7 Teachings from Albert Ellis
The day that I learned about the life and work of Albert Ellis, I simply fell in love. After a long time of not understanding or believing in psychology very much, I learned that through good therapy, like Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, psychology can be a powerful weapon against many psychological problems.
This is how Ellis explained it, when he applied his own therapy to himself to overcome his shyness and his fear of being intimate with women. And I have to confess that my mind completely changed when I started to use it on myself, too.
1. The A-B-C model
According to rational therapy, it’s not the adverse situation that causes emotional distress. We actually make ourselves suffer with our thoughts and beliefs about the situation.
The A-B-C model teaches patients to put everything in order and look clearly at the relationship between thoughts and emotions.
The A stands for Activating event, which is the adverse situation or problem. The B stands for our Beliefs about what happened, and the C stands for the Consequences that these thoughts have on our emotions and our behavior.
If my Beliefs are rational, the Consequences will be healthy and normal, but if my Beliefs are irrational, the Consequences can be very unpleasant and negative.
2. Irrational beliefs
These fall under the B in the previously described model. When Beliefs are irrational, it means they don’t follow any logic or reason. They pass through our minds automatically without going through a process of reasoning that questions them or confronts them with reality.
As a Consequence, people suffer more then they need to and they don’t respond to the situation in the best way. Ellis posed that there are 11 basic irrational beliefs, although there can be as many of these as there are people in the world. The problem with these beliefs is that, as the name suggests, the person believes in them firmly and doesn’t contemplate any alternatives.
3. Unconditional acceptance of oneself
Ellis teaches us that all human beings have the same value, independent of our possessions and external characteristics. These things change or even wither away.
What we have today, we might not have tomorrow. If this happens, we haven’t lost any of our value as a person, which is intrinsic to ourselves from the moment we saw light for the first time.
If we internalize this idea, which is the truth, we’ll feel much freer and we’ll love ourselves unconditionally, without having to be attractive or successful, without needing to have a lot of money, because these things don’t determine our value. The most important thing is our capacity to love life and to love others.
4. Unconditional acceptance of others
Just like unconditional acceptance of oneself, in order to be happy and comfortable with others, we should practice unconditional acceptance of others. We should accept them the way they are, whether they’re beautiful or ugly, black or white, intelligent or not, rich or poor.
Everyone has the ability to bring us wonderful things, independent of their external characteristics which, as I’ve already said, are not important.
To free ourselves from anxiety, it’s very important to accept the people around us for both their flaws and their virtues, and not try to change them or weigh ourselves down with endless arguments with them. We won’t be able to change them easily. They key is to accept and value the virtues that they have, because everybody has virtues.
5. Tolerance of frustration
One of the keys to emotional health is to be tolerant of frustration, to accept that the world doesn’t always work the way you want it to and things won’t always go the way you want.
This is a reality that many people refuse to accept, which works out really poorly for them, and this is because of their irrational beliefs about the world. They think in terms of “should“: The world should be the way I want it to be. When this does not happen, they become anxious or depressed.
Tolerance involves accepting that sometimes things work out favorably and sometimes they don’t, and that we should tolerate this discomfort.
An alarmist is someone who thinks that something terrible is happening, something dramatic that they won’t be able to handle. They exaggerate the negatives of a situation.
This is a misconception that makes us even more anxious. It has been shown that human beings can tolerate almost any psychological blow. Therefore, the proper rational belief would be: “What is happening to me is very uncomfortable and unpleasant, but of course I’m able to handle it.”
7. Rational-emotive images
One of the techniques used in REBT to deactivate irrational beliefs is visualization. It helps to practice rational thought and to facilitate healthy emotions.
This involves the patient imagining a situation they’re afraid of as clearly as they can and feeling all the emotions that would come from it. Later, the patient is urged to exchange their exaggerated feelings for more appropriate feelings.
For example, they would exchange panic for displeasure, or depression for sadness. We can prescribe our own emotions if we make an effort to change the way we see things.