and most cases of alcohol and drug abuse.”

Millions of taxpayers’ dollars have been expended by the government on professional training to boost the self-esteem of teachers and students, and even more millions have been spent by private individuals paying therapists to help them enhance their self-esteem. Yet the available evidence does not support the theory that attempts to raise people’s self-esteem necessarily produce substantial benefits, and some evidence suggests high self-esteem may have pathological consequences. We should be cautious about accepting enthusiastic claims for the unalloyed benefits of high self-esteem.

Invisible Low Self-Esteem

How do advocates of building high self-esteem respond when confronted with this kind of evidence? They have two answers.

The first is to say that when a person seems to have high self-esteem and also has a screwed-up life, that person really has low self-esteem.

This reply has a certain plausibility, because we’re all familiar with the stereotype of the loud, brash, assertive person who is inwardly frightened, cringing, and self-doubting. Novelists and movie-makers love such characters, and they do occasionally exist. But mostly, in real life, if persons are outwardly loud, brash, and assertive, they are likely to be inwardly loud, brash, and assertive, or at least, more so than those who are outwardly timid or self-effacing. If someone exhibits obvious signs of thinking that he is one of the superior beings of the universe, chances are that he really believes–yes, way deep down–that he is one of the superior beings of the universe. In other words, he’s living in a fantasy world out of touch with reality.

Furthermore, if observable self-esteem is to be brushed aside as immaterial, then this has two difficulties.

Empirically, the claim that high self-esteem is good for you becomes unfalsifiable and therefore untestable. We are unable to determine whether there’s any truth in it.

Pragmatically, if we’re trying to help people to improve their lives, all we can work on is the observable. If we try to help them by building their self-esteem, this becomes futile unless we can be reasonably sure that we can tell whether their self-esteem has gone up or down. The building of a kind of self-esteem which can never be discerned in someone’s behavior (including what that person says) is not really a practical plan.

Authentic and Inauthentic Self-Esteem

The second answer of the self-esteem promoters to the discouraging evidence on the practical results of self-esteem is to make a distinction between “authentic” and “inauthentic” self-esteem. Only authentic self-esteem brings true happiness, they claim.

As self-esteem in practice means feeling good about yourself because of how well you have done, increasing your self-esteem requires watching your behavior to see whether you have in fact done well. Self-esteem promoters often disagree about what aspects of your behavior you should be watching.

We can look at it this way. Advocates of high self-esteem think: I must do x. If I manage to at least do x, I can congratulate myself on being a good person. If I do less than x, then it follows that I will judge myself to be a bad person.

The advocates of high self-esteem frequently disagree on what “x” is. They each have their own favored criterion for assessing performance, their own choice of x, or perhaps their own varying standards for measuring x. But they all agree that the name of the game is pursuit of a feeling of self-worth, to be attained by doing (at least).

According to Nathaniel Branden, for example, x equals “the choices we make concerning awareness, the honesty of our relationship to reality, the level of our personal integrity.” Branden warns against deriving self-esteem from success in particular pursuits–in Branden’s view that would be what we are calling “inauthentic” self-esteem. Branden maintains that we’re worthwhile as humans if we make good choices, act honestly and act with integrity. We can then esteem ourselves highly because we can tell ourselves, in Branden’s words, “I coped well with the basic challenges of life.”

When the self-esteem concept is criticized, its proponents can defend it by explaining that the reason self-esteem didn’t seem to work in a particular case is not that the very concept is flawed, but rather that the wrong “x” was chosen. Therefore the self-esteem that resulted was not authentic self-esteem but “pseudo-self-esteem.”

But notice that all self-esteem theory has the same pattern, though this is not usually clearly spelled out. First, you set a goal. Second, you act in pursuit of that goal. Third, you observe your action and its consequences. Fourth, you evaluate your action. Fifth, you globalize that evaluation: you move from evaluating your action to evaluating yourself as a total person. And sixth, you ( supposedly) feel and act better thereafter if you decide you’re a great person, or you (supposedly) feel and act worse if you conclude you’re a pathetic loser.

The Alternative to Self-Esteem

The desirability of raising self-esteem seems persuasive because people with serious emotional problems often have low self-esteem: they hold a low opinion of themselves and dwell on their shortcomings. So it’s an appealing idea to improve individuals’ rating of themselves, and this seems to require getting them to hold a higher opinion of themselves–building their self-esteem.

The way of thinking I have just outlined may seem at first to be so obvious as to be unquestionable. But in fact, it commits an error. It assumes that the only alternative to giving yourself a low rating is to give yourself a high rating. This way of thinking considers only two alternatives: either you rate yourself as a bad person (a failure, a louse, a nothing) or your rate yourself as a good person (a success, a paragon, a fine human being). That ignores another option: don’t rate yourself at all.

