Sunday, 16 June 2019

The Angry Man

And the world continued to turn. His world turned within that world. In his world everything was neat, tidy, symmetrical, clean, and predictable. This was his template for ‘normal’ the way things should be. Predictable. Ordered. His world was the way it should be and the big world beyond was anything but. The tension between what he demanded of the world and how things were in reality was always close to breaking. Taut. Tense. 'The Angry Man.'
We might talk of one world but there are many. Mental health according to Albert Ellis is when we best align our own expectations and demands of self, others and life in general based on what we are most likely to get. If we don't want to feel uncomfortable and if we believe the world should give us what we want and it doesn't there is a disparity between what we want and what we receive! As Ellis reminds us:
'The world isn't for us or against us. It doesn't give a shit!'

The 'Angry Man' had a 'mindmap' of the world that didn't change. Over the years whilst the terrain had continued to modify his map did not accommodate these adjustments. He would demand that the world should be as he demanded it to be to agree with his map, but when his demands were not met he would erupt and cry foul!

He would blame everyone and everything for his anger. He was being done to, the world was against him; he was a victim. His self pity took precedence over everyone else's needs and sensibilities and he would demand that they would deliver what he wanted nay what he must have to feel OK again. His black and white views couldn't allow for any grey or reasonable assessment of situations. He couldn't bring himself to changing his own expectations of how things could be.

The 'Angry Man' in his position of workplace leader would target individuals who would not deliver what be believed he must have. His philosophy of:
 'I must absolutely always get what I want and if I don't the world is a terrible place and these people must be punished!'
Albert Ellis calls this 'musturbatory' thinking where the 'musturbator' thinks in oughts, musts and shoulds. Those who don't provide what he must have are often the target of bullying. The bully believes the victim makes him angry and she therefore deserves to be bullied! His toxicity is palpable and he will go to all lengths to get what he must have!

The 'Angry Man' would never concede that he is responsible for how he feels and behaves because he 'knows' this is not so. 'If only 'they' could see what 'they' are doing. If only 'they' would give me what I want!' is his internal dialogue, on continuous loop in his head. He programs and reprograms what he 'know's' is true by constantly practicing and reinforcing this irrational reality he has constructed.

His world turns within a world that can never give him what he believes he must have, a mismatch of realities that the 'Angry Man' can't understand as he stresses and strains to demand a world that will never (can't) match his own.

Half Joking Whole Earnest (only joking!)

“Many a true word hath been spoken in jest.”

I appreciate clever humour; intelligent wit and banter in the right context in the right company can be uplifting.

What do you do when someone habitually says something that is not clearly received as being particularly funny and which contains some kind of veiled attempt to jibe or ridicule? When the attempted joke falls flat it is followed by 'Only joking!' 'Just kidding!' 'Only a joke!'

Here’s an example; ‘nice shirt but it’s wasted on you!’ ‘Yeah good one’ you think and then before you can say anything ‘only joking’ he says. Or, ‘where did you get your haircut? You should ask for your money back!’ (for the umpteenth time). And then you know what comes next don’t you?

If, as happens often (with a particular person in mind!) you respond to this 'only joking' joke with a hint of confusion expressed in quizzical tone accompanied by a facial contortion you will get the reply; 'only joking ...' And this makes everything right again. End of story. Right?

This is an easy out for the person who is known to embed a subtle message of criticism in some vague ambiguous utterance or contained in supposedly playful banter that can be construed as borderline offensive and less than amusing. This is not clever humour by any means. It is predictable and not worthy of an adult senior in years.

Now I appreciate that it may be an issue of interpretation and so one may be inclined to allow the 'only jesting' jester the benefit of any doubt, but .... there is a consensus that when this jester jests he is also conveying a not so subtle jibe or dig at the targeted jestee.

I'm paranoid I hear you say but I'm not the only one who receives these gems of kiddology in such a fashion. The jester in question will also add to the 'only joking' line 'you should know me by now' chestnut. Now it would seem I don't know him that well and I should for if I had I would have ‘got the joke!’

No I don't know him (nor should I nor do I want to) whatever that means and his 'just a joke' caper is not a joke at all!

