Stop Playing the Shame Game

After a long hiatus, I’m starting to write again.

In REBT we encourage people to do shame attacking exercises. Here are some examples of ones I’ve done myself.

1. During my first training at the Albert Ellis, I stood up in a restaurant and sang “Perfect Rationality”

2. I have deformed hands and used to be ashamed when I dropped things like silverware and other peoples babies. So at one conference, a colleague suggested I make a point of dropping every spoon, knife, and fork I could at every meal. If it hit the plate on way down and made noise, even better.

3. At yet another training, I added the words “I MASTURBATE” in big letters to  my name tag and wore it everywhere.

What is the point of this? I now feel very little shame.

How to play.

1. Choose to do something you would regard as shameful.
a. No illegal actions.
b.No hazardous or dangerous actions.
c. No actions that might cost you your marriage or job.
d. No actions likely cause harm or distress to others.

2. Do the so-called shameful activity in public.

3. Take note of any horrible repercussions.
a. Did people try to burn you at the stake?
b. Did anyone call the police?
c. Did the earth open up and swallow you?
d. Did you die of shame? If so, you still win as the dead don’t feel much of anything.

The worst thing that happened to me was that people at my hotel looked at my name tag and got as far away from me as they could. Big deal.

Other shame attacks:

1. Wear miss-matched socks and or shoes.
2. Wear a tee-shirt that says, “I’m wearing no socks & matching undies!”
3. Men, go to a pharmacy and in a loud voice order EXTRA SMALL condoms.
(I would have told the pumpkin to heel, sit, stay, etc.)

 


USA and UOA

USA and UOA

(Unconditional Self-Acceptance and Unconditional Other Acceptance)

“The greatest sickness known to man or woman is called self-esteem. If you have self-esteem, then you’re sick, sick, sick, because you say: I’m okay because I do well and because people love me, so when I do poorly, which I’m a fallible human and will, and people hate me because they may jealously hate me or they just don’t like me, then back to shithood I go.”

Albert Ellis, Ph.D.

 

This is number 1 of the 3 basic musts that cause human disturbance

 

“I absolutely must perform well on important projects and be approved by significant people or else I am an inadequate and unlovable person!” (Leads to) Feelings of serious depression, anxiety, panic, self-downing. ..… Personally, you can’t always succeed not to mention succeed perfectly. Being a fallible human, you just can’t.”

Albert Ellis, Ph.D.

Yes, ratings one’s behavior as opposed to one’s self is much easier said than done. Yes our society strongly encourages the opposite. In fact, our society has a vested interest in doing so. I still have a hard time with it myself and I’ve had years of practice.

In general, I find it helpful to rate my behaviors as:

Successful, they help me get what I want and avoid what I don’t want.
Unsuccessful, they fail to help me get what I want and avoid what I don’t want.

Effective or Ineffective. This is another way of saying successful/unsuccessful.

Consistent with my goals, values, ethics, beliefs.
Inconsistent, counter to, my goals, values, ethics, beliefs.

However, those are all behaviors. They aren’t my ‘self’ (whatever that is).

The behaviors can be measured and rated, at least to a certain degree. The self can’t even be defined, let alone rated.

To say I’m a success because I succeeded at something, did it well, achieved a goal, is a gross over-generalization.

To say I’m a failure because I failed at something is the same kind of over-generalization.

That is not to say there aren’t huge advantages to succeeding at things, doing things well, etc. There are. It’s just not a good idea to let them define ‘me’.

 

So I try to never rate my so called self. I’m not good or bad, a success or a failure, saint or demon. Rate only your behaviors. That way I can do more of the ones that work for me, are more likely to get me what I want, keep me alive, help me avoid unnecessary pain, and live cooperatively with others. By rating my behaviors, I can also refrain from or do fewer of the ones that don’t work for me.

I try to apply all of the above to OUA as well.

“Stop damning yourself and others by fully accepting the view that wrong, unethical, and foolish acts never can make you or them into bad or rotten people.”

Albert Ellis, Ph.D.

 

This is number 2 of the 3 basic musts that cause human disturbance

 

“Other people, particularly those I have cared for and treated well, absolutely must treat me kindly and fairly, or else they are rotten individuals who deserve to suffer!” (Leads to) Feelings of strong and persistent anger, rage, fury, impatience, bitterness. … As far as your demanding that other people must incessantly please you, love you, and do your bidding forget it!

Albert Ellis, Ph.D.

Once you damn an individual, including yourself, for having or lacking any trait whatever, you become authoritarian or fascistic; for fascism is the very essence of people-evaluation. Albert Ellis, Ph.D.

Unconditional Other Acceptance means I accept, that is acknowledge the reality of other people and their behavior. I strive to accept that reality no matter how unfair, rude, obnoxious, immoral, cruel, or evil their behavior is. That doesn’t mean I like it or approve of it. It does mean I stop making myself EXTRA MISERABLE about by demanding it not be so. It also means I refrain from damning them as people and damn only the behavior.

As part of both USA and UOA, I often have to remind myself, sometimes quite forcefully, that everyone is a fallible ****** up human being, nothing more and nothing less. Yes, I most certainly include myself. That means we all act: wisely, stupidly, pettily, nobly, kindly, meanly, jealously, lovingly, charitably, selfishly, generously, greedily, fearfully, bravely, rationally, irrationally, unhelpfully, helpfully, angrily, calmly, heroically, cowardly, and so on. We all do all of those things from time to time. But we are not any of them.

