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Who Controls You? How Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) can help you change unwanted emotions and behaviours.
By Dr. Wayne Froggatt

Most people want to be happy. They would like to feel good, avoid pain, and achieve their goals. For many, though, happiness seems to be an elusive dream.

In fact, it appears that we humans are much better at disturbing and defeating ourselves! Instead of feeling good, we are more likely to worry, feel guilty and get depressed. We put ourselves down and feel shy, hurt or self-pitying. We get jealous, angry, hostile and bitter or suffer anxiety, tension and panic.

On top of feeling bad, we often act in self-destructive ways. Some strive to be perfect in everything they do. Many mess up relationships. Others worry about disapproval and let people use them as doormats. Still others compulsively gamble, smoke and overspend - or abuse alcohol, drugs and food. Some even try to end it all.

The strange thing is, most of this pain is avoidable! We don’t have to do it to ourselves. Humans can, believe it or not, learn how to choose how they feel and behave.

As you think, so you feel

"People feel disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them."

Ancient words, from a first-century philosopher named Epictetus - but they are just as true now.

Events and circumstances do not cause your reactions. They result from what you tell yourself about the things that happen.

Put simply, thoughts cause feelings and behaviours. Or, more precisely, events and circumstances serve to trigger thoughts, which then create reactions. These three processes are intertwined.

The past is significant. But only in so far as it leaves you with your current attitudes and beliefs. External events - whether in the past, present, or future - cannot influence the way you feel or behave until you become aware of and begin to think about them.

To fear something (or react in any other way), you have to be thinking about it. The cause is not the event - it’s what you tell yourself about the event.

The ABC’s of feelings & behaviours

American psychologist Albert Ellis, the originator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), was one of the first to systematically show how beliefs determine the way human beings feel and behave. Dr. Ellis developed the 'ABC’ model to demonstrate this.

'A’ refers to whatever started things off: a circumstance, event or experience - or just thinking about something which has happened. This triggers off thoughts ('B’), which in turn create a reaction - feelings and behaviours - ('C’).

To see this in operation, let’s meet Alan. A young man who had always tended to doubt himself, Alan imagined that other people did not like him, and that they were only friendly because they pitied him. 

One day, a friend passed him in the street without returning his greeting - to which Alan reacted negatively. Here is the event, Alan’s beliefs, and his reaction, put into the ABC format:

A. What started things off:

Friend passed me in the street without speaking to me.

B. Beliefs about A.:

He’s ignoring me. He doesn’t like me.
I could end up without friends for ever.
That would be terrible.
For me to be happy and feel worthwhile, people must like me.
I’m unacceptable as a friend - so I must be worthless as a person. 

C. Reaction:

Feelings: worthless, depressed.
Behaviours: avoiding people generally.


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Now, someone who thought differently about the same event 
would react in another way:

A. What started things off:

Friend passed me in the street without speaking to me.

B. Beliefs about A.:

He didn’t ignore me deliberately. He may not have seen me.
He might have something on his mind.
I’d like to help if I can. 

C. Reaction:

Feelings: Concerned.
Behaviours: Went to visit friend, to see how he is.

These examples show how different ways of viewing the same
event can lead to different reactions
. The same principle operates
in reverse: when people react alike, it is because they are thinking in
similar ways.

The rules we live by

What we tell ourselves in specific situations depends on the rules we hold. 
Everyone has a set of general 'rules’. Some will be rational, others will be 
self-defeating or irrational. Each person’s set is different.

Mostly subconscious, these rules determine how we react to life. When an 
event triggers off a train of thought, what we consciously think depends on 
the general rules we subconsciously apply to the event.

Let us say that you hold the general rule: 'To be worthwhile, I must succeed 
at everything I do.’ You happen to fail an examination; an event which, 
coupled with the underlying rule, leads you to the conclusion: 'I’m not 

Underlying rules are generalisations: one rule can apply to many situations.
If you believe, for example: 'I can’t stand discomfort and pain and must avoid 
them at all costs,’ you might apply this to the dentist, to work, to relationships, 
and to life in general.

Why be concerned about your rules? While most will be valid and helpful, 
some will be self-defeating. Faulty rules will lead to faulty conclusions.

Take the rule: 'If I am to feel OK about myself, others must like and approve 
of me.’ Let us say that your boss tells you off. You may (rightly) think:
'He is angry with me’ - but you may wrongly conclude: 'This proves I’m 
a failure.’ And changing the situation (for instance, getting your boss to 
like you) would still leave the underlying rule untouched. It would then be
there to bother you whenever some future event triggered it off.

Continue to next page>>

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What is Stress?? Psychotherapy defined
Understanding Irrational Thinking The 12 Irrational Beliefs of REBT
The ABCs of REBT What are Rational Beliefs?
ABCs Worksheet ABC Disputing Chart
Keeping Emotions in Check 10 Happiness Beliefs
Healthy Relationship Defined Help for Relationships
Self-Esteem Defined How to Accept Yourself









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