The “I Can’t Stand-it-itis” Problem, According to Albert Ellis

· July 10, 2018

Rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT), is based on the idea that we interpret all the information that comes our way. This is as true for our external world (social settings, situations, and events) as it is for our internal world (feelings, emotions, sensations). All those things are stimuli that work like activators (or precursors) for our beliefs. This has a lot to do with why some people experience certain things as disasters and other people don’t. It’s also why Albert Ellis ended up creating this model:

A (internal or external events) ⇒ B (beliefs, which are like your filter when you interpret things) ⇒ C (emotional consequences of your interpretations).

Albert Ellis

The irrational beliefs that Albert Ellis spotted in the patients who came to his office

Albert Ellis worked as a psychologist and researcher for a very long time. He ended up reaching the conclusion that we all have a bunch of limiting, extremely strict beliefs. He thought that these were the things that lead to our emotional and psychological discomfort. 

The 11 irrational beliefs Albert Ellis spotted

  • “Human adults have an extreme need to feel love and approval from just about everyone important in society.”
  • “If you want to see yourself as valuable, you have to be good enough, competent, and able to achieve anything in every walk of life.”
  • “Some people are just plain despicable, evil, and vile, and we should blame and punish them for their evilness.”
  • “It’s terrifying and disastrous when things don’t go exactly the way you’d like them to.”
  • “I play no part in any bad things that happen to me, and have no control over my emotional pain and discomfort. “
  • “If something is or might be dangerous, I must feel extremely uncomfortable about it. I must also constantly think about the chance that it might happen.”
  • “It’s easier to avoid certain responsibilities and hardships in life than it is to face up to them.”
  • “I must depend on others and I’ll always have to put my faith in someone stronger and better than me.”
  • “My past plays a huge role when it comes to my behavior in the present. So anything that once happened to me and made a big impact must keep affecting me forever.”
  • “I must feel worried about other people’s problems and emotional discomfort.”
  • “There must always be an accurate, correct, perfect solution for my problems. So if I can’t find that solution, disaster must be waiting to happen.”

The consequences of having these irrational beliefs

We’re not going to dig into each and every one of these ideas right now. But it’s worth remembering that having at least one of these beliefs rooted into you is a big problem. It leads to one of the biggest problems facing people who seek psychological help: “I can’t stand-it-itis.” In other words, it happens when one of these beliefs doesn’t come true. It happens with people who stick firm to their beliefs and have a low tolerance for frustration. They literally just “can’t stand it” when they don’t get satisfaction. This whole process leads to a lot of psychological discomfort.

What is I can’t stand-it-itis?

When you interpret your reality through the lens of irrational beliefs, you end up feeling unhappy. This is because, without realizing it, you’re filtering everything you experience through these unrealistic, irrational beliefs. In other words, they’re beliefs that make it so you classify everything that happens to you based on whether it causes you frustration or not. The whole thing is extremely complicated because in the end, the beliefs are wrong.

This is how the I can’t stand-it-itis problem shows up. It comes from magnifying your feeling of frustration when your beliefs don’t come true, or when reality proves them wrong. People with I can’t stand-it-itis magnify just about every daily setback or inconvenience they have to deal with. They’re also really demanding with themselves, the people around them, and their environment. They try to make it so everything lines up with the way they think it should be. But since they have such rigid beliefs, they constantly experience unpleasant emotions.

concerned woman with I can't stand-it-itis

We’re going to put it another way. I can’t stand-it-itis happens when your irrational beliefs play a part in interpreting your life, understanding your past, and envisioning your future. Another consequence of letting irrational beliefs play this role is that you might start to develop alarmism or “blamism.” The first thing means you see everything as awful and dramatic. The second one means blaming other people for everything. The difference between all the problems that come from irrational beliefs is basically how exactly you experience it all.

How do you know if you have I can’t stand-it-itis?

People with this issue have a really low tolerance for frustration. It’s also really hard for them to adapt to any changes, and they aren’t flexible on a psychological level. They want everything one way and won’t accept anything that’s different from how they wanted it. Ellis thought that there was a huge link between emotional discomfort and the 11 irrational beliefs. That’s why the whole goal of his therapy was to identify and change a patient’s incorrect inferences and the dogmatic, absolute beliefs that lead to those inferences.

Obviously if you have I can’t stand-it-itis, you want to cure yourself. Albert Ellis came up with some specific psychological techniques you can use depending on what you want to change. That’s why rational emotive behavioral therapy uses cognitive, emotional, and behavioral techniques to help you. We’re going to look at some of them now.

REBT techniques to work on your I can’t stand-it-itis

Cognitive techniques

  • Arguing about or debating irrational beliefs (specifically the major one).
  • Written tasks to identify and change your thoughts.
  • Referencing (the advantages and disadvantages of keeping a habit).
  • Problem solving. This means looking at life in terms of problem solving. You have to take an attitude of looking for what you’d prefer, not what you, or other people demand.
  • Semantic accuracy. This means using the right words to express yourself, because language has an impact your thoughts.
  • Teaching rational emotive behavioral therapy to other people.

Emotional techniques

  • Exposing yourself to undesirable emotions.
  • Emotional expression techniques. 
  • Unconditional acceptance on a cognitive, verbal, emotional, and behavioral level. This makes it easier for the patient to reach unconditional self-acceptance.
  • Using stories, myths, jokes, parables, and songs.
  • Exercises for overcoming shame or embarrassment. 
  • Exercises to help patients do self-revelation about something intimate, secret, or embarrassing.

Behavioral techniques

  • Self-imposed rewards and punishments supervised by the therapist and/or a family member.
  • Real-time exposure, more of a flood than a slow start.
  • Training certain skills.
  • Stimuli control.

Wrapping up, it’s important to remember that there’s no real cure for I can’t stand-it-itis. If you identify with these characteristics, you can see a psychologist who does rational emotive behavioral therapy. The first step is to figure out what belief is hiding behind each instance of I can’t stand-it-itis. That way you can start debating these ideas with yourself, put them to the test, and try to change them.