Emotionally Intelligent Resilience

Blog Post No. 162

By Dr Jim Byrne

11th February 2018

Updated: Sunday 25th February 2018 – (See Postscript No.2 at the end of this blog)

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog:

Contrasting moderate stoicism against extreme stoicism in dealing with life’s adversities…

A personal blog story…

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Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

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Story at a glance:

  • I recently faced a serious adversity involving the crashing of a piece of written work – (a digital index in a Word document,  for a new book) – which had taken weeks to construct; and which will now (it seems) take weeks of work to restore!
  • I felt very bad when I realized how serious the problem was.
  • I instinctively used a system of coping which I have described as the ‘wounded cat’ position – which involves allowing the passage of time; and staying with the bad feelings; and not trying to jump over them.
  • In order to illustrate this ‘wounded cat’ process, I present a case study of a former client who had a serious loss to deal with, and to whom I recommended this process.  It was highly effective in allowing the client to process and integrate his sense of loss.
  • I have also clarified that there are two other processes that have to be in place before the ‘wounded cat’ process can be used: (1) Work on family-of-origin fragility; and (2) development of  moderate stoical re-framing skills.

Context

Why people become upsetWhen important things go wrong in a person’s life, that person predictably and understandably becomes emotionally upset.  This was a common-sense perspective until rational and cognitive therapy resuscitated an ancient Roman slave’s perspective which asserts (wrongly) that people are not upset by what happens to them!

And that is precisely the problem.  Epictetus was a slave in ancient Rome.  Not only was he a slave, but his mother, before him, was also a slave; and he was born into slavery.  Imagine how low his expectations of life would be – the slavish son of a slavish woman!  And then he was released by his slave-owner, to preach Extreme Stoicism to the masses.

For a time, I was taken in by Stoicism, and subscribed not only to moderate Stoicism (which is realistic resilience), but also to extreme Stoicism (which is an unrealistic and unhealthy tendency to try to tolerate the intolerable!).

Today I want to present you with a little story of a recent adversity that I had to face – (which I am still having to face) – as a way of teaching a particular point about philosophy of life, and how it fits into emotional self-management. Needless to say, I will be trying to avoid Extreme Stoicism, while at the same time showing some resilience in the face of adversity.

The adversity is actually more than a ‘little’ problem.  Basically, I was getting close to publishing my next book – Counselling the Whole Person – and I had produced two or three new sections of the index, at the back of the book.

Cover, full, revised 5-10th Feb

The rest of the index had been borrowed from an earlier version of parts of this book (published as Holistic Counselling in Practice, in 2016), and the complete index seemed to be working well electronically (in that the automatic page numbering changed correctly, every time I inserted new pages, or extracted deleted pages).  Then, all of a sudden, I noticed some of the entries in the index did not correspond to the content of the pages to which they referred.  They were out by exactly 8 pages.  Always the same scale of error. I checked four, five, seven, nine, entries, and every single one was incorrect.  So I checked eight or ten more.  Each one was inaccurate.  The index had become corrupted somehow, and was now useless, because it was misleading and inaccurate.  I could not see any way to fix this, and so I had to decide to delete the whole index, including the extensive entries for two or three new chapters that I had recently completed, (which had involved about two or three weeks’ work altogether).  I am now faced with constructing a whole new index, which may take a month, or six weeks.  Who can say?

Coping with adversity

Sleep section of indexThis is a significant adversity, for me.  It involves a lot of wasted labour constructing a useless index, which had to be dumped.  It involves having to do a lot of days and days and days of reconstructing this index, which prevents me from engaging in other areas of important and urgent work.

A moderate stoical way of seeing this, which is the E-CENT approach, goes like this: “This is awful – but I am determined to cope with it!” (It is awful in the sense of being very bad; and very unpleasant.) And my commitment to cope with it is in the context that there are some things I can control, and some I cannot control.  And so I will try to control those aspects of this problem which are controllable by me!

By contrast, an extreme stoical way of seeing this same problem – which comes to us from rational and cognitive therapy – would be: “This isn’t awful.  I certainly can stand it.  And it should be the way it indubitably is”.

