Monday, 9 March 2015

I'm the best! - the teacher told me so (it must be true!)

‘The teacher said I’m the best pupil’ the student declares proudly (see picture below). What does this mean? The individual may construe this in a rational way or an irrational way. Rational Emotive Behaviour Education teaches student’s about Unconditional Self - Acceptance that demonstrates how one positive or one negative personal attribute or characteristic does not or cannot define categorically a person’s total value.  It teaches students that their worth isn’t given to them by others and therefore cannot be taken away. They have worth because they exist and ‘that’s that’ as Albert Ellis would say. The same applies to success and failure.  We can fail at something but does that make us failures?

This is a very important insight for students to have. How many students measure their worth according to how well they do in their exams? Or how they are esteemed by others? When we measure our worth according to how others view us or how well we do we are at great risk. Why? Because when people we like do not like us and when we bomb out in our studies (as may happen) we may view this to mean that that we are unlikeable, dumb and unworthy. Dr. Ellis would say that this is self-defeating musturbatory thinking. Must we absolutely always achieve our goals and must we have the love and respect of all significant others?

Our subject, the ‘best pupil’ may seek the approval of the teacher and others in order to validate his personal worth. If he needs the approval of significant others (his teacher) he will work hard to ‘please’ the teacher at every opportunity. He may develop Serious Approval Dependence (SAD) and experience exaggerated levels of anxiety (I must do well. It would be awful if I didn’t). He may outperform his peers in some aspects of the curriculum and he could consistently achieve high grades but this cannot determine his overall worth as a person. He has some faults and hopefully more positive attributes so it is impossible to rate him as ‘the best.’ 
Better that he consider his teachers assertion that he is the best pupil in some kind of perspective; 

‘yeah I do well because I work hard and I’m good at some things and I feel good about that. I am not the best pupil because Mary is by far a better artist than I am and I don’t do so well at music. The teacher may consider me the best but that’s his opinion. I know I am OK and worthwhile but not any better or worse than anyone else. I accept myself even when I do badly at things.'

Use the picture from People and Emotions to explore these ideas. What might the other student be thinking? Would she feel upset about this or really angry? Would she feel sad and disappointed or really depressed about the teacher’s appraisal of our ‘best’ pupil?
Teach your students the link between thinking (believing) feeling and behaviour. Tell them about helpful thinking (rational) like:

  • Unconditional Self-acceptance: I accept myself warts and all. I cannot be bad or good. I’m worthwhile even when I fail and others reject me.

  • Unconditional Other Acceptance: I accept others because they exist like me. I won’t judge their person but I can judge aspects of their person and decide not to associate with them if I choose. I can dislike a behaviour which though bad doesn’t make them totally bad.

  • Unconditional Life Acceptance: I accept that the world isn’t for me or against me. Sometimes things won’t go my way. I don’t expect that I should always get what I want (though I prefer I did).

These attitudes/beliefs/philosophies give rise to manageable, healthy negative emotions like sadness, concern and annoyance.

On the other hand the following attitudes/beliefs/philosophies (irrational) precipitate feelings of anger/rage, depression and anxiety.

  • Conditional Self-Acceptance: I am only worthwhile if others think so or if I do well at things. If I fail it means I am a failure, which is awful, and I can’t stand it.
  • Conditional Other Acceptance: I accept others only if they meet my idea of what’s normal/cool/OK. If they don’t they deserve to be punished and ridiculed and ignored.
  • Conditional Life Acceptance: Things must go my way and if they don’t it’s not fair and I can’t stand it. It is awful!

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The said 'I'm the best!'
Copyright People and Emotions

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