USA and UOA need not necessarily lead to passivity. If I don’t like my own behavior, I can make efforts to change it. If I don’t like someone else’s behavior, I can ask them to change. Surprisingly, that often works. I can avoid them. I can take legal action. I can even take illegal action and hope I don’t get caught. But that is an absolute last resort, only for life and death situations. If I go that route I had better be able to deal with the consequences.

Let me end with this quote. It nicely summarizes how judging oneself and others sets one up for an irrational; and unwinnable game of comparative human worth.

“Unconditional self-acceptance is the basic antidote to much of your depressed self-downing feelings. Self-appraisal almost inevitably leads to one-upmanship and one-downmanship. If you rate yourself as being “good,” you will usually rate others as being “bad” or “less good.” If you rate yourself as being “bad,” others will be seen as “less bad” or “good.” Thereby you practically force yourself to compete with others in “goodness” or “badness” and constantly feel envious, jealous, or superior. Persistent individual, group, and international conflicts easily stem from this kind of thinking and feeling.”

Albert Ellis, Ph.D.


Chronic Pain and REBT

I just found Ann’s blog, well worth reading.


29 Years: My Recovery Program of Choice is still SMART Recovery.

29 Years: My Recovery Program of Choice is still SMART Recovery.

I wrote this last year. It still describes my experience in recovery quite well. I added a few new thoughts at the end.

I quit drinking and drugging 29 years go on January 23, 1984. I was a daily pot smoker, a practice which rendered me abysmally stupid. I still drank occasionally despite having had pancreatitis and being at high risk for having it again and possibly dying quite painfully. My last drink was a large glass of cheap white wine mixed with cheap vodka. It did not taste good. It didn’t even do what I wanted it to do.

I went to a 30 day wonder rehab called Edge Hill Newport. It has since gone out of business. It was a disease model 12-Step facility. That was all that existed back then.

I didn’t particularly like the 12-Step model of recovery. I was, and still am, an atheist. I wasn’t about to turn my life and will over to some non-existent deity. I didn’t agree with the idea that I was powerless over what I put into my mouth. This got me into some trouble at Edge Hill and even more so in the halfway house I went to for 6 months afterward. But, I met some good people and I got through treatment relatively unscathed.

Oh, my attitude in early recovery stank. One counselor said “good morning” and I replied, “today is going to suck”. He told me to have a positive attitude. So I said, “okay, I’m positive today is going to suck”. At the halfway house, I was required to attend a certain number of AA/NA meetings per week. I made sure I attended a few more besides. That way, when I complained to the staff how much I disliked the meetings, they couldn’t accuse me of just doing the required minimum.

I have to admit, I was quite active in AA/NA. I disagreed completely with the basic assumptions of addiction as a disease, powerlessness, and the need for divine intervention. On the other hand, I did like many of the people. The social support was nice. There were a number of practical suggestions. Even some of the slogans made sense to some degree. I held different positions in various groups and even served on the NA Area Service Committee for awhile.

I returned college, having dropped out because I was too damned stoned all the time. Then I went to graduate school for counseling.

At about 3 years into recovery I got a job as a the Senior Counselor at an inner city residential addictions program. Although rabidly 12-Step, it had a cognitive restructuring component, a kind of watered down REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy).

I was then finishing my masters degree and studying for my comprehensive exam. That required that I be very familiar with a theory of counseling. I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I started reading Albert Ellis on REBT for the comps and for work.

The first two books I read were “Humanistic Psychotherapy” by Ellis and “New Guide to Rational Living” Ellis & Harper. I was was hooked! I loved REBT from the first page of the first book. In 1989, I attended the Primary Practicum In REBT at the Albert Ellis Institute in New York City. Over the years I completed all the requirements to become certified as an REBT supervisor and instructor. I have attended several REBT conferences and I even presented at one in Keystone CO in 2001.

SMART Recovery came into being when I was about 6 years in recovery. I found out about through the Albert Ellis Institute. First, it was Rational Recovery. Then it evolved into its present form. I found a home. That is how I became rational and smart.

The philosophy of SMART fits me perfectly. That doesn’t mean I always practice it perfectly. But, I am very happy here.

I have been doing some reflecting on how my life has changed.

My life before I stopped:

  • I had dropped out of college. This was especially stupid as I only had 2 courses left and was too stoned to realize it.
  • I had 2 bouts of pancreatitis that almost killed me as a direct result of my drinking.
  • I had chronic bronchitis from smoking pot all day everyday.
  • I was unemployed and unemployable.
  • I had been fired from several jobs because of my attitude.
  • The crowning irony was that the last job I was fired from I was the head counselor for a shelter for substance involved adolescents! You can imagine the bullshit and outright lies I had to tell myself to justify working there while smoking pot like chimney everyday. (People who know me well know I love irony.)
  • I had become abysmally stupid and have the MAT before and after scores to prove it. The MAT is an exam to get into graduate school. When I took the MAT the first time, I was smoking pot daily. My score was 35. (3 years after I quit, I scored 75!)
  • I couldn’t read and comprehend a paragraph because I’d forget how it started before I reached the end.
  • I couldn’t take care of myself, let alone a dog.
  • I had little or no control over my emotions. I did not manage my emotions, they managed me.