It’s the essence of the gospel of self-esteem that you should rate yourself highly. Almost unnoticed is the assumption that you can’t avoid rating yourself, and equally inconspicuous is the practical corollary of raising your self-esteem: if you set out to “build your self-esteem,” you become preoccupied with your rating of yourself.

Not rating yourself, refraining from self-rating, means that you can evaluate what you do without drawing conclusions about yourself as a total person. For instance, if you are frequently late for appointments, you may think, “Being late for appointments has consequences I don’t like. Is there some way I can stop being late?” You don’t have to think, “Because I am often late for appointments I am a loser.” You don’t need to draw any conclusions about your total self. That may sound unobjectionable. But suppose that you conquer your habit of being late. Now, you’re always punctual. What harm can it do to pat yourself on the back? Why not think, “I’m an admirably efficacious person, because I’m always on time”?

It can indeed do harm! You are drawing comfort and sustenance from your judgment that you are a fine person, and you are requiring yourself to perform well to support that judgment. This leads to anxiety. Moreover, the next time you don’t perform so well, you will then be liable to feel, not just regret and sadness that you didn’t do what would have been best, but demoralization and discouragement, because you now have evidence that you are not such a good person.

We can acknowledge that low self-esteem may be a problem, without recommending high self-esteem. If someone has low self-esteem, we need not try to replace that person’s low self-esteem with high self-esteem. We can instead encourage them to stop globally evaluating themselves. Instead of low self-esteem or high self-esteem, they can have no self-esteem. Or better, since “no self-esteem” sounds like low self-esteem, they can do without self-rating.

If we do not rate our total selves as good or bad, what attitude is it best for us to take towards ourselves? Instead of esteeming ourselves, we can unconditionally accept ourselves as we are. No matter how well we perform, no matter how brilliant our accomplishments, we are always imperfect, fallible human beings. Conversely, no matter how badly we screw up, we always do some things right (as demonstrated by the fact that we have survived this far).

Unconditional self-acceptance doesn’t mean that we don’t want to change anything. It means that we unconditionally accept the reality of who we are and what we are like. This does not involve any overall evaluation of our worth or quality as human beings. It means that nothing that we do will make us believe that we are, in toto, terrific or terrible, heroic or horrible, godlike or goblinlike.

Having unconditionally accepted ourselves, we can then concentrate on what we do and how we can improve it–not because this will make us feel wonderful about ourselves–give us high self-esteem–but because we will then more effectively accomplish the goals we have set ourselves, and feel wonderful about that.

The Gap in Self-Esteem Theory

There’s a strange aspect of the reasoning of many self-esteem theorists. They often seem to assume that if you perform well according to their chosen x, this will automatically cause you to esteem yourself highly. Robert Ringer, for instance, states: “It takes a good deal of practice to play the game effectively but a good player reaps the rewards of self-esteem, the self-esteem which comes from knowing who you are, what you stand for, and where you’re going in life.”

What is odd about this view is that Ringer appears to believe that self-esteem wells up spontaneously within you if you do something. He doesn’t seem to understand that, whatever you do, this can only affect your self-esteem if you evaluate what you have done, and evaluate your total self based on what you have done, that this requires judging your behavior and your self according to some standard, and that you are free to perform these mental acts of evaluation or not to perform them.

Nathaniel Branden also writes as though he believed that if you have coped well with the basic challenges of life (his nominated “x”), this must automatically cause you to possess high self-esteem.  And, presumably, if the truth is that you have not coped well with the basic challenges of life, that must automatically cause you to possess low self-esteem.

You are apparently unable to react in any other way, for example by concluding: “I haven’t coped well with the basic challenges of life but I’m not going to let this get me down.” Or: “I haven’t coped well with the basic challenges of life. Tough shit! I’ll just try harder.” Or: “I haven’t coped well with the basic challenges of life. What a fascinating specimen I am! I’ll write a novel about myself.”

Self-esteem advocates often seem to assume that judging your total self is involuntary, and automatic. However, esteeming oneself involves choices among alternatives: you choose to act, you choose to evaluate your actions, you choose to extend the evaluation of your actions to an evaluation of your total self, you choose the standard by which your total self will be evaluated.

To esteem our selves or to rate our selves flows from choices we make in how we will think: cognitive choices. If we fail at some endeavor, or a whole series of endeavors, we are not fated to think the worse of ourselves. If we do draw the conclusion that we are worse as persons because we have failed in some specific endeavors, that conclusion arises from our philosophy of life, our beliefs, our habits of thought.

