If you're living with a chronic illness, you're in the right place.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

3 Words to Remove from Your Self-Talk

7:19 AM Posted by Tiffany Taft , , , , ,
There are a lot of people who have influenced the field of psychology.  Everyone knows Siggy Freud.  Some have probably heard of B.F. Skinner or Ivan Pavlov.  (Cue elderly man voice) When I was in undergrad, we watched a somewhat well-known video in the psychology world made in the 1960s called "Gloria."  The point of the video is to learn about 3 very different therapist approaches toward the same client, named of all things, Gloria.  What we can call 3 giants in the therapy world were the psychologists Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls, and Albert Ellis.  Thanks to the marvels of the internet, you can see the videos here, here, and here.

Gloria & Ellis
I rather enjoy all the smoking that goes on.  But beyond that, this video was my first introduction to Albert Ellis and his theory called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT).  Ellis, trained in traditional Freudian psychoanalysis, jumped teams to shape much of today's modern Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach.  If you actually watch the video, you may notice that Ellis's approach with Gloria isn't as "touchy feely" as the others in that he directly challenges Gloria's dysfunctional thought processes.

What about those 3 words I mentioned?

  1. Must
  2. Should
  3. Ought

According to Ellis, when we tell ourselves something must be a certain way it leads to a lot of negative feelings.  He even coined the term "musterbation" where we tell ourselves "I must do this" or "Things must be this way."

The 3 main must themes that cause us the most emotional pain are about ourselves, other people, and the world:
"I must do well/be loved or I'm no good."
"You must treat me well or you're a  bad person."
"The world must give me exactly what I want, precisely what I want, or it's a horrible, awful place."

After we say something must be so, and we feel anxious or sad that it isn't the case, we then tell ourselves "I shouldn't feel this way or "I ought to be able to make things right."  The combination of the primary must with the secondary should or ought is what perpetuates feelings of depression, anxiety, or even panic.  Or as Ellis put it we get anxious about our anxiety, depressed about our depression, and guilty about our anger.

Image courtesy of and © Natalie Dee
What I like most about REBT and CBT is that it empowers us to change our problematic thinking.  Not easy to do, to be fair, but completely achievable with a lot of work and self-reflection.  To be successful at changing our thinking we first have to accept that the idea that we have virtually no control over our emotions and that we cannot help feeling disturbed about things is completely false. Instead, consider that we have real control over our destructive emotions - if we choose to work at changing the “musturbatory” thinking which we often employ to create them.

But what about our past experiences? Don't those determine a lot of how I react to things today?  Yes, they do. However, the idea that because something once strongly affected our life, it should indefinitely affect it is also false. Instead, consider the idea that we can learn from our past experiences but not be overly-attached to or prejudiced by them.

More on these 3 words and REBT in future posts.  In the mean time, evaluate your use of the 3 words in your day-to-day thinking.  Do you musterbate a lot?

Dr. T