After I stopped:

  • My health improved considerably. I have had no problems with my pancreas since I stopped drinking. I continued to have regular bouts of bronchitis for a few years after I stopped smoking pot. But it ceased to be a biannual event after about 3 years. I suspect that there may have been some permanent damage to my lung capacity as well.
  • I completed college.
  • I took the MAT a 2nd time and scored 75!
  • I got into graduate school and earned my Master’s degree.
  • I completed training at the Albert Ellis Institute up to the clinical supervisor level.
  • I got to study with and get to know Albert Ellis and a number of other wonderful REBT people. (Many of these people were involved with SMART!)
  • Until recently, I have been employed almost continuously. More about that later.
  • My attitude at work, while still not great, hasn’t gotten me fired.
  • I have the very great pleasure of having dogs in my life.
  • I have been able to deal with the deaths of dogs that I loved very much and who had brought me much joy.
  • I have learned to manage my emotions much better.
  • I have learned to deal with some bitter disappointments as there are some things I would have liked out of life that I simply have not been able to achieve.
  • I have been able to contribute to society in ways that would have been absolutely impossible had I continued to drink/use.
  • I have been able to consistently pursue personally meaningful activities such as the daily practice of Tai Chi.

Okay, so much for the ‘I stopped drinking/drugging and life is fucking wonderful’ part of the story.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in recovery is that life doesn’t always give what you want. Sometimes it rains on your parade. Let’s face it, sometimes life shits on your parade.

When the shit hits the fan and your using, you usually end up standing there covered with shit and whining about it. Recovery doesn’t keep all the shit from hitting the fan. But, recovery does enable you to duck faster when it does. If you don’t duck fast enough, you take a shower instead of just standing there stinking.

In the last few years, the shit has certainly hit the fan several times. I started a business just before the economy crashed. I had to have major back surgery and didn’t know my insurance wouldn’t cover most of the expenses until it was too late. 2 of my dogs died as a result of sudden illnesses.

I’m now woefully underemployed. My income is far less than adequate. I’m finding difficult to find work for several reasons. Among them, I have visible handicap, deformed hands. This does preclude many kinds of work and, yes, there is prejudice against people with handicaps. At least 3 employers questioned my ability to use a computer because of my hands. Ironically, typing and using computers is something I can do. I’m also 59 and employers prefer younger workers. Age discrimination is another unfair fact of life.

The most galling problem I have run into, however, has been anti-SMART and anti-REBT prejudice. Several employers have come right out and said they would never hire anyone who was not 12-Step. Many of the those same employers made disparaging remarks about Albert Ellis.

So, despite having allegedly done everything right, stopped using, completed my education, obtained my counseling licenses, acquired advanced training, etc., things aren’t turning out spectacularly well. But that isn’t really what recovery is about.

Recovery is about dealing as best I can with life as it is, not as I wish it to be. Recovery is about learning the tools, skills, and coping strategies to change the things I can and live as gracefully as possible with the things I can’t. That I’m doing.

REBT and SMART Recovery have given me the tools I need. I find the ABCs of REBT to be especially useful. By using these tools, I’m able to manage my emotions and behaviors sensibly. I can still enjoy those activities that I can do, such as Tai Chi.

New stuff: Let me say this again, recovery is about dealing as best I can with life as it is, not as I wish it to be.

Recovery doesn’t guarantee I’ll be healthy. It does mean I won’t complicate and worsen any health problems with alcohol/drugs.

Recovery doesn’t guarantee I’ll always have a job. It does mean I’ll be better able to find and retain employment when possible.

Recovery doesn’t guarantee I’ll always have enough money. It does mean I’ll be much better able to cope with either wealth or poverty.

Drinking and drugging are like running a marathon with 5lb weights on my ankles and wrists. If I’m exceptionally strong, I might make it to the finish, but probably not. Taking the weights off, however, doesn’t guarantee I’ll win or even finish. It does make my chances better provided I do the training.

Year 29 was exceptionally difficult. Year 30 looks to be equally challenging. I would much rather meet these challenges with a clear head and using the tools of SMART Recovery and REBT.

Overall, life is better without alcohol and drugs. I’m able to practice Tai Chi daily. I can take care of my dogs. I can deal with life’s ups and downs. There is nothing so bad in my life that drinking or using wouldn’t make worse, probably far worse.

Jonathan


The Meaningful Activities List

The Meaningful Activities List is an extra action process you can do after completing the Hierarchy of Values Worksheet. You could also use it to apply constructive actions to your CBA (Cost Benefit Analysis) http://www.smartrecovery.org/resources/library/Tools_and_Homework/Quick_Reference/cba_fourquestions.htm.

To prepare for the Meaningful Activities List, first complete the SMART Recovery Hierarchy of Values Worksheet.HOV: Hierarchy of Values Worksheet

(Or go to http://www.smartrecovery.org/resources/toolchest.htm and look for HOV: Hierarchy of Values Worksheet )

Once you have your top 5 Values identified you have the beginning of yout list. These top 5 valuues are not in any order.

Now, next to each value, write down 1 -3 activities you can do to pursue this value, express it in your life, or somehow act on it and show its importance to you. Be succinct!

Example:

Value = Russo (my dog) … Meaningful Activities = Feed/care for her. Take her with me when I go places, train/pet/play with her.

Each of those activities is meaningfully about the dog. It is concrete and specific.It expresses the importance of the dog in m life. It is something I do.

Example:

Value = Tai Chi … Meaningful Activities = Practice 1 set (Basic exercise about :20) per/day. No excuses! Because of how important I consider Tai Chi, daily practice is a personal absolute. Do other Tai Chi exercises as I have the time and inclination: Softening, Qigong, DBC. Reading about or watching videos of Tai Chi only after I have done Tai Chi.