When I say that these are matters of choice, I mean this in the same way that learning a foreign language is a matter of choice. Changing our habits of rating or not rating ourselves requires repetition and reinforcement over a period of time. We may in the past have unreflectively accepted that when we screw up (or fail to “cope well with the basic challenges of life”), this diminishes our worth as persons. At the moment when we draw this conclusion, it may therefore indeed be “automatic.”

In exactly the same way, the horror of a superstitious person when a black cat crosses his path may be automatic and may seem involuntary. But that person can question the validity of his superstitious belief and can, over time, learn to accept that a black cat is not something to be dreaded.

The conviction that our self-worth rises or falls according to our performance is indeed a kind of superstition. If we were to discuss the experience of dread which seizes a superstitious person who has seen a black cat, as though this feeling did not depend upon that person’s superstitious beliefs but flowed simply from his seeing a black cat, we would be obscuring the vital part played in this seemingly automatic process by the person’s beliefs–beliefs which can be changed, though changing them may take persistent effort.

Problems with Self-Esteem

Fifty years ago, marathon runner and writer Trevor Smith, then 15, spent a hiking vacation with a group of classmates, climbing Switzerland’s Stanserhorn. One thousand feet from the summit, exhausted and struggling, Smith chose to turn back.

Later that evening at dinner, reunited with all his classmates, Smith “saw the glow of satisfaction on the faces of the boys who made the summit safely . . . I regretted bitterly that I had quit when others succeeded.” Smith continues to view the decision to abort his ascent as so horrible that even today he relives it “as if it happened yesterday.”

As an adult, Smith climbed peaks, paddled white water, and ran hundreds of races. He concludes: “Sometimes I’ve paid a high price in discomfort and many injuries. But achieving goals gave a feeling of self-esteem that healed everything.” Smith’s lesson for his readers? Develop high self-esteem. “Tell yourself that you can do just about anything that any other human being can do . . . If you believe you can do just about anything, usually you can.”

Trevor Smith’s thinking illustrates the essence of the self-esteem notion: self-rating. When you do well you rate yourself as a “good” person, you have high self-esteem; you can do anything. When you do poorly, you’re a worthless failure. (Or if not worthless, you’re certainly worth less.) So your motivation to do well is that you will derive satisfaction from proving that you’re a good person.

Smith’s widely accepted but dangerous view of self-esteem illustrates its inherent traps. If you subscribe to his self-esteem notion, when you do well you’ll tend to take an overblown, grandiose view of your self. And when you do poorly you’re likely to feel depressed and hopeless. Many people who pursue this approach live their lives either anxiously and compulsively striving to prove themselves (instead of enjoying themselves by striving to attain their goals) or phobically avoiding challenging and competitive situations.

In the 1960s, Joe Pine, an acerbic conservative TV talk show host, had as his guest the long-haired rock musician Frank Zappa. Pine was prone to surliness, which a leg amputation–he wore a wooden prosthetic–may have exacerbated. As soon as Zappa had been introduced and seated, the following exchange occurred:

PINE: I guess your long hair makes you a girl.
ZAPPA: I guess your wooden leg makes you a table.

This brings out another of the attendant difficulties with the pursuit of self-esteem. If I am to decide whether I am doing well or badly as a total person, I have to somehow reduce to a common measure all the varied aspects of my performance in different fields, to come up with a single score or rating of my self.

Individuals are unique and many-faceted. “Weighting” all the different aspects of one’s behavior is unavoidably subjective. Suppose that your daughter is an excellent swimmer but a poor runner, or is well above average in math but well below average in languages, or is often unusually considerate of her little brother but sometimes mercilessly teases him to the point of tears. There is no objective method for making these different behaviors commensurable.In practice, people who pursue self-esteem usually don’t get very far in trying to formulate a weighted evaluation of all their performances. Instead, they tend to fall back on some formula which grossly oversimplifies the picture. For example, a child may become convinced that he is no good because he has done poorly at spelling. He may then give up trying, using as an excuse the “fact” that he is a no-good failure.Furthermore, people often change–not all at once, overnight, but in particular ways continually. As Albert Ellis puts it, “People’s intrinsic value or worth cannot really be measured accurately because their being includes their becoming.”