The problem with this extreme stoical approach is this:

  1. It’s completely unsympathetic to the suffering individual who is facing the adversity.
  2. It encourages the victim of adversity to jump over their emotional response, and to deny that they have any right to feel upset about this. (In practice, the extreme stoic often sails under a false flag, [which may actually be non-conscious!], which claims that they only want the victim of adversity to avoid overly-upset emotions, and to keep their reasonably upset emotions! But in practice, there is no space in an REBT session [based on extreme stoicism] for the client to articulate their reasonable upsets, and to have them acknowledged!  And they had better not expect any sympathy, because they sure as hell are not going to get it!)

So, given that I have moved away from extreme stoicism (in all its forms, including REBT and CBT), and now only practice moderate stoicism, how have I managed my adversity involving my crashed and burned index?

My moderate stoical approach to coping with adversity

Firstly, I no longer use the ABC model of REBT/CBT, because those systems are based on the false belief expressed by Epictetus like this: “People are not upset by what happens to them, but rather, by their attitude towards what has happened to them”.  And the only aspect of their ‘attitude’ that is taken into account by modern rational and emotive therapies is this: The thinking component of their attitude!  But our attitudes have three components, which are all interrelated and bound up together – the thinking component; the feeling component; and the behavioural component.

I reject the Epictetan view, that I am upset by my attitude, and not by the crashing of my index. I know I am upset by the crashing of my index, and the negative train of events which flowed from that happening.  If my index had not crashed, I could not possibly be upset about a non-existent event!

And I reject the modern cognitive/rational perspective, that the only thing that intervenes between my experience of my crashed index and my upset emotions is my Beliefs or Thoughts about the experience.

Firstly, it is not possible to separate out my so-called thinking from my so-called feeling, and my so-called behavioural response.  In our E-CENT model – the Holistic SOR model – there is only this:

S – Stimulus = I notice that my index has crashed

O = Organism = My whole body-brain-mind identifies (or matches) this adversity with a historically shaped response, linked to similar experiences in the past.

R = Response = My emotional and behavioural response is outputted, or expressed, into the world.

PS: I will write some more about what goes on inside the ‘O’ (or Organism) tomorrow!

Cover444

Epictetus was a slave, with low expectations of life, and his writings were discovered by 19 year old Albert Ellis who had low expectations of social connection, love, and affection, because he was seriously neglected by his parents from the beginning of his life.  Ellis has tried to teach all of us to join him and Epictetus in having exceedingly low expectations of life.  Ellis calls this “High Frustration Tolerance” – but I have called it “Tolerating the Intolerable“; or “Putting up with the changeable and fixable aspects of adversity!”

Resilience as defined by Albert Ellis and Epictetus is way too far from what I now see as necessary or reasonable expectations of a human being.    I have reviewed a lot of literature on modern views of resilience, and I have summarized that work in my book on REBT.  Here’s a brief extract:

“In this spirit, I want to make the following points.  Perhaps we should abandon any reference to Stoicism in counselling and therapy, and replace them with advice on how to become more resilient in the face of unavoidable life difficulties.  Southwick and Charney (2012)[i] – two medical doctors – suggest that a useful curriculum for the development of greater resilience would include: Developing optimism (and overcoming learned pessimism); Facing up to our fears (or being courageous); Developing a moral compass (or learning to always do what is the right thing, rather than what is opportunistically advantageous); Developing a spiritual, faith, or community connection that is bigger than the self; Connecting to others for social support; Finding and following resilient role models; Practising regular physical exercise; Working on brain-mind fitness, including mindfulness and cognitive training – (but Southwick and Charney overlooked the impact of food and gut flora on the brain-mind, so that needs to be considered also); Developing flexibility in our thinking-feeling-behaviour (including acceptance and reappraisal); Focusing on the meaning of your life, the purpose of your life, and on desired areas of personal growth.”

