by Glynnis McDonnell, M.A.
I’ve been giving some thought to our REBT self-help sheets, and I know that until someone gets the hang of them it can be difficult to figure out what information goes where and use the sheets effectively…especially when there are multiple irrational beliefs about the same activating event. In an effort to help with this process, I’m going to do this blog in the form of a self-help sheet so readers can see how I would translate my experiences onto that form. I will give some background information about my activating event and then show how I summarize that for a self-help sheet and move through the various steps to form more effective beliefs. The italicized text is what I would actually write in the boxes, while the normal font indicates my thought process.
The background information:
Once a week, my schedule requires me to drive to my office in midtown, rather than taking the train. These drives are usually a little frustrating due to traffic conditions, but nothing I can’t handle. Today was no exception….until I got to Park Avenue while driving across 54th Street. I was about half way across Park when the cars in front of me came to a dead stop. There I was, in the middle of the uptown lanes with the light turning yellow. I quickly pulled to the left so that I could pull out of the intersection and into some space behind a parked car right as the light was turning red. While I was doing this, I saw out of the corner of my eye that someone was walking aggressively toward my car. I wasn’t sure who it was, but I felt uneasy, so I kept my eyes straight ahead and hoped I was mistaken about them walking straight toward me. Unfortunately, I was not mistaken, and a second later there was a police officer rapping loudly on my car window and directing me to pull into the very spot I was already trying to get to when he stopped me.
The officer informed me I was blocking the box. I politely explained to the officer that I had been in the middle of the street when the cars in front of me had come to an unexplained stop and I was doing everything I could to get out of the way. His response was, “I saw that, and I understand. Plus, those people over there are sticking out way more than you, but you were closest to me.”
I was pulled over.
Critical A: There were other people who I thought (and the officer admitted) were more in the wrong than I was.
Dysfunctional anger (anger that could block me from achieving a goal or cause problems for me). Thankfully, I was able to think rationally pretty quickly, so this dysfunctional anger didn’t lead to any problematic behaviors. However, had I stayed in the irrational place of dysfunctional anger, I might have yelled at the officer or been rude to him, which likely would have made my situation worse.
I had two initial thoughts when this event occurred: 1) Why is he pulling me over when I’m not the one who caused the problem?; 2) I can’t believe he’d rather pull me over than walk an extra five steps to pull over the person who caused the problem or the person whose car is fully blocking traffic!
Since there were two separate thoughts, we’ll assess them separately to see which irrational beliefs (demandingness, awfulizing, frustration intolerance, or downing) might be lingering under those initial thoughts. Then we’ll individually debate them and come up with more rational beliefs.
For the first thought, I was definitely experiencing some demandingness. If I re-phrase that question as a statement, it would be, “He shouldn’t pull me over when those people are more wrong than I am!” That “should” signals a demand.
The second thought is a case of other downing. I was making judgments about the officer’s character based on this one encounter in which I believed he behaved unjustly.
First, let’s examine my demand that the officer shouldn’t have pulled me over because other people were “more wrong:”
- Was it helping or hurting me to hold this belief?
- It was definitely not helping. Like I said above, if I’d held on to this belief I might have behaved poorly, which likely would not have endeared me to the officer and might have made the situation worse.
- Was my demand that he must not give me a ticket doing anything to change the situation?
- No. Despite my internal demand, the officer was still over in his car writing up the ticket while I was sitting in my car stewing. Therefore, it seems that my demand was inconsistent with reality, and generally when we demand things that are inconsistent with reality it causes unnecessary distress.
It looks like my demand that the officer shouldn’t give me a ticket doesn’t hold up, and was not helping me navigate the situation any better. Now, let’s take a look at the other downing that was going on:
- Was it helping or hurting me to hold this belief?
- It was hurting me because it is harder to be respectful to someone you think is a complete jerk, and being respectful was definitely necessary to minimize the problems that could stem from this encounter. Not to mention, being respectful to others is consistent with my values, and I would have been disappointed in myself had I acted otherwise.
- How likely is it that this officer is ALL bad?
- Pretty unlikely. Even people who gained notoriety for their inappropriate behavior generally have at least SOME good quality. Therefore, that’s probably the case for this officer.
- Just because my encounter with him was negative, doesn’t mean that everything he does is negative. Therefore, I probably don’t have enough data to make judgments about his character.
I guess the other downing doesn’t really hold up either, and it also had the potential to cause problems for me.
The antidote to demandingness is preference. Therefore, I should change my demand that I should not be pulled over to a preference not to be pulled over: “I would prefer not to be pulled over when there are other drivers who appear to be more in the wrong, but I can accept that it is happening.”
The fix for downing is to try to take a more balanced perspective: “My negative experience with this officer does not mean he is all bad.”
So the full effective belief is: “I would prefer not to be pulled over when there are other drivers who appear to be more in the wrong, but I can accept that it is happening; and my negative experience with this officer does not make him all bad.”
Speaking politely to the officer
I was still not happy about the situation, but I experienced more functional frustration that allowed me to act effectively.
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