Now, this can be used at least 2 ways. I use it at the end of the day. I give myself credit for each meaningful actiivity I did. That way, if my day felt meaningless, I could look at the list and no, I did do X!. This could be used at the beginning of the day. Here, you are setting goal for the activitites you want to accomplish.

A Meaningful Activities list could be especially useful in early recovery for planning the day. If your time structure skills are non-existant, mine were, this is a great way to decide what is important and how much time to spend on it.

Here are some examples:

Meaningful Activities 11/19:
1. Practiced Tai Chi. Left foot still very swollen Both feet stiff. This is more than slightly annoying. The healing seems very gradual.
2. Fed/cared for Russo.
3. Posted the Daily Al.
4. SROL :90 observing at 1 meeting. :90 Facilitating another.
5. Saw 1 client
6. :30 of housework.

Meaningful Activities 11/18:
1. Practiced Tai Chi. Left foot still very swollen Both feet stiff. This is more than slightly annoying. The healing seems very gradual.
2. Fed/cared for Russo.
3. Posted the Daily Al.
4. SROL :90 various different functions on the MB.
5. :30 of putting qwap away.

I saw a friend post in this format. I felt honored that someone would like my Meaningful Activities list enough to try it.

Meaningful Activities 11/17:
1. Practiced Tai Chi. Left foot still very swollen Both feet stiff
2. Fed/cared for Russo.
3. Posted the Daily Al. (Missed it!)
4. SROL :30 sent verifications for last Nights’ meeting.

I practiced Tai Ch lightly. I will say this injury is making me practice very differently.


28 Years: My Recovery Program of Choice is SMART Recovery.

I quit drinking and drugging 28 years go on January 23, 1984. I was a daily pot smoker, a practice which rendered me abysmally stupid. I still drank occasionally despite having had pancreatitis and being at high risk for having it again and possibly dying quite painfully. My last drink was a large glass of cheap white wine mixed with cheap vodka. It did not taste good. It didn’t even do what I wanted it to do.

I went to a 30 day wonder rehab called Edge Hill Newport. It has since gone out of business. It was a disease model 12-Step facility. That was all that existed back then.

I didn’t particularly like the 12-Step model of recovery. I was, and still am, an atheist. I wasn’t about to turn my life and will over to some non-existent deity. I didn’t agree with the idea that I was powerless over what I put into my mouth. This got me into some trouble at Edge Hill and even more so in the halfway house I went to for 6 months afterward. But, I met some good people and I got through treatment relatively unscathed.

Oh, my attitude in early recovery stank. One counselor said “good morning” and I replied, “today is going to suck”. He told me to have a positive attitude. So I said, “okay, I’m positive today is going to suck”. At the halfway house, I was required to attend a certain number of AA/NA meetings per week. I made sure I attended a few more besides. That way, when I complained to the staff how much I disliked the meetings, they couldn’t accuse me of just doing the required minimum.

I have to admit, I was quite active in AA/NA. I disagreed completely with the basic assumptions of addiction as a disease, powerlessness, and the need for divine intervention. On the other hand, I did like many of the people. The social support was nice. There were a number of practical suggestions. Even some of the slogans made sense to some degree. I held different positions in various groups and even served on the NA Area Service Committee for awhile.

I returned college, having dropped out because I was too damned stoned all the time. Then I went to graduate school for counseling.

At about 3 years into recovery I got a job as a the Senior Counselor at an inner city residential addictions program. Although rabidly 12-Step, it had a cognitive restructuring component, a kind of watered down REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy).

I was then finishing my masters degree and studying for my comprehensive exam. That required that I be very familiar with a theory of counseling. I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I started reading Albert Ellis on REBT for the comps and for work.

The first two books I read were “Humanistic Psychotherapy” by Ellis and “New Guide to Rational Living” Ellis & Harper. I was was hooked! I loved REBT from the first page of the first book. In 1989, I attended the Primary Practicum In REBT at the Albert Ellis Institute in New York City. Over the years I completed all the requirements to become certified as an REBT supervisor and instructor. I have attended several REBT conferences and I even presented at one in Keystone CO in 2001.

SMART Recovery came into being when I was about 6 years in recovery. I found out about through the Albert Ellis Institute. First, it was Rational Recovery. Then it evolved into its present form. I found a home. That is how I became rational and smart.

The philosophy of SMART fits me perfectly. That doesn’t mean I always practice it perfectly. But, I am very happy here.

I have been doing some reflecting on how my life has changed.

My life before I stopped:

  • I had dropped out of college. This was especially stupid as I only had 2 courses left and was too stoned to realize it.
  • I had 2 bouts of pancreatitis that almost killed me as a direct result of my drinking.
  • I had chronic bronchitis from smoking pot all day everyday.
  • I was unemployed and unemployable.
  • I had been fired from several jobs because of my attitude.
  • The crowning irony was that the last job I was fired from I was the head counselor for a shelter for substance involved adolescents! You can imagine the bullshit and outright lies I had to tell myself to justify working there while smoking pot like chimney everyday. (People who know me well know I love irony.)
  • I had become abysmally stupid and have the MAT before and after scores to prove it. The MAT is an exam to get into graduate school. When I took the MAT the first time, I was smoking pot daily. My score was 35. (3 years after I quit, I scored 75!)
  • I couldn’t read and comprehend a paragraph because I’d forget how it started before I reached the end.
  • I couldn’t take care of myself, let alone a dog.
  • I had little or no control over my emotions. I did not manage my emotions, they managed me.