“Perhaps a consideration of these ideas could take us beyond the ‘wishful thinking’ about impossible goals set by Zeno, Marcus and Epictetus (and Albert Ellis, and some other CBT theorists).”  (Extracted from my book on REBT. )

Footnote [i] Southwick, S.M. and Dennis S. Charney (2013) Resilience: The science of mastering life’s greatest challenges.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

If you have been enrolled into the Extreme Stoicism of REBT, and you want to think your way out again, so you can be fully human, living from your innate emotional wiring, as socialized by moderate stoical resilience, instead of trying to live like a block of stone, or a lump of wood, then you have to read this book: Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes: the case against RE&CBT***)

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Anger, anxiety, depression, and nutrition and physical exercise, imageUnlike the rational and cognitive therapists, I accept that I am an emotional being first and last, with some degree of capacity to think and reason – though my so called thinking and reasoning can never be separated from my perceiving and feeling.  So I am not so much a ‘thinking being’ as I am a ‘perfinking being’ – where perfinking involves perceiving-feeling-thinking all in one grasp of the brain-mind. (And I am a body-brain-mind in a social environment, and my approach to diet and exercise is just as important as my approach to philosophy.  See How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, using nutrition and physical exercise.***)

New ways of coping with adversity

In dealing with my own adversity, involving the ‘death’ of my book-index, I think, (meaning, I now assume that), without any conscious awareness of what I was doing, I followed a pattern that I had used with a male client who had been betrayed by his lover/partner, who had had an affair with a near neighbour.

Let me now review that case, so we can understand my moderate stoical approach.

Instead of telling this client, regarding his partner’s infidelity:

  1. “It should be the way it is!” (This is the REBT – Extreme Stoical – approach! Think how insensitive that is!)

I also avoided telling him:

  1. “It isn’t awful!” – (Because it obviously was awful, according to any reasonable dictionary definition! And also, that was precisely what it felt like to him – awful! And the dictionary definitions that I’ve consulted say that ‘awful’ means ‘very bad’ or ‘very unpleasant’ – which this experience undoubtedly was!)

And I did not resort to telling him:

  1. “You certainly can stand this kind of abuse!” (Enough already!)

Instead, I listened sympathetically.  I knew he was suffering, and in a stressed state.  I knew he was locked into a deep grieving process.  And grief is not pathological!  It’s not inappropriate!  It serves a very important function; and the way to manage grief is to stay with it; to feel it fully; and to let it take it’s course.  (See Chapter 5 [Sections 5.10 and 5.11] of Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes.***)

Grief is an innate ‘affect’, or basic emotion, which is further refined in the family of origin.  Grief is implicated in the attachment process between mother and baby; and is clearly related to the map/territory problem.  We humans build up a map of our social experience; and every significant person and thing is represented on our inner map of our social/emotional world.  When somebody to whom we are close either abandons us, or dies (which comes to the same thing!) there is now a serious discrepancy between the map and the territory.  The inner reality and the outer reality. And it takes a long time to bring our inner maps up to date.  In my experience, it will most often take up to eighteen months for a healthy updating of a person’s inner map when they lose their partner through divorce or death. (But bear in mind that the Berkeley Growth Study showed that “…ego-resilient adults come from homes with loving, patient, intelligent, competent, integrated mothers, where there is free interchange of problems and feelings (Seligman et al., 1970…” And “ego-brittle persons, by contrast, come from homes that are conflictual, discordant, and lack any philosophical or intellectual emphasis…” (Cook, 1993, Levels of Personality).

Knowing what I know about grief – that it requires time: I did not try to send any ‘solutions’ to this client!  There are none, in this kind of grief about loss situation.

I did not offer any advice, for at least three-quarters of the session.

I showed that I felt for my client; so visibly that he would ‘feel felt’! 

I also communicated non-verbally that it is okay to grieve; it’s normal to grieve when we have lost a significant other person, or even a significant possession, like a career, a home, or whatever.

Wounded cat 2Right near the end of the session, I told him:

“Imagine you are a wounded cat.  Take yourself off somewhere quiet, and rest, and recuperate.  And lick your wounds (metaphorically).  And take very good care of your needs, for food, and rest, sleep, and withdrawal from the world for a while. And allow time to pass, like a wounded cat would!”

This man did exactly what I suggested, and three weeks later he was back in a more resilient state. He had found a way to ‘square the circle’ – while resting and sleeping.  He had got over the worst of his grief, though he was still understandably raw. He and his ex-partner had been the best of friends for many years; and he had eventually found a way to forgive her; and to preserve the friendship.  The sex-love aspect of their relationship was at an end, but they were able to be friends, and that was a great comfort to him.

I congratulated him on finding his own solution to a difficult problem, and I commiserated with him about his loss of his love object.  But I also celebrated with him the fact that he had salvaged an important friendship.