What's the goal of the 'just joking' and 'you should know me by now' faux wannabe humorist? What is he doing that he thinks others don’t know what he’s doing? I do have some theories but I won’t go into them here. I will however suggest some ways to deal with such boorish behaviour:

  • Avoid spending unnecessary time with him
  • When he is only joking just respond by saying ‘is that so?’
  • Say ‘I don’t quite get what you mean but I’ll sleep on it.’
  • Say to yourself ‘his behaviour is bad but he is not totally bad.’
  • Remember that there are people in the world who lack any kind of insight and thus don’t change.
  • Say ‘that’s interesting’ and move on.
  • Tell him his behaviour can be taken as offensive (though this doesn’t sit well with a narcissist).
  • Ask him to explain what he just said as it isn’t clear.
I will leave you with this quote from Clementine Ford who writes:

‘ ….. smart comedy doesn't spin gold out of an easy target. Jokes that rely on sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia or ableism to draw a laugh aren't saying anything new or interesting. Instead, they're doubling down on tired, hackneyed tropes about people who experience less power than the person telling the joke.’ Clementine Ford 

Monday, 4 February 2019

Beware Bullies - be aware, be vigilant, be well

Many would say that bullies bully because they feel inferior and they get a 'self esteem' boost when they put others 'in their place.' Research Ken Rigby/Giulio Bortolozzo suggests that bullies can have a healthy sense of self worth but may still be inclined to bully others. The research suggests that in schools we can focus on 'psychologically immunising' our students with a dose of Unconditional Self Acceptance (USA).

Albert Ellis encourages us to develop our USA so we are less likely to be the targets of bullies because we will more inclined to act confidently. Bullies will tend to target those they perceive to be weak. Some would also say that bullying is a cowardly act! My experience of bullies suggests that this is so. #REBT #schools #bullying #mentalhealth

Some people manage bullies well, whilst others don't. It's always a question of how well the prospective victim can learn to manage the bully. A 'good' bully will invest a lot of time setting up alliances that will deliver him what he wants. The more willing his offsiders are to play the game the better for him and them. It's always a contract of mutual benefit to both players and as long as they play by his rules all is well.

There are those who are more at risk, whose circumstances render them sitting ducks for the unconscionable and contriving professional bully. And these can be put into two categories of usefulness. 

1. The 'good' operator who is worth tolerating because she can manage projects well. A well managed project reflects well on the self aggrandising bully; makes him look good. She may have traits that he doesn't like; perhaps she is assertive and intolerant of e.g. sexist behaviour which the bully regards as 'jocularity.' He will put up with her for as long as the project needs her. He will then look for other options as circumstances demand them.

2. The person who doesn't suit his vision for the organisation and whose services are expendable. They may be excellent at their job but perhaps they aren't malleable enough, not amenable to direction, commands, edicts and who may not be predisposed to massaging his outsized ego. This person may not have an important project to oversee and is perhaps most vulnerable.

In REBT terms the bully is what Albert Ellis calls a 'musturbator.' His inflated ego betrays the underlying and unrealistic demands he will place on others. His passive and polite requests belie the need to be obeyed at all costs. A polite request is the cover we ought not judge the book by, for what you see is not what you are likely to get!

What are his rules? What does he demand of life and others?

1. I must always (be seen to) do well. I can't stand it when I can't (will look to blame others when things go awry). In other words he believes 'I must always get what I want. It's my birthright.'
2. 'Everyone else absolutely must give me what I must have (because my rules are better than your rules). If they don't they are bad people and deserve to be punished.'
3. 'Life should deliver me what I must (deservedly) have. Nothing should get in the way of my desires to be successful.' 
4. 'I am only OK if I get the respect and adulation of others especially my overlords (over whom he fawns and crawls to, to win approval). If I don't win their approval I can't handle it.' (makes him a victim of the world and others and prone to chuck tantrums - look out!)

These are the 'musturbatory' rules that dictate the bully's daily regime of terror. Other people are his means to his selfish ends and as long as they fall in line all's well.

