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Demand, Distress, Disaster (…too dramatic?)

As you may remember from last week, according to the principles of REBT, we feel how we think. More specifically, it is unhelpful thoughts (aka Irrational Beliefs) that lead to unhelpful emotions and behaviors. In REBT, Irrational Beliefs are defined as rigid, illogical and not based in reality and fall into four different categories: (i) Demandingness, (ii) Frustration Intolerance, (iii) Awfulizing, and (iv) Downing (Self-, Other-, and Life-Downing) beliefs. Today, we are going to spend some time with our friend Alison and her unhelpful Demandingness belief, “My team members should have performed better during the meeting!”[1]

Demandingness beliefs are thoughts that place a demand on yourself, others, or a situation. Demands can also be identified by the presence of the words should and must. Demands are considered unhelpful because this way of thinking is completely inconsistent with reality! Let’s think about it this way - yesterday, I got on the subway to attend a meeting, and the next thing I knew the subway zipped past my stop and became an express train. As the street numbers continued to rise, and I was nowhere near where I wanted to be, I caught myself saying, “This train should have stopped!” Why isn’t this thought consistent with reality? Because, no matter how much I demanded that the subway stop, it wasn’t going to! No matter how much I demanded that the situation be different, the train wasn’t going to turn around to let me off at my stop. As frustrating as it may be, there is no reason that the world must act according to the way we think it should. No matter how much I wished that the train ran local like I expected it too, I couldn’t change the fact that it was now an express train.

In Alison’s case, she is placing a demand on her coworkers that they should have performed better during the meeting. But…. why? Why should her coworkers perform better during the meeting? Yes, it may have increased the team’s chances of signing the client, but Alison can’t control how other people perform (no matter how much she wants to). Just because we want people to act a certain way, or situations to unfold in a particular manner, there is no reason that they 100% must! Demands are problematic because they aren’t logical (just because we want something, it doesn’t have to be that way), supported by evidence (there isn’t a law that says our coworkers must perform up to our standards), and aren’t based in reality (thinking that the MTA would be predictable…ha-ha). When we hold onto these demands, and the demands aren’t met, the more upset we become. It is like demanding you are three inches taller when you haven’t grown in years. It just isn’t going to happen. The more you demand that you grow taller, the more angry you feel when your height doesn’t budge.

Now that we know how Alison’s demands about the pitch contributed to her anger, what do we do about it? All four types of unhelpful irrational beliefs have helpful counterparts known as helpful beliefs (aka Rational Beliefs). These types of thoughts are flexible, logical, based in reality, and supported by evidence. The more helpful alternative to Demandingness beliefs are called Preferences. Rather than shoulds and musts, the hallmark of Preferences are wishes and wants. We all wish and want things in life; however, these beliefs are much more realistic because when we express wishes and wants, we understand that they may not come true. When we allow for this flexibility, situations aren’t as jarring when our expectations aren’t met, and we are in a much better place to cope with the outcome of the situation.

I do want to point out that while these beliefs are more helpful, they aren’t necessarily positive! It wouldn’t really make sense for Alison to feel positively about losing the client, would it? However, her anger certainly isn’t helping the situation. If Alison thought instead, “I wish that my coworkers performed better, but just because I want them to perform better, I can’t control what they do,” her thinking is much more in line with the reality of the situation (that Max and Dave underperform during pitch meetings). When thinking in a more helpful way, rather than Alison feeling so angry and then sending impulsive angry e-mails, she would likely feel frustrated (appropriately so, because there is no way to spin this into a positive situation) and calmly communicate with her team after the meeting. These are exactly the kind of skills that Alison would learn at one of BEW’s Skills-Based workshops.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks to learn about the other three types of irrational and rational beliefs in REBT, as well as which of these beliefs impacted Max’s and Dave’s reactions to losing a client.

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[1] DiGiuseppe, R.A., Doyle, K.A., Dryden, W., & Backx, W. (2014). A practitioner’s guide to rational emotive behavior therapy (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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