(What this client was doing, while licking his wounds, like a wounded cat, was what I call ‘completing his experience’, instead of jumping over it.  In this case, he was ‘completing his feelings of grief’. I have written a paper on Completing Traumatic Experiences, which anybody can acquire via PayPal.***)

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If you want to get a feeling for this  concept of ‘completion’ – accepting – or ‘allowing to be’ – I could do a lot worse than to quote a famous statement by the American playwright, Arthur Miller.  Miller was just 23 when the second world war broke out, and 25 when the Americans joined the war.  My understanding is that he was sent to Europe to fight, and that his experiences of war in Europe wounded him deeply.  He may also have been carrying other kinds of ‘existential wounds’, or psychological problems from his family of origin.  Anyway, in this quotation, he is talking about the impossibility of finding salvation outside of oneself, and about the way in which life suddenly shifts from safe and secure known territory, to something horrendous:

“I think it is a mistake”, he wrote, “to ever look for hope outside of one’s self.  One day the house smells of fresh bread, the next of smoke and blood.  One day you faint because the gardener cuts his finger off, within a week you’re climbing over corpses of children bombed in a subway. What hope can there be if that is so? I tried to die near the  end of the war.  The same dream returned each night until I dared not go to sleep and grew quite ill.  I dreamed I had a child, and even in the dream I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away.  But it always crept onto my lap again, clutched at my clothes.  Until I thought,  If I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep.  And I bent to its broken face, and it was horrible … but I kissed it.  I think one must finally take one’s life in one’s arms”. (Arthur Miller, quoted in Baran, 2003: 365 Nirvana Here and Now, page 307).

And that is what ‘completion’ is: taking your life in your arms; accepting reality as it is; allowing the unchangeable to be!

This can also be expressed like this:

“When we truly hate what’s happening, our instinct is to flee from it like a house on fire.  But if we can learn to turn around and enter that fire, to let it burn all our resistance away, then we find ourselves arising from the ashes with a new sense of power and freedom”.  (Raphael Cushnir, quoted in Josh Baran, 2003, page 14).

But already we are heading into problems here, since these two quotations can be interpreted in both moderate and extreme forms.  A moderate interpretation would say, if you cannot change your life, you will benefit from accepting it exactly the way it is.  An extreme way will simply opt for saying you should accept it the way it is, disregarding the potential for changing it for the better.  There is a core of realistic acceptance to the moderate approach, and a core of sado-masochistic dehumanization to the extreme interpretation.

The other problem here is that there is a difference between a philosophy of life which is normally passed on through an oral tradition, to initiates who are readied for the new insight.  That is to say, they are ready morally, and in terms of character development, for the new revelation.  For example, take this quotation from Native American wisdom:

“Every struggle, whether won or lost, strengthens us for the next to come.  It is not good for people to have an easy life.  They become weak and inefficient when they cease to struggle.  Some need a series of defeats before developing the strength and courage to win a victory”.  (Victorio, Mimbres Apache: Quoted in Helen Exley, The Song of Life).

Quite clearly, this quotation could be used to justify political oppression.  “We’re doing the poor and downtrodden a favour”, the neo-liberals could say, all over the world today.  “We’re helping to strengthen them by defeating and crushing them!”  Indeed, versions of this kind of argumentation have already been used by right-wing ideologues; and this very quotation by Victorio could be used to defend the expropriation of the Native American tribes’ traditional tribal lands, and their confinement to ‘reservations’ (or ‘Bantustans’).

People should, clearly, not allow themselves to be tricked into feeling they have to be more Stoical than they absolutely need to be. And we should all hold on to the right to be morally outraged and politically active in the face of oppression and exploitation!

Furthermore, we have to ask this question: Is Victorio right to say people are strengthened by struggle?  It seems they might be, if they have a ‘learned optimism’ perspective.  But if they have a ‘learned helplessness’ perspective, from previous defeats, then they are only going to become more defeatist and passive as a result of being subjected to more oppression or difficulty. (See Martin Seligman on Learned Helplessness).

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Back to my cuckolded client:

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I could not have asked this client – let’s call him Harry – to go away and process his grief in private; to complete his experience of loss, over and over and over again – unless I had already taught him a moderately stoical philosophy of life, combined with a sense of optimism and hope – of self-efficacy, and the possibility of positive change.  And that I had done, about two years earlier, when he was struggling with problems of social conflict.  At that time, I introduced Harry to my Six Windows Model, which is derived from moderate Stoicism and moderate Buddhism.