Modus Operandi of the Bully

1. Decide who is superfluous to the grand plan.
2. Pick up on an undesired trait (long tolerated up to this point) that the person has. Speak of this often to significant others.
3. Garner the support of cronies who will agree with what the bully 'wants to hear.' Spread the word - rumour and innuendo.
4. Start to micro manage the target under the pretence of 'care and concern' preferably by an appointed other (to do his dirty work).  
5. Plan for the eventual replacement of the target.

The above would not necessarily define all bullying situations but it certainly describes scenarios as reported by those who have lived this experience.

It is time wasted to try and change a bully's perspective. They may listen and give the impression of care and concern but these are feigned gestures that have no resonance with him. If they do have any capacity for compassion and empathy it isn't and never was evident (that's another story - psychopathy which may go hand in hand with bullying) 


Be aware of what's going on.
Talk to trusted others.
Spend as little time as is necessary in his presence.
Do your job as best you can.
Join a union.
Keep a diary.
Move on if you are not happy.

Any others? 

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis reflections on her husbands life and legacy

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The masterful and great Albert Ellis PhD passed on July 24th, 2007. The years have flown by, and I wonder what he might think if he were still alive. I think it is highly likely that he would enjoy the remarkable progress of neuro-physiological research and findings, and the continuing embrace of the cognitive approach in psychotherapy (he heralded in the cognitive revolution in psychotherapy in the 1950's). I suspect that journalists would be clamoring to hear his views, on a regular basis, about the current state of our country and the world - and his responses would be sharp, rational, direct, and interspersed with his fine and piercing wit! He might regret that some of the people who, in his lifetime, championed the REBT approach are in recent years merging their work with a more general CBT approach, for as much as he immensely respected CBT and the outstanding research associated with it, it does not, as much as REBT does, emphasize the humanistic and philosophical elements seen in REBT: such as the importance of choosing to experience greater unconditional acceptance, tolerance and gratitude - most especially during times of challenge. Nonetheless, there are many fine practitioners and teachers out there keeping the flames of REBT alive, as I strive to do with joy and gratitude. And the numerous books and articles written by Albert Ellis continue to help countless numbers of people, directly and indirectly, to suffer less emotional misery and to experience greater happiness in life. Remembering you with great love Wondrous Al. Thank you forever - for you. 

(Albert Ellis' work continues in Australian schools, helping children to optimise their psychological health through Rational Emotive Behaviour Education)

Dr Debbie Joffe Ellis opens the world first Albert Ellis Professional Learning Centre
Dr Debbie can be contacted here Dr Debbie Joffe Ellis 

Saturday, 21 July 2018

'Performativity, Identity and Teacher Mental Health

Since NAPLAN was introduced ten years ago reading and numeracy have improved slightly and writing skills have gone down and despite all the resources that have been invested in our system of education we haven’t hit the lofty heights of excellence we were hoping for. School performance in NAPLAN it is accepted, reflects best teaching practise so teachers and students are under considerable pressure to perform.

NAPLAN was the solution to a declared ‘crisis’ in education so we wouldn’t be ‘left behind’ our international peers. Educational discourse centred on concepts of ‘failure’, ‘crisis’, ‘measurement’, ‘benchmarks’, ‘assessment’, ‘reporting’, ‘good/bad teacher/student.’ Teacher’s professional worth was and continues to be questioned and discussed in the public arena. What makes a ‘good’ teacher? If teachers aren’t ‘good’ then are they ‘bad?’ ‘Bad’ teachers are the cause of falling standards etc. Greg Thompson asserts in The International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives:

‘In Australia, one of the key motivations for a national testing regime has been the various discourses surrounding the “quality” of teachers in Australian schools, and a sense of some real or imagined crisis impacting on Australian education.’

Continued and persistent focus on what a ‘good’ teacher is and how can we lift ‘teacher capability’ to teach will weigh heavily on the minds of teachers in every school and in every classroom. An established regime of accountability has promoted what Susan E. Noffke describes ‘a culture of performativity’ in education driven by neo- liberal policies:

‘… the widespread influence of neo-liberal policies which have resulted in a culture of ‘performativity’ (Ball, 2003). One prominent example is the attempt to reduce the parameters of educational work to doing only that which results in gains in the narrow band of standardised achievement test, and the ‘mapping’ of curriculum and instructional strategies against that which is tested.’