After I stopped:

  • My health improved considerably. I have had no problems with my pancreas since I stopped drinking. I continued to have regular bouts of bronchitis for a few years after I stopped smoking pot. But it ceased to be a biannual event after about 3 years. I suspect that there may have been some permanent damage to my lung capacity as well.
  • I completed college.
  • I took the MAT a 2nd time and scored 75!
  • I got into graduate school and earned my Master’s degree.
  • I completed training at the Albert Ellis Institute up to the clinical supervisor level.
  • I got to study with and get to know Albert Ellis and a number of other wonderful REBT people. (Many of these people were involved with SMART!)
  • Until recently, I have been employed almost continuously. More about that later.
  • My attitude at work, while still not great, hasn’t gotten me fired.
  • I have the very great pleasure of having dogs in my life.
  • I have been able to deal with the deaths of dogs that I loved very much and who had brought me much joy.
  • I have learned to manage my emotions much better.
  • I have learned to deal with some bitter disappointments as there are some things I would have liked out of life that I simply have not been able to achieve.
  • I have been able to contribute to society in ways that would have been absolutely impossible had I continued to drink/use.
  • I have been able to consistently pursue personally meaningful activities such as the daily practice of Tai Chi.


Okay, so much for the ‘I stopped drinking/drugging and life is fucking wonderful’ part of the story.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in recovery is that life doesn’t always give what you want. Sometimes it rains on your parade. Let’s face it, sometimes life shits on your parade.

When the shit hits the fan and your using, you usually end up standing there covered with shit and whining about it. Recovery doesn’t keep all the shit from hitting the fan. But, recovery does enable you to duck faster when it does. If you don’t duck fast enough, you take a shower instead of just standing there stinking.

In the last few years, the shit has certainly hit the fan several times. I started a business just before the economy crashed. I had to have major back surgery and didn’t know my insurance wouldn’t cover most of the expenses until it was too late. 2 of my dogs died as a result of sudden illnesses.

I’m now woefully underemployed. My income is far less than adequate. I’m finding difficult to find work for several reasons. Among them, I have visible handicap, deformed hands. This does preclude many kinds of work and, yes, there is prejudice against people with handicaps. At least 3 employers questioned my ability to use a computer because of my hands. Ironically, typing and using computers is something I can do. I’m also 59 and employers prefer younger workers. Age discrimination is another unfair fact of life.

The most galling problem I have run into, however, has been anti-SMART and anti-REBT prejudice. Several employers have come right out and said they would never hire anyone who was not 12-Step. Many of the those same employers made disparaging remarks about Albert Ellis.

So, despite having allegedly done everything right, stopped using, completed my education, obtained my counseling licenses, acquired advanced training, etc., things aren’t turning out spectacularly well. But that isn’t really what recovery is about.

Recovery is about dealing as best I can with life as it is, not as I wish it to be. Recovery is about learning the tools, skills, and coping strategies to change the things I can and live as gracefully as possible with the things I can’t. That I’m doing.

REBT and SMART Recovery have given me the tools I need. I find the ABCs of REBT to be especially useful. By using these tools, I’m able to manage my emotions and behaviors sensibly. I can still enjoy those activities that I can do, such as Tai Chi.

SMART Recovery can be found at http://www.smartrecovery.org


Comments, suggestions, questions and inane remarks are encourage as always!


Deep Dark Depression,

This is an ABC Exercise exercise using a format that I wrote.

The subject is depression and I used the emotion itself as the A. So here I have identified irrational beliefs leading to secondary upset, that is being depressed about being depressed, Then I challenged and changed those beliefs to more rational ones. I have had depression on and off for most of my life.

 I write about my own nutty thinking for several reasons. For one, none of us is perfect. As Albert Ellis was fond of saying, we are all “fallible, fucked-up, human beings”. That, alas, includes me. Secondly, I want to role model using these techniques. REBT isn’t something I just do with my clients. I practice it myself in my own life.

A. (Activating Event): What happened?

A.: Felt depressed, hopeless, helpless, etc. Didn’t accomplish all that much today.

G. (Goal) What goal was blocked, frustrated or interfered with?

G.: Had wanted to get more things done!

B. (Beliefs, Thoughts and Values about A): What am I telling myself?

  • Rational: Provable, Reality Based, Preference Based, Self-Helping, Logical, Beneficial.

  • Irrational: Un-provable, Not Reality Based, Demand Based, Self-Defeating,Illogical, Bull-Stuff.

1. I shouldn’t feel depressed, hopeless, helpless, etc.

2. I shouldn’t give in to feelings of depression, hopelessness, helplessness, etc.

3. After all these years of REBT I should fucking know better.

4. It’s fucking awful to feel depressed, hopeless, helpless, etc.

C. (Emotional & Behavioral Consequences of A X B): How do I feel? What do I do?

Emotions: Even more DEPRESSED. Feel DEPRESSED about feeling DEPRESSED

Behaviors: Pulled the covers over my head and slept.

D. (Disputes Arguments Against Irrational Beliefs): Why is the Bull-stuff not true?

1. Why the hell shouldn’t I feel depressed, hopeless, helpless, etc?

2. Where is the evidence that I shouldn’t give in to these feelings?

3. What proof, if any, is there I should know better?

4. How fucking, or unfucking, bad is it really?

E. (Effective New Beliefs, Philosophy, Thoughts & Values): What can I believe and tell myself that will result in appropriate, un-exaggerated emotions and productive, self-helping behaviors?