And it should also be noted that, resilience is linked to family of origin.  Some families produce children who are resilient and some produce children who are fragile.  So I had to deal with Harry’s family of origin problems, about a year before I taught him the Six Windows Model.  At that earlier time, I focused on my relationship with him; how to provide him with a secure base; how to re-parent him, so he could feel secure in his relationship with me, so he could then generalize that feeling to his valued, close relationships.

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Conscious processing of traumatic events

Of course, it is not possible to make much progress in terms of personal development, or recovery from childhood trauma, unless we engage in some form of talk therapy (or writing therapy). The ‘wounded cat’ process will only take us so far. And especially if you want to accelerate the healing process, you need to work on your traumatic memories, and to process and digest them.

I did just that, in a couple of early pieces of writing therapy that I completed; one about my story of origins; and one about my relationship with my mother. I have since packaged those two stories, with some introductory and commentary material, in the form of an eBook. The title is this: Healing the Heart and Mind: Two examples of writing therapy stories, plus relective analysis. You can find out some more about those stories here: https://ecent-institute.org/writing-therapeutic-stories/

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My crashed index

So how does this relate to my adverse experience of having my book-index crash and have to be written off; and having to start all over again, from scratch?

Firstly, I was numbed by the experience: for minutes, or even hours.  It was a significant, symbolic loss.  A loss of face.  A loss of my self-concept as a highly efficient and effective author/ editor/ publisher.  It was also a significant material loss, of labour-time that was now down the drain!  And I had to face to discomfort anxiety of contemplating starting all over again, from scratch, to do this long, boring, tedious task of rebuilding this index, word by word, phrase by phrase, page number by page number.

Cover444Secondly, I wanted to jump over the experience, and to get right on to starting to construct a new index. (I was, after all, just like Albert Ellis – (the creator of REBT [as a form of Extreme Stoicism]) – raised in a family that showed no sympathy for my pain and suffering (in this case, my sense of loss of face, and loss of my sense of self-efficacy, and discomfort anxiety about starting over).  But that desire, to jump over my feelings, was cruel and insensitive, and neglectful of my sensibilities.

And I can now see that my family script fitted very sell with REBT, when I first encountered it, in 1992, when I was going through a painful career crisis! That is to say, REBT fitted well with my extremely stoical family script!  REBT taught me to jump over my feelings about my career crisis – and to rationalize them away, so I would not have to deal with them!

However, thirdly, I jumped track from the appeal of an extreme Stoical denial of my pain, and moved to a ‘wounded cat’ position.  I stopped any attempt to immediately switch to constructing a new index.  I stayed with the sense of shock; of frustration; of loss and failure!

I allowed time for some non-conscious adjustment.  (This most likely involved some low-level grief work.  [Meaning the processing of feelings of loss]. I had lost something meaningful; valuable; and I had inherited a painful challenge up ahead: namely, the building of a new index, where the old one had ‘died’!)

It would take time for my inner map to be brought up to date; to come in line with the external reality.

And I found a way to salvage some good from this bad situation, by writing this blog post to help others to be moderately stoical when things go wrong in their lives; and not to buy into the extreme stoicism of REBT and much of CBT, which demands that we should jump over our negative experiences; we should dump the experience; and thereby to fail to learn from it; and to live our lives in a kind of anaesthetized state, instead of feeling the full range of positive and negative emotions which are the lot of a sensitive human being.

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Conclusion

DrJimCounselling002Some of our day-to-day experiences are awful – in the sense of being ‘very bad’, or ‘very unpleasant’.  It takes time to process such adversities, and we owe it to ourselves to take the time to process our emotions (like grief about losses, failures; anxiety about threats, dangers; anger about insults and threats to our self-esteem; and so on).

Extreme Stoicism demands that we pretend to be stones, or lumps of wood. That we pretend that we are not hurt by the things that hurt us!

It demands that we should deny that we are fleshy beings with feelings and needs.

But if we allow ourselves to be enrolled into such an unfeeling philosophy of life, we will miss the opportunity to heal our wounds – like a cat or other animal would.  We will end up denying our pain; failing to process it; and becoming deniers of other people’s pain – since we ‘cannot stand’ to hear of the pain of others, if we have unresolved pains of our own!