Teachers are under pressure to perform according to set guidelines and this can be confirmed in casual conversation with educators in any school setting. I won't expand on the link between neo liberal policies and its effects but suffice it to say I do believe that the work of the teacher is very much linked to an agenda that is far removed from the classroom and the experience of the teacher and learner in the school setting.

How does this continued spotlight on the teacher effect general health and wellbeing? I would like to consider this in the light of the REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy) counselling model. Albert Ellis’ ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance embodies the wisdom of many thinkers over the millennia e.g. The Stoic Philosophers, Karen Horney, Alfred Koryzybski and others. 
The ABC Theory is a philosophy based counselling model which posits that when something happens (A) there is a behavioural and emotional consequence (C). The children I work with often have an A=C philosophy which says ‘I am angry (C) because she said I couldn’t join in (A)! Ellis said that how we feel and act at (C) can be regulated by how we interpret/perceive/estimate what has happened at (A). This part of the equation (B) alerts us to the cognitive component which drives the strength of the emotion we feel and the kinds of behavioural choices we make.
Dr Albert Ellis, creator of REBT

In the counselling situation we want to help the student move form an A = C philosophy to an A x B = C philosophy or way of thinking. This helps the child/adult understand that he/she is an active agent in making feelings and choosing behaviours.

If a person’s worth is challenged and questioned incessantly either explicitly or by implication this can begin to unsettle a person’s view of self. This in turn will affect how the person deals with difficult and challenging situations, the (A) part of the equation.

Confidence is an essential personal quality that is a buffer, a protective factor against the adversities that we all inevitably are called on to deal with. It is constructed over time and like a wall which is well constructed it will be tested by all manner of assault and if it’s strong it will prevail. However even the strongest of walls can be breached and compromised to the point of failing.

What is confidence? It’s a way of behaving, a projection of a certain sense of comfort with oneself that allows for healthy risk taking to work towards set personal and professional goals. She who feels confident will also deal with adversities constructively. What we see behaviourally and emotionally and which we call confidence is underwritten by an internal, deeply placed habit of thinking/believing. It is what Ellis calls ‘unconditional self-acceptance’ a steadfast belief that one cannot be defined by the opinion of others or how one performs in a general sense. In other words someone’s idea about you does not and cannot define the essence of who you are. Nor can failing at a task define you as a failure. This is the ‘psychological wall’ of self-acceptance constructed over time.

Unconditional Self Acceptance - Albert Ellis

However the foundations of this belief can be rattled under the weight of persistent judgement and appraisal based on ‘key performance indicators’ in a regime of testing and accountability which is so much the reality of the teaching and learning experience according to many.

Can someone’s idea of self-worth be rearranged, reconfigured under such relentless pressure? It seems this can be the case according to many who feel they are performing to the beat of someone else’s drum. They do not feel in control, they lack autonomy in what they do.  Stephen J Ball in The teacher's soul and the terrors of performativity says that the teacher is left to question her worth as a teacher experiencing:

‘…. guilt, uncertainty, instability and the emergence of a new subjectivity. What Bernstein (2000: 1942) calls ‘mechanisms of introjection’ whereby ‘the identity finds its core in its place in an organisation of knowledge and practice’ are here being threatened by or replaced by ‘mechanisms of projection’, that is an ‘identity is a reflection of external contingencies’ (Bernstein 2000: 1942).’

I regard this ‘new subjectivity’ to mean a shift in the foundation belief of unconditional self-acceptance to a new and shaky assessment of self to be a conditional one. This habit of thinking /believing i.e. ‘I am only OK if … my kids perform well, if my line manager thinks I’m going OK, if the regional director is happy with how the schools heading etc. Self-doubt may creep into her mind about her ability to ‘be’ a ‘good’ teacher. What do her colleagues think of her? Will she be asked to enter into some capability building exercise to bring her up to standard? And how will others view this?

