Sunday, 24 April 2016

When the Shit Hits the Fan - REBT, kids and self regulation

Shit and fans have been part of our vernacular for as long as I can remember. Pear and shaped ditto. These words together help describe colloquially situations that are unwelcome. Pain and arse also come to mind!

What to do when the proverbial hits the wotsit? The amount of the proverbial and size of the fan is significant; how big is the problem? The amount and size is relative to how we may perceive the situation or how we 'estimate' the severity of it! As Marcus Aurelius said: 

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” 

Is the problem of catastrophic proportions, pretty big or just a pain? Young children find it useful to learn about the catastrophe scale. This scale helps them see how problems can be arranged in terms of how big/significant they are to the young person. They learn to ask themselves 'is it as bad as..?' If not then this little shift in thinking will have a beneficial payoff i.e. 'this isn't as bad as I initially thought it was and now I feel less angry/sad..'

Learning how to regulate emotional and behavioural responses to situations requires some insight into how thinking is connected to feeling and behaving. Daily teaching of this will help the child develop a habit of stopping, establishing how she feels at a particular moment and then to ask 'what am I thinking/what am I telling myself about this problem? (what is my estimate of what's happening?). The child will become well practised in judging the badness of what is happening according to her own constructed catastrophe scale.

Of course in practising this yourself you are also teaching those around you. Your children are always watching you!

Monday, 11 April 2016

'Just be positive' (and other useless advice) - an REBT perspective

The 70's and 80's heralded the introduction of the 'warm fuzzies' movement. I recall a colleague saying thanks for the 'warm fuzzies' when congratulated on something he'd done. He and others would talk about giving and receiving warm fuzzies and how if you 'just be positive' things will work out in your favour. I'm all for people feeling OK and encouraging others but I would recoil at the mere mention of them (warm fuzzies).

And the word 'just' invoked a level of discomfort; as if you could flick a switch and all would be well! Just think positive. Just believe in yourself. Just have faith in yourself. You are special etc. This as useful as responding to someones concerns relative to how 'this happened to me. I know exactly how you feel. Just think positive!'

Sometimes all you can do is listen and that's good enough. We can feel compelled to fill the wordless void by offering platitudes and assurances that may not be useful to the person who is in need of a 'friendly ear.'

Now I do believe that thinking positively is a useful thing to do. There's a difference however between thinking you're OK and believing you're OK. What's the difference? The former can be fanciful and warm fuzzyish (I told myself I'm OK when you ignore me but I still feel like shit!) the latter is more substantial (I know I'm OK even if you don't think so - disappointed not depressed!)

The need to be needed?
Self belief takes work. It's a journey from intellectual insight (I understand what this means) to emotional insight (I now act and feel according to my practised and established unconditional self acceptance belief).

This work will take the student or client to places of risk where failure and possible criticism and admonishment from others may ensue. You know you are on your way when your sense of self belief remains in tact even when you are under siege; you are healthily disappointed or upset but not depressed. You resolve to try again because now you know (believe) you are OK no matter what.

This is taught to students in schools through the Rational Emotive Behaviour Education in Schools program. Based on Albert Ellis' ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance students are taught that their worth is never contingent on how others view them or how well or badly they perform at a task.

It takes work and practise to develop new habits of thinking i.e. You
  • Gain insight into what you believe to be true or false
  • Challenge the errant irrational belief you may hold - what evidence supports this belief?
  • Deconstruct old thinking habits and build new ones - practise, try things that you may not have tried and experience success and failure
  • Develop the psychological muscle that will keep you strong especially when challenged
When a person is truly self accepting she is more inclined to open herself up to new opportunities and experiences because she no longer surrenders her worth to the opinion of others or the mistakes she will inevitably make.

Forget warm fuzzies and invest in some self acceptance learning.