Unlike the extreme Stoicism of REBT, we in Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) practice a much gentler form of moderate Stoicism and moderate Buddhism.  For example, to help myself deal with the crashed index adversity, I can use my own Six Windows Model, which begins like this:

  1. Life is difficult for all human beings, at least some of the time; and often much of the time; so why must it not be difficult for me today, with this crashed index? Quite clearly, this is ‘my karma’, and I will have to adjust to it (but not necessarily today; or tomorrow; but one day soon). I can allow myself to take the time to process this difficulty, as an inevitability, and to gradually adjust to it; and then, and only then, will I bounce back!
  2. Life is going to be much less difficult if I pick and choose sensibly and realistically. Therefore, I should not choose to have my old index be magically fixed; and the problem to disappear! Instead, I choose to take a break; to rest and recover. After all, it happened on Friday, and it is now just Sunday!  And most people take Saturday and Sunday off anyway!  So even if it takes another couple of days to adjust and recover, I am going to choose sensibly.  I will be ready to re-start this uphill climb when I am ready.  Two days; three; four or five?  Who knows?  But I am going to take my time, and allow myself to feel whatever I feel in the meantime.

That is just a sample of the first two windows of E-CENT. To find out about the other 4 windows of the six windows model, you can get a copy via PayPal:

Re-framing problems, 6 windows modelE2 (Paper 3) The 6 Windows Model…  Available from PayPal, for just £3.99 GBP. Please send me my copy of  The 6 Windows Model pamphlet.***)

This (Six Windows model philosophy) is a million miles from the insensitivity of REBT – which is most often practised in an Extreme Stoical way.

This is also a few thousand miles from mainstream CBT, which would insist that my ‘problem’ is caused by my ‘thoughts’ about it.

This is not true.

The loss of my index is a real adversity, which any sane human being would lament and feel the loss of; feel the pain of its loss; feel the adversity of having to start all over again, or just feel like giving up and quitting!

My problem is not caused by my feeling.  My feelings are mainly caused by my experience.

Or, to be more precise:

The primary cause of my upset feelings right now is the failure of my IT package, which screwed up the digital links between actual page numbers, on the one hand, and the page numbers listed in the index entries, on the other.

The secondary cause is my need to get that book out sooner rather than later; which is also a real need, dictated by something other than my ‘mere thoughts’.

The tertiary cause of my feelings, is the history of my experiences of dealing with adversities. That history is recorded in my body-brain-mind.

And so on.

So please do not jump over your own feelings.  Stay with them.  Digest and complete them, and watch them disappear, leaving a stronger, more sensitive, and more human ‘You’ behind! 🙂

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

01422 843 629

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

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Postscript: Monday morning, 12th February 2018

I decided last night to adopt the ‘wounded cat’ position regarding the stress arising out of my sense of loss of my book index (involving weeks of work lost; and weeks of recovery work to engage in! And some loss of self-esteem around self-efficacy and productivity!)  I clocked off work at 7.00 pm last evening; and I made an omelette salad for tea; and we sat down to watch a cop show (‘Endeavour’) on TV at 8.00 pm.  We went to bed about 10.30, and I decided to have a lie-in in the morning, in keeping with my ‘wounded cat’ position.

I got up late this morning, had chunky vegetable soup (or stew) for breakfast – homemade (which I created at 4.30 am, when I was up briefly). Then I read three quotations from a book of Zen quotes; and meditated for 30 minutes.

Then I stood up to do my Chi Kung exercises (which normally take 20 minutes to complete).  At that point in time, I had the thought, which just bubbled up from my (rested) non-conscious mind: “Perhaps I can salvage the Index, if I can find out what went wrong with the page numbering, and go back to an earlier draft, and fix the page numbering!”

This seemed like a long shot, but it paid off!  I went to my office – at the end of exercising time – and investigated the possibilities.

And I have now salvaged the index, and saved myself weeks of work in rebuilding it from scratch.

And this was only possible because I acted like a ‘wounded cat’ for a few hours, instead of ‘jumping over the problem’, as advised by Albert Ellis and Epictetus and many CBT theorists!