Albert Ellis would say that the teacher has shifted from a position of strong self-worth to one of conditional self-worth where she only feels validated when she meets the expectations of a teaching regime that is laid out before her. What can she do? She can challenge the status quo and articulate her concerns about how things are going and how she feels about things. But how will this be received? She may think that she will be regarded as ‘the problem’ and that she will have to lift her game. She will have to lift her level of expertise to that of the ‘good,’ the ‘quality’ teacher. Is there a place for constructive criticism to be expressed without fear of judgement? Is there a sense that what people have to say is valued?

Teacher mental and overall health and well-being is challenged in the present climate of teaching and learning. The culture of performativity can for some, undermine their sense of confidence where their view of self is challenged because the system says they’re in effect no good!

In conclusion concerns are held for personnel at every level who suffer under the weight of the ‘reform solutions’ that have been determined for them in response to the ‘crisis’ we have in education. The Conversation reminds us that:

‘Over the past decade, the policy landscape has become riddled with reform “solutions”. These subject students, teachers, administrators and policymakers to mounting levels of pressure and stress. The short-term cyclical churn of today’s politics and media clearly exacerbates these problems.’

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

OK Fred

This is typical of conversations I've had over the years working with young people. From early childhood to senior high school age the theme of most topics relates to the idea of 'being' and 'doing.' This exchange serves to illustrate the point that somehow Fred has decided that what he does is indeed who he is.

Dr Albert Ellis in his Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture 1961 on General Semantics and Rational Emotive (Behaviour) Therapy acknowledges that Alfred Korzybski, the originator of general semantics heavily influenced his own pioneering work. Korzybski spoke of the 'is' of predication and Ellis explains this here saying that:

' ... statements like, "I am good" and "I am bad" are inaccurate over generalisations, because in reality I am a person who sometimes acts in a good and sometimes in a bad manner.'  

The notion that one 'is' good or bad is an errant one which can harm the emotional and psychological well being of the person who holds it to be true. Ellis seeks to remind us that we are human beings who can act in ways that are 'good' or 'bad' but we are not what we do.

OK Fred is not OK!

Counsellor: How’s it going?
Child: Not good.
Counsellor: Why?
Child: I’m naughty.

Fred's condition of naughtiness is problematic because this is why he has been excluded from the classroom and he feels bad.

Counsellor: What does that mean?
Child: I keep interrupting. I'm bad.
Counsellor: You are naughty for interrupting? That makes you bad?
Child: Yes
Counsellor: So you are naughty Fred? You are bad Fred?

Fred has decided that his naughtiness is linked to badness. Doing is being!

Child: I’m bad Fred because I do bad things.
Counsellor: How does that make you bad?
Child: I am bad because I interrupt a lot and the teacher doesn’t like it.
Counsellor: If you do things people don’t like you are bad. Can bad Fred be good Fred?

Bad Fred does things the teacher doesn't like. He wants the teacher to like him because what he does is who he is.

Child: Yes. When I don’t interrupt I am being good.
Counsellor: So there is good Fred and there is bad Fred. Is that right?
Child: Yes. When I’m good the teacher likes me.
Counsellor: People like good Fred but they don’t like bad Fred? It sounds like you are two people, bad Fred and good Fred.

Fred is saying that there are two of him. His sense of self worth ebbs and flows between feeling OK when others like him to feeling bad when they don't! (conditional self acceptance)

Child: I’m not two people at the same time am I?
Counsellor: Well no. That’s why I am trying to understand what you are saying about yourself.
Child: I am Fred and I can be bad and I can be good that’s what I mean.
Counsellor: So when you do something the teachers like you are Good Fred but when you do something she doesn’t like you are Bad Fred. Is that right?

Here we are trying to get a sense of what doing is and what being is. Are they the same?

Child: No I’m just Fred!!! I am Confused Fred!
Counsellor: You are Confused Fred who can be Bad Fred and Good Fred! That’s three Fred’s! Only joking Fred. When you said ‘I’m just Fred’ I think you speak the truth. There’s only one Fred and you are he. There’s no other like you.
Child: I know that.