Another problem is that once we get into the habit of thinking that we are good because we have performed well or bad because we have performed poorly, we generally find that this is not symmetrical. There is something innate in human beings–perhaps it has survival value–to pay attention to what is creating discomfort and to pay no attention to what is going OK. Self-raters therefore tend to drift downward in their self-rating, drawing gloomy conclusions when they fall short, and not fully balancing these with optimistic conclusions when they do well. This tendency is all the more powerful because of a fact I have omitted to mention so far, for the sake of simplicity. People who rate themselves always find in practice that “feeling good” or “feeling bad” about themselves is not stable. So, when we say that someone has high or low self-esteem, we’re referring to an average: how good they feel about themselves always fluctuates. Our moods fluctuate naturally, and hanging our sense of well-being on the peg of our self-rating tends to magnify the mood swings.

Just Say No to High Self-Esteem

It is rational to be concerned about your effectiveness in pursuing your goals, and therefore in dealing with problems that arise. It is not rational to be concerned about your overall rating as a person.

The pursuit of high self-esteem, even where it seems to be working for a while, can be hazardous. And at best, self-esteem accomplishes nothing important that can’t be accomplished by self-acceptance.

Go here for more tips and explanations of how to overcome issues with self-acceptance. 

From Three Minute Therapy: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life   Dr. Michael R. Edelstein
Clinical Psychologist, San Francisco


What is Generalized ANXIETY Disorder?

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder? (GAD)

The essential characteristic of Generalized Anxiety Disorder is excessive uncontrollable worry about everyday things. This constant worry affects daily functioning and can cause physical symptoms. GAD can occur with other anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, or substance abuse. GAD is often difficult to diagnose because it lacks some of the dramatic symptoms, such as unprovoked Panic Attacks, that are seen with other anxiety disorders; for a diagnosis to be made, worry must be present more days than not for at least 6 months.

The focus of GAD worry can shift, usually focusing on issues like job, finances, health of both self and family; but it can also include more mundane issues such as, chores, car repairs and being late for appointments. The intensity, duration and frequency of the worry are disproportionate to the issue and interferes with the sufferer’s performance of tasks and ability to concentrate. Physical symptoms include:

  • Muscle tension;
  • Sweating;
  • Nausea;
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort or diarrhea;
  • Cold, clammy hands;
  • Difficulty swallowing;
  • Jumpiness

Sufferers tend to be irritable and complain about feeling on edge, are easily tired and have trouble sleeping.
From: Anxiety Disorders Association of America


ANXIETY: Defining Panic Disorder (Panic Attacks)

A Panic Attack is defined as the abrupt onset of an episode of intense fear or discomfort, which peaks in approximately 10 minutes, and includes at least four of the following symptoms:

  • a feeling of imminent danger or doom;
  • the need to escape;
  • palpitations;
  • sweating
  • trembling;
  • shortness of breath or a smothering feeling;
  • a feeling of choking;
  • chest pain or discomfort;
  • nausea or abdominal discomfort;
  • dizziness or lightheadedness;
  • a sense of things being unreal, depersonalization;
  • a fear of losing control or “going crazy”;
  • a fear of dying;
  • tingling sensations;
  • chills or hot flushes.

There are three types of Panic Attacks:
1. Unexpected
 – the attack “comes out of the blue” without warning and for no discernable reason.
2. Situational – situations in which an individual always has an attack, for example, upon entering a tunnel.
3. Situationally Predisoposed – situations in which an individual is likely to have a Panic Attack, but does not always have one. An example of this would be an individual who sometimes has attacks while driving.

Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder is diagnosed when an individual suffers at least two unexpected Panic Attacks, followed by at least 1 month of concern over having another attack. Sufferers are also prone to situationally predisposed attacks. The frequency and severity of the attacks varies from person to person, an individual might suffer from repeated attacks for weeks, while another will have short bursts of very severe attacks.

The sufferer often worries about the physical and emotional consequences of the Panic Attacks. Many become convinced that the attacks indicate an undiagnosed illness and will submit to frequent medical tests. Even after tests come back negative, a person with Panic Disorder will remain worried that they have a physical illness. Some individuals will change their behavioral patterns, avoiding the scene of a previous attack for example, in the hopes of preventing having another attack.

Agoraphobia often, but not always, coincides with Panic Disorder. Agoraphobia is characterized by a fear of having a panic attack in a place from which escape is difficult. Many sufferers refuse to leave their homes, often for years at a time. Others develop a fixed route, or territory, from which they cannot deviate, for example the route between home and work. It becomes impossible for these people to travel beyond what they consider to be their safety zones without suffering severe anxiety.

The age of onset of Panic Disorder varies from late adolescence to mid-thirties. Relatively few suffer from the disorder in childhood.