Why the hell shouldn’t I feel depressed, hopeless, helpless, etc?

There is no reason in the world that I should or shouldn’t feel anything. I’ve been more or less depressed almost all my life. Given that fact, isn’t somewhat unrealistic to expect to feel happy and wonderful? If depressed, hopeless, helpless, etc is how I feel, then that’s how I feel. Demanding I shouldn’t only makes it 1000x worse!

Where is the evidence that I shouldn’t give in to these feelings?

There is no fucking evidence that I shouldn’t give in to these feelings. In fact, I did accomplish some things, just not as much as I could have or would have liked to. I have given in to these feelings on and off most of my life. Isn’t it a bit unreasonable for me to expect myself to magically stop now? While it isn’t in my best fucking interest to give in to these feelings, it’s not a disaster either.

What proof, if any, is there I should know better?

Just because I’ve had years upon years of REBT training and experience doesn’t make me somehow superhuman and perfectly rational. It’s highly likely that I’m actually much better than I would have been had I never learned REBT. Instead of damning myself for supposedly knowing better, maybe I should acknowledge that my depression would almost certainly be be a lot worse if I didn’t know and practice REBT.

How fucking, or unfucking, bad is it really?

It ain’t pretty but it isn’t a train wreck either. It is certainly possible I could be much worse off. It’s even possible that I’m in pretty good shape because of my REBT background despite how I’m feeling.

Practice, Practice, Practice. Then, practice some more. After that, keep practicing!

As always, comments, questions, suggestions, and inane remarks are welcome.


Dire Need for Love & Approval

I decided to write this a little differently. No, I didn’t type it with my toes. Although the thought obviously crossed my mind. Usually when I write something, I sit down and write the whole thing at once. That limited what I could do. In terms of length. This time, I wrote a little at a time. The length wasn’t any different. I just wanted to do the process a little differently.

A friend, Leslie Basden, posted a question on Face Book:

“During meditation, I figured out that I still spend an unhealthy amount of time worrying about how others perceive me. Gotta get back to work on that. Jonathan von Breton, any tips?”

I gave her some quick tips:

1. Keep meditating.

2. Stop downing yourself for having any irrational belief such as “people must love and approve of me or else I’m a ****!” Bad enough you believe it, no sense in damning yourself for it too.

3. Appreciate the progress you have made. While this is still at what you consider an unhealthy and undesirable level, is it as unhealthy/undesirable a level at it used to be?

4. Continue the progress you’ve made so far. Challenge the idiotic notion that others love/approval = your self-worth. Does it really? Does disapproval/dislike/indifference by others magically turn you into a ****? Does their love and approval magically make you a saint?

5. Realize that love and approval by other, particularly those we love, has great advantages. It feels good. There’s nothing wrong with liking it. But it doesn’t make us worth anymore. The lack of it doesn’t make us worth any less.

Now, I’d like to expand on those tips.

1. Keep meditating.

Most, if not all, of our irrational beliefs are held so deeply that we aren’t aware of them consciously. We experience them by their negative effects on our emotions and actions. As Leslie said, these irrational thoughts can also surface in meditation.

Meditation is useful for a variety of reasons. It’s relaxing, It can be pleasant. It’s a good distraction. Meditation can help alleviate anger, anxiety, depression, and pain, at least remporarily. What’s more, like dreams, it we can allow some of our most basic beliefs and assumptions about the world surface. Not all of those beliefs are irrational.

2. Stop downing yourself for having any irrational belief such as “people must love and approve of me or else I’m a ****!” Bad enough you believe it, no sense in damning yourself for it too.

The irrational belief here causes secondary disturbances. That is, you upset yourself and make yourself angry, anxious, depressed, or all 3 about the fact you’re upset. These beliefs are:

“I shouldn’t have the irrational belief that people must love and approve of me or else I’m a ****!”

Where is the evidence you shouldn’t have irrational beliefs?

What proof is there that you mustn’t have this particular insane belief?

How do you feel when you insist you shouldn’t have a nutty belief that you obviously have?

3. Appreciate the progress you have made. While this is still at what you consider an unhealthy and undesirable level, is it as unhealthy/undesirable a level at it used to be?

Many of us, myself included, are quite talented at ignoring our progress and over-focusing on what we have yet to achieve. This is a philosophical and emotional black hole. We can pour endless amounts of energy into a goal and there will always be room for improvement.

So, I look for changes in:

Frequency: How often I do something.

Intensity: How strongly I do something.

Duration: How long I do something.

If I’m trying to eliminate a habit, I measure progress by decreases, a.k.a. harm reduction.

I measure progress by increases if I’m looking to start or improve a behavior,

4. Continue the progress you’ve made so far. Challenge the idiotic notion that others love/approval = your self-worth. Does it really? Does disapproval/dislike/indifference by others magically turn you into a ****? Does their love and approval magically make you a saint?

Dispute! Dispute! Dispute! These beliefs are firmly entrenched. They won’t go away just because you ask them to nicely, once. They’re as strong as they are because you trained yourself to believe them and practiced them tirelessly. No wonder you’re so good at them.

5. Realize that love and approval by others, particularly those we love, has great advantages. It feels good. There’s nothing wrong with liking it. But it doesn’t make us worth anymore. The lack of it doesn’t make us worth any less.

The underlying fallacy is that Self-worth = Love/Approval. Sheer nonsense. Society would like us to believe that because it makes us much easier to manipulate. The classic line, ‘if you loved, you would …”, has no power if you don’t buy into this idiocy.

