It is rather difficult for me to write authoritatively about REBT in Anger Management because I am neither a psychiatrist nor a clinical psychologist. But I have had an opportunity to participate in a workshop on REBT in Anger Management conducted by Dr . Shubha Thatte and I am trying to articulate what I have learnt in this workshop and my own reflections about it.
While experiencing anger first hand, one often tends to assume that he/she is left with one of the following two alternatives while dealing with anger –
Feel the anger, but sit on it, squelch it, deny & repress it.
Feel the anger and freely express it.
Moreover, the hydraulic theory believes that the anger and other emotions have a tendency to increase in intensity, to expand under pressure like steam in a kettle, so if you squelch your emotions, if you don’t give free vent to them, you might do some serious harm to yourself. On the other hand, most of us have seen undesirable, painful repercussions of anger when we choose to freely express it – ranging right from strained relationships to brawl & violence. So the crucial question is – is there a third alternative available while dealing with this difficult-to-handle emotion called anger? Dr. Albert Ellis asserts an affirmative YES!
Anger is often mixed with, or is resulting from one or more of the other emotions such as anxiety, helplessness, hurt, depression, guilt or insecurity. But if one asks, “What causes anger?” The shortest (& and not so polite) answer is, “It is YOU!”. Nobody or nothing else, but it is you. It hits hard on the face, but more we think about it rationally, it makes sense. Let’s imagine two scenarios –
First:- I am done with my work at the office and I need to rush home to have my bath and peaceful dinner while watching IPL. I drive on the expressway to reach home. Knowing that this evening hour is the rush hour with lots of vehicles on the street and I believe that most people would be tired and looking forward to reaching home early as well, and they may not drive carefully. As I am crossing a signal, suddenly a huge SUV jumps signal and passes in front of me at frantic speed. I get anxious, scared and then irritated and maybe I will shout at the driver and move on. I will be alright in half an hour or so.
Second:- I am done with my work at the office and I need to rush home to have my bath and peaceful dinner while watching IPL. I drive on the expressway to reach home. Knowing that this evening hour is the rush hour with lots of vehicles on the street, but I want to reach home as soon as possible and I believe there shouldn’t be any problem in doing that. As I am crossing a signal, suddenly a huge SUV jumps signal and passes in front of me at frantic speed. I get anxious, scared and then very angry with the driver, I scold him, turn my car and follow him all the way – I must teach a lesson to that irresponsible driver. And there goes my bath, dinner & IPL plan down the drain…
If we consider both scenarios, we see that the event is essentially the same – but in the first case, the consequences are different and bath, dinner & IPL is still possible, whereas in the second scenario – the plans get replaced with teaching lesson to that irresponsible driver. Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence calls it as Amygdala Hijack – emotions hijacking thinking.Both are anxious, even scared – but first one feels irritated whereas the second one feels angry. So where is the difference? Let’s see – first scenario, I believe that people may not drive carefully and in the second scenario I believe that there shouldn’t be any problem in doing that (reaching home early). And unknowingly the should gets converted to must. It is definitely worth to pause a bit here and ponder about this carefully – this belief system seems quite invisible here, right? It appears so implicit that we just conclude that event caused the reaction. But between them lies this not-so-obvious belief. This is how Dr. Albert Ellis puts it –
C (Consequence) = My anger
A (Activating Event) = Suddenly a huge SUV jumps signal and passes in front of me at frantic speed.
As we look at A & C, it may appear that A causes C, REBT theory assumes that although Activating Event directly contributes to the Emotional Consequence, it does not really cause it. We do not always easily see the dynamics of cause and effect. Yet if we look closely at this relationship between A and C, we will the find the underlying B – belief(s). The crux of the matter is to realize that such Bs do exist although we may not be aware of them, but we need to explore them and dispute them empathetically as required!
The basic 5 stages of anger thoughts (beliefs) can be summarized as -
You have treated me in a horrible way.
I can’t stand such unjust & unfair behaviour.
You should never behave with me like this.
Because you behaved in this manner you are an utterly wretched person.
You should be punished immediately &the way I want.
As we go through them and ponder carefully about the underlined part – we can realize that they are rather irrational. ‘Horrible’ for example, could be just my perception. For all I know, that may be the most natural response for that person. Moreover, nothing or nobody in the world guarantees me that I’d never be treated in a way that I define as ‘horrible’. It is also important that one must dispute irrational beliefs empathetically & gently. Similar disputations can be derived for other 4 basic belief as well and if we see he patterns, we realize that our anger thoughts more or less echo these sentiments in our own words.