Fred is unique. It is impossible to rate his worth totally good or bad based on a particular characteristic or behaviour.

Counsellor: Ok. Doing something ‘naughty’ like interrupting is a behaviour. It’s something you do. It’s an action. Does that make sense?
Child: Yes I understand what you say.
Counsellor: When you say ‘I am bad because I interrupt the class you believe YOU are bad because you made a bad choice. Doing something is not the same as being something.

We are making a clear distinction between doing and being here.

Child: So I am not bad but my actions might be bad is that what you are saying?
Counsellor: Yes. You are OK even when you ‘do bad’ or when you ‘do good.’ So can you be Good Fred and Bad Fred?
Child: No. I am Fred. I am worthwhile Fred. I am OK Fred who makes mistakes but I'm always OK.

This establishes that Freds worth is never contingent on a particular behaviour or personal quality or characteristic. 

Fred is on the way to feeling better about himself but where did he get these ideas in the first place? When others judge your behaviour they connect what you do with your being or your 'essence' or as Ellis says your 'you-ness.' Who is doing this? The childs parents and teachers and other people in Freds life reinforce these ideas via the messages they send, verbally and otherwise e.g. simply by saying 'good boy' to someone who has done something well is conveying the idea that doing good equates with being good.

Michel Foucault a philosopher and social theorist considered how power and knowledge is used to assert control over the individual in society via its institutions. He asserts that:

‘Children learn to ‘recite the repertoire of technologies of the self which constitute the ideal student of their literacy classrooms.’(Foucault 1988)

The ideal student is one who does as he is expected and has the qualities and competencies desired to 'be' successful and to reach full potential. What are the 'technologies of the self' and whose 'repertoire' is the child reciting?

I take this to mean the kinds of discourse that characterises the culture of the classroom, this will include the types of feedback the teacher provides to behaviour observed, the attitudes and actions that the teacher responds to and therefore reinforces. The idea that a student could conflate being with doing is possible if a student is said to 'be good' when they 'do' something acceptable to the teacher. This idea is conveyed by telling children they 'are' good for 'doing' good.

We can all take care to be aware that what we are saying when we are saying it is correct and conveys an accurate and useful message i.e. 'You did that well. Good job.' This refers to the actions of the person and not the 'essence' of who that person is. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Have a Go Spaghettio!

Have a Go Spaghettio! is a program I wrote several years ago. It is based on Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy of Dr. Albert Ellis fame. I sent the draft to him not expecting a response but lo and behold he did reply! This is what he said:

“I read your presentation on ‘Have a Go Spaghettio!’ a resilience building program for young learners. It seems to hit the spot and be excellent for your young audience.”

I was well chuffed of course and I remain very thankful that he saw fit to take the time as he did to write back to me. A very generous gesture I thought which continues to inspire me in my work as a counsellor in schools here in South Australia.

The program has been well received in the early childhood teaching community as it presents key ideas of REBT to young learners in a fun way. It acquaints young learners to the idea that their individual thinking constructions impacts their ability to manage themselves effectively in daily life emotionally and behaviourally.

There are six competencies that children can learn about through the program. These strengths and capabilities are represented by certain colours which have been assigned catchy, quirky labels. This is the Have a Go Spaghettio! chart:

Have a Go Spaghettio!

The six Have a Go Spaghettio! success helper capabilities chart reminds children about the helpful choices they can make. These helpful choices (help us achieve our goals and desires) are linked to helpful habits of thinking or as I call it Brain Friend thinking. 

Teachers feedback to the behavioural choices the students are making thus e.g.

'You are working hard. Give it a try ... and the students respond ... banana pie!'

Another student is waiting patiently in line and the teacher says e.g.

'You are showing great patience and adds 'You are keeping coolio ... and the students will say ... at schoolio!'

The Have a Go Spaghettio! resource is full of ideas and strategies to help teachers help students develop the six capabilities mentioned in a fun way.

I will explain the 'I'm worthwhile crocodile' red success helper capability in my next post. But this short item is to acquaint you to the Have a Go! framework for early childhood.

If you want to know more about the program please feel free to contact Giulio at for more information.