So practice accepting yourself unconditionally. Allow yourself to enjoy love and approval when it comes your way. Just don’t make the determining factor in how you feel about yourself.

Now, if you love me and like this blog, send me $1,000,000.00 in small, used, unmarked bills.

As always, comments, questions and inane remarks are welcome.

Leslie Basden has her own fine blog here: http://www.open.salon.com/blog/leslieca


Self Acceptance, Perfectionism, and 1000 Days of Tai Chi

I made it! As of 12/10/11, I have practiced Tai Chi consistently every day for 1000 days in a row. I have done the set at least once on each and every one of those days. This may not seem like much to people who have practiced Tai Chi or another martial art daily for decades. For me, it’s a huge achievement. Oh, and my Tai Chi is quite a bit better than it was 1000 days ago.

I have practiced Tai Chi on and off for many years, about 30 at this point. Never before have I accomplished this level of consistent practice.

Now, what does this grand achievement have to do Self Acceptance, Perfectionism, or anything else REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) related? Well, it has pretty much everything to do with it.

First a little history:

I became interested in martial arts as a child. I mentioned in my first blog that I have a disability, short arms and deformed hands. In addition to requiring a lot of painful and frightening surgery, I was an easy target for bullies. Fortunately bullying back then was not as bad as it is today. Anyway, I had major feelings of helplessness and vulnerability. Learning to fight seemed like a good idea and it was.

I first learned some Savate, French foot fighting. That was an excellent choice given my hands. I went on to study karate, Uechi Ryu, long before it was popular. I never was able to develop the daily practice needed to truly excel.

In my 20s I started studying Yang Tiger Style Tai Chi. Again, I practiced, but not as consistently as I ‘should’ have. But, I did pretty well.

In April of 2008, I started studying Yang Snake Style Tai Chi (a.k.a. Ip Family Style). I decided to go about this differently.

Now, a few key REBT ideas:

USA (Unconditional Self Acceptance): Part of my motivation for martial arts was to overcome feelings of helplessness and inferiority because of my handicap. That’s not a bad reason. It worked well for that, to an extent. It did nothing to increase my self-acceptance as I am. It inadvertently fed into conditional self-acceptance. That was, I’m only as good as my ability to fight and defend myself. That was the trap. Even with the perfect body I didn’t have, there would always be someone stronger, faster, just plain better than me. The underlying realization that no matter how good I got, I would never be a great warrior. I would never be ‘Jonathan the Invincible’.

Perfectionism: Perfectionism is related to conditional self-acceptance. Basically, it means that a person’s worth is dependent on how well they do something and what they achieve.

Self-worth = Competency and/or Achievement. The better you are at something, the more you achieve, the better ‘you’ are. If you don’t get all As and win first place, you’re a worthless ****!

Yes, I stupidly judged myself on my martial abilities.

HFT (High Frustration Tolerance): Martial arts, like many other worthwhile endeavors, require practice. Not just a little practice, they require a lot of practice. That, in turn requires putting up a high degree of frustration.

My earlier teachers were of the more is better school of thought. If 100 kicks were good, 1000 were better and 2000 were even better than that. If 1 Tai Chi set was good, 10 were better.

So I would set impossible practice goals for myself. Then I would damn myself for not achieving them every ******* day without fail. This led to my giving up for awhile. Then I would repeat the pattern. Thus, I never attained real practice consistency.

VACI (Vital Absorbing Creative Interest): This is a key concept to living a reasonably happy, meaningful life. Essentially it is any activity that a person enjoys. They find it inherently worthwhile to do even in the absence of external rewards. External rewards are fine, they just can’t be the sole reason for doing it. The activity involves the person’s sense of creativity. It, on some level takes them outside themselves. VACIs are challenging. They aren’t always fun all the time. But they are always worth doing.

Tai Chi is one of my VACIs. Writing blog entries is rapidly becoming another.

What does all this have to do with 1000 days of Tai Chi?

When I started studying Ip Family Style I decided to make consistent, daily practice my number 1 priority. I knew I had some irrational beliefs that would sabotage that if I didn’t get rid of them.

The first nutty idea to go was ‘more is better’. No, more was not necessarily better. More was a ‘not good enough’ trap. Why the **** isn’t doing 1 and only 1 set per day acceptable? There is no law of the universe that says I have to do even 1 set/day, let alone 10. So I made a rule that I would do 1 set a day and give myself credit for only that set. If I did more, great. But I only got credit for and recorded 1. That way I wasn’t constantly raising the bar to impossible levels. 1 set per day was a realistic goal.

My second piece of insanity to go was my conditional self-acceptance and perfectionism. I accepted myself as a vulnerable, quite vincible human being. My Tai Chi may never be of Great Grand Master quality. I may never be a mighty warrior. I may not even be all that good at Tai Chi. So ******* what? I can enjoy doing Tai Chi. I can learn more Tai Chi. I can definitely improve my Tai Chi. I accepted the fact that my Tai Chi was TERRIBLE and my new goal was to improve it to terrible! I was certainly never going to do it perfectly.

So I started out with the following beliefs in place.

  1. 1 set/day is enough. It is something I can do every day no matter where I am.
  2. My self-acceptance is not dependent on my Tai Chi or my martial ability.
  3. I do not have to do it perfectly. I just have to do it. Technically, I don’t even have to do it. But I choose to. TERRIBLE isn’t bad. TERRIBle is good. TERRible is even better.
  4. I accept that I’m most likely better at Tai Chi than I think I am while not as good as I’d like to be.