From Anger to Irritation and Assertiveness -
It is equally important to realize that it does not mean that one would not get disturbed by unpleasant, unexpected behavior or events. If we see anger at the top of the emotional build-up (say 6th floor emotion), then we can put irritation somewhere in the middle (say 3rd floor emotion) and assertiveness at the bottom (say ground floor emotion) of the emotional build-up. It is more appropriate to bring oneself from 6th floor to 3rd floor, i.e. from anger to irritation. But immediate jump from anger to assertiveness may not be feasible. The irritation thoughts would be more on these lines –
I disapprove, dislike this person’s behavior.
It is creating inconvenience for me.
It is difficult for me to face this situation.
It is possible to dispute anger thoughts/beliefs with cognitive disputation, emotive disputation and behavioral disputation. Once anger is reduced to irritation, one can work towards assertiveness by taking clear, well-defined steps towards effective action plan within one’s control.
Assertiveness is a very effective tool in dealing with events that may cause anger. It is about realizing that you have alternatives, and your response to an Activating Event is your choice; and you can choose the alternative that is most appropriate in the given situation. If you are sure about your stand; express clearly, firmly & without becoming defensive or apologetic. Assertiveness involves certain risk, and it does not guarantee that you will achieve your goal; but as long as you are not stepping on others’ toes, you have a right to say yes to self & no to others. With assertive response – you deal with the issue/behavior causing irritation, rather than getting angry with the activating event or person.
As I reflect and look inside myself after the workshop, there are some strange but reassuring whirls coming from within. The most awakening realization for me is about the implicit, invisible belief ‘B’ between the Activating Event ‘A’ & Emotional Consequence ‘C.’ This insight is a very useful tool like X-RAY and it enables you to really look for the belief B camouflaging itself between A & C. It has been a challenging yet rewarding journey to search those B’s and then dispute them tactfully. Emotions are incredibly clever, they keep cornering you with their own counterattacks – and they are indeed overwhelming. Again, it is tough but immensely satisfying to find your way trough those overpowering emotions and working on those Bs.
It would be presumptuous for me to say that now I am assertive and deal with my anger much better; but that certainly is the goal. I have realized that assertiveness would be the most appropriate tool for myself as well as for others. For now, in the moment of anger, I try, though not always successfully, but nevertheless, I genuinely try to pause a bit and try to search for my own B while watching my emotions take me from A to C. At times, in this attempt I manage to change my C favorably and those are the real moments of bliss. As of now, the mindful awareness of the hidden B between A & C in the moment of anger has become my own anger meditation!
REBT and Non Violent Communication (NVC) –
Recently I have been curiously reading Non Violent Communication (NVC) by Marshall Rosenberg, and it is that deja vu feeling that I have while reading some of his NVC theory. It is interesting to see how many common things REBT and NVC share. I haven’t yet been able to find out if Marshall Rosenberg (born 1934) was influenced by Albert Ellis (born 1913) in any way, but yet these two different theories seem so harmonious. For me, it is an insightful experience to see pieces falling into places with REBT & NVC. See what Marshall Rosenberg & Albert Ellis say about Evil –
Marshall Rosenberg: Psychologist and mediator Marshall Rosenberg claims that the root of violence is the very concept of “evil” or “badness.” When we label someone as bad or evil, Rosenberg claims, it invokes the desire to punish or inflict pain. It also makes it easy for us to turn off our feelings towards the person we are harming. He cites the use of language in Nazi Germany as being a key to how the German people were able to do things to other human beings that they normally would not do. He links the concept of evil to our judicial system, which seeks to create justice via punishment – “punitive justice” – punishing acts that are seen as bad or wrong.
Albert Ellis: Psychologist Albert Ellis makes a similar claim, in his school of psychology called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, or REBT. He says the root of anger, and the desire to harm someone, is almost always related to variations of implicit or explicit philosophical beliefs about other human beings. He further claims that without holding variants of those covert or overt belief and assumptions, the tendency to resort to violence in most cases is less likely.
REBT is sometimes criticized for being too harsh and playing with words; yet it is wonderful to experience how effortlessly and beautifully Marshall can put the same ideas in his words -
I can handle your telling me
What I did or didn’t do.
And I can handle your interpretations
But please don’t mix the two.
If you want to confuse any issue,
I can tell you how to do it:
Mix together what I do
With how you react to it.
Tell me that you’re disappointed
With the unfinished chores you see,
But calling me “irresponsible”
Is no way to motivate me.
And tell me that you’re feeling hurt
When I say no to your advances,
But calling me a frigid man
Won’t increase your future chances.
Yes, I can handle your telling me
What I did or didn’t do,
And I can handle your interpretations,
But please don’t mix the two.
(Poem by Marshall Rosenberg)