ANXIETY: Defining Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

Social Phobia Defined
(Social Anxiety Disorder)

Social Phobia is characterized by an intense fear of situations, usually social or performance situations, where embarrassment may occur. Individuals with the disorder are acutely aware of the physical signs of their anxiety and fear that others will notice, judge them, and think poorly of them. This fear often results in extreme anxiety in anticipation of an activity, a Panic Attack when faced with an activity, or in the avoidance of an activity altogether. Adults usually recognize that their fears are unfounded or excessive, but suffer them nonetheless.

Symptoms of Social Phobia manifest themselves physically and can include:

  • palpitations
  • tremors
  • sweating
  • diarrhea
  • confusion
  • blushing

Blushing when in social situations is particularly common and often causes the sufferer further  embarrassment.

Onset of the disorder is usually in mid to late adolescence, but children have also been diagnosed with Social Phobia. Children with the disorder are prone to excessive shyness, clinging behavior, tantrums and even mutism. There is usually a marked decline in school performance and the child will often try to avoid going to school or taking part in age appropriate social activities. Their fears are centered on peer settings rather than social activities involving adults, with whom they may feel more comfortable. For a child to be diagnosed with Social Phobia, symptoms must persist for at least six months. 

Anxiety Disorders Association of America


Treatments for DEPRESSION

Treatments for DEPRESSION

Clinical depression is one of the most treatable medical illnesses and getting treatment can save lives. The most commonly used treatments are antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. The choice of treatment depends on how severe the depressive symptoms are and the history of the illness. When you talk to your doctor and/or other mental health professional, it is important to explore the range of treatment options.

The symptoms of depression are caused by imbalances in chemicals in the brain and other parts of the body that influence things like mood, sleep, and how much energy we have. Antidepressant medication acts on chemical pathways of the brain. There are many extremely effective antidepressants. The two most common types are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). Recent research strongly supports the use of medication for the more severe episodes of clinical depression.

Antidepressant medications are not habit-forming. It may take up to eight weeks before you notice an improvement. It is usually recommended that medications be taken for at least four to nine months after the depressive symptoms have improved. Those with chronic depression may need to stay on medication to prevent or lessen further episodes.

As with any medication, side effects may occur. Make sure you are under the supervision of a doctor or other qualified mental health professional to ensure the best treatment with the fewest side effects.


Talking with a trained mental health professional can help teach better ways of handling problems. Therapy can be effective in treating clinical depression, especially depression that is less severe. Scientific studies have shown that short term (10-20 weeks) courses of therapy are often helpful in treating depression.

Cognitive/behavioral therapy (CBT and REBT) helps change negative styles of thinking and behavior that may contribute to clinical depression.

Interpersonal therapy focuses on dealing more effectively with other people, working to change relationships that can cause or worsen clinical depression.

Natural Treatments

As an alternative to prescription medications, there are many depression sufferers who have gotten relief from herbal and all-natural supplements.  Learn more about the latest all-natural depression relief here.

Other Treatments

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is radical treatment that may be recommended in the following cases:

  • when people cannot take or do not improve with medication
  • when the risk of suicide is high, or
  • if someone is debilitated due to another physical illness.

ECT has been improved to make it a safer and more effective form of treatment. It is intended for the more severe depressions and for patients who either cannot tolerate medication because of a medical condition or who are at immediate risk for suicide.

It still remains a controversial treatment for some people who may experience troubling side effects such as memory loss. A thorough discussion between patient and doctor needs to take place when ECT is being considered.

Making the most of your treatment

Make treatment a partnership
Treatment is a partnership between the person with clinical depression and their health care provider. Be sure to discuss treatment options and voice your concerns with your doctor or therapist. Become informed – ask questions and demand answers.

Take medications wisely
Don’t stop taking your antidepressant medication too soon or without your doctor’s knowledge. Inform your doctor about any side-effects. Remember, it may take up to eight weeks before you start feeling better. It is usually recommended that you take your medication for four to nine months after you feel better in order to prevent a recurrence of clinical depression. Carefully follow your doctor’s instructions to be sure you take a sufficient dose.

Change your treatment or get a second opinion
Treatment changes may be necessary if there is no improvement after six to eight weeks of treatment, or if symptoms worsen. Trying another treatment approach, another medication, or getting a second opinion from another health care professional may be appropriate.

Join a patient support group
In addition to treatment, participation in a patient support group can also be very helpful during the recovery process. Support group members share their experience with the illness, learn coping skills and exchange information on community resources.

Take care of yourself
Take good care of yourself during treatment for clinical depression. Be sure to get plenty of rest, sunshine, exercise and eat nutritious, well-balanced meals. Reducing the stress in your life will also help. Share this information with your family and friends and ask for extra support and understanding. Many people also find strength and support through their religious affiliations.