At first, I would practice 6 out of 7 days. Even this was good consistency. Then, I really got into the habit of daily practice. I made 305 days in row. On 3/11/09 I had major surgery on my cervical spine. I had to take 4 days off. As soon as I could stand, I started practicing Tai Chi again, gently. Since then I haven’t missed a day. Today was 1008 days in a row.

I have had days where I basically just went through the motions for sake of doing it. I have had days when I was really into the flow of it. I have done it well on some days and poorly on others. I have put it off until 11;30 at night on at least 2 occasions. I have done Tai Chi at 34,000 ft. in the galley of a 747. I have done it in airports and train stations. Those were great shame attacks as I had to overcome feeling self-conscious.

I give Albert Ellis credit for teaching REBT. I give Rick Losasso credit for teaching me Ip Tai Chi. I give myself credit for putting it all together for 1008 days in row!

As always, comments, questions and inane remarks are welcome.


Thoughts About Gratitude.

When I was much younger, I had a severe alcohol and drug problem. As part of my recovery, I attended a popular support group. It wasn’t by choice. It was just the only group around at that time. One of their sayings was, “Have an Attitude of Gratitude”. Being the cynic and pessimist I was, and still am, I translated that into, “Have an Attitude of Platitude”.

Over the years, I have found out that there is some truth to that particular saying. So, I decided to look at the saying itself. I thought I would analyze it to determine if it is rational or irrational.

For my purposes, I define rational thinking as:

  1. Thinking that is based in reality. There is objective evidence for it. It expresses preferences, not demands.
  2. Thinking that results in desirable, healthy emotions or helps me manage undesirable, unhealthy ones.
  3. Thinking that helps me achieve my short and long term goals and helps avoid unnecessary trouble, pain, etc.
  4. Thinking that helps my social relationships rather than hinder them or cause unneeded trouble and conflict.

Having an attitude of gratitude is about choosing what to focus on and pay attention to. A great many people, myself included, are tremendously talented at focusing on the negative. We are amazingly good at paying attention to, concentrating on, and ruminating about what we don’t have and what is wrong in our lives. We practice it daily until it becomes automatic and habitual. We get so ****ing good at it that we can spot the half-empty glass that is our life from a mile away. We usually discount anything good as a fluke of a fickle universe. This thinking style results in chronic dissatisfaction at best. At worst, it leads to depression, anxiety and and anger problems.

So, I’m writing this for those of us who see the glass as half-empty, cracked and leaking.

  1. Is there any objective evidence for the benefits of gratitude?

Much to my surprise, the answer is yes. There have been a few studied that have shown that people who write a list of 5 things they’re grateful for each day are happier. Not only do they score higher on measures of general happiness and life satisfaction, they score much higher. What I thought was a mindless platitude is in fact true. There is evidence for it.

In keeping with the idea that rational thinking is reality based, then recognizing that some things in life a in fact positive and desirable is rational. Focusing on those positives balances the negatives. Such a balance is more realistic than unbridled pessimism or optimism.

  1. Does thinking this way result in desirable, healthy emotions or helps me manage undesirable, unhealthy ones?

This calls for a pragmatic question. That is, do I like the emotions I get from this thinking? Do I like the emotions I get when I over-focus on the negative? Are these emotions healthy and desirable? Well? **** no! And **** no! I’m not a huge fan feeling depressed, anxious, and angry. Furthermore, these emotions have long term negative health effects.

  1. Does thinking this way help me achieve my short and long term goals and helps avoid unnecessary trouble, pain, etc?

If my long and short term goals include feelings of satisfaction and contentment, then it makes a lot of sense to focus at least some of the time on what I’m grateful for. At the same time, if I want to avoid unnecessary trouble and pain, it again makes sense to pay attention to and appreciate what is going well in my life. Concentrating exclusively on the **** leads to depression, anxiety, and anger. Each of those emotions tend to interfere with healthy, creative, goal oriented behavior.

  1. Does this thinking help my social relationships rather than hinder them or cause unneeded trouble and conflict.

Few people like exclusively negative, pessimistic people. In fact just today I was called a nattering nabob of negativity. Let’s face it, people who are depressed and anxious are not fun to be around. People who are angry much of the time are even less fun. So if having an attitude of gratitude can help overcome these unfortunate tendencies, it may improve social relations.

Writing this was not as easy as it looks. I’m coming to the conclusion that focusing on gratitude, life’s positives, or whatever you want to call it is rational. Far from being an ‘attitude of platitudes’ having an attitude of gratitude has some real advantages.

For someone like me, this is easier said than done. I have decades of practice at over-focusing on the negative. There is also a place for that kind of thinking. However, I think it pays off hugely to have a more balanced view of things.

There is no danger of me ever becoming a Pollyanna, life is ****ing wonderful, when life hands you lemons make lemonade kind of guy. But I do think it’s important for my own happiness and well-being to balance it with a little gratitude.

I shall now start. As this is a blog about the role of REBT in my life, I will express my gratitude for those people who were are part of that.

I am grateful to:

Albert Ellis. He was the founder of REBT as a form of therapy. He was also a friend.

Barbara Pyle. She was my therapist and coach for many years. She was also an REBTer

Emmett Velten. He was a friend, a colleague, a co-presenter at conferences, and a long time REBTer.

As always, questions, comments and inane remarks are welcome.