Long live the ‘wounded cat’ position! (But do not try to use it with somebody who has not yet learned a moderate Stoic form of coping – like the Six Windows Model.  And also investigate whether there are family of origin problems leading to fragility, which have to be fixed before the windows model can be usefully taught).

Best wishes,

Jim

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Postscript No.2: It never rains…

But my relief from stress did not last long…

Of course, it was a great relief to realize that I could salvage my book index, and it seemed likely that it would not take many days to fix it up and make it good enough for purpose.

Then it just so happened that I needed to look up some concept in our recently published book – How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, using nutrition and physical activity.  I went to the index, looked up the page reference, and went to that page.  It was not there.  So I did some checking, and, nightmare of nightmares, that index was also corrupted.

This was a huge shock, because I had worked so hard on that index, and talked it up as a significant aspect of the book – the usefulness of the index!

So, to say the least, I was embarrassed.  And anxious that this situation might undermine my credibility with future potential buyers of my (our) books. These two emotional states – and especially my desire to be free of them, when I was not free of them – was very stressful.

Part of me wanted to respond with the complaint that “It never rains but it pours!”  But that would be too bleak a viewpoint – comparable to Werner Erhard’s view that “Life is just one goddamned thing after another!”  The problem with these two statements is this: they could be taken in a defeatist way to mean it’s all too much; too difficult; and therefore demoralizing and defeating.

And part of my problem was this: I wanted to be over the embarrassment; beyond the anxiety; clear of the problem.  But it is patently impossible to be “over the embarrassment” when one is embarrassed!  And it is equally impossible to be “beyond the anxiety” when on is immersed in it!

So now I was floundering, and spinning out of control.  I reached for a Zen quote, from Gay Hendricks, which talks about ‘giving up hope’.  Perhaps that was the solution: to give up any hope of being beyond the anxiety, and free from the embarrassment?!?  This is what Gay Hendricks writes:

“If you give up hope, you will likely find your life is infinitely richer. Here’s why: When you live in hope, it’s usually because you’re avoiding reality.  If you hope your partner will stop drinking, aren’t you really afraid he or she won’t?  Aren’t you really afraid to take decisive action to change the situation?  If you keep hoping the drinking will stop, you get to avoid the rally hard work of actually handling the situation effectively…” (Gay Hendricks, in Josh Baran (2003) – 365 Nirvana Here and Now: Living every moment in enlightenment).

For me to hope that this problem would go away – or resolve itself – would be even crazier than somebody hoping their partner would give up drinking alcohol.  Why? Because this published index is a fixed reality, which has no capacity to correct itself!  And nobody else has the power or need or responsibility to correct it.

This caused me to revert to the ‘wounded cat’ position, in terms of living in the embarrassment and anxiety; and not trying to get rid of it.  I stayed with the bad feelings, not knowing what to do about it.  This also allowed me to non-consciously process the problem, and about 36 hours later I came up with an action plan to revise the index for the Diet and Exercise book, and post it online so it can be downloaded by people who have already bought the book.  So I set about doing that, and it is now posted online

at: https://abc-counselling.org/revised-index-for-diet-and-exercise-book/

in the following format, online:

Revised index – downloadable 

Final corrected Index 14XXX001

In November 2017, we published a new book titled,

How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, Using nutrition and physical activity

by Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne.

Unfortunately, an error crept into the index, after it had had its final proof-reading.  This resulted in all the page references in the index being exactly 8 pages lower than they should have been.

We have now tracked this error down and corrected it, and, if you bought a copy of that first edition of the book, then please download a revised index from the link below, and print it off.  We are deeply sorry for this technical error, and we are willing to make appropriate amends by providing the corrected, downloadable index.

Download the corrected index by clicking this link.***

PS: And if you feel aggrieved by the error in the original copy of the book, and you bought it in paperback from Amazon, then we are willing to send you a free gift – of a PDF document on the science of sleep – if you email dr.byrne@ecent-institute.org with the receipt number which you received from Amazon.

Thanking you for your understanding.

Sincerely,

 

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne – Director – E-CENT Publications – February 2018

~~~

 

Albert Ellis and REBT ten years later

Blog Post No. 156

21st July 2017

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2017

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: The tenth anniversary of the death of Albert Ellis…

~~~

Introduction

Ellis-video-imageAlbert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), which is sometimes called Rational Emotive and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (RE&CBT), died on 24th July 2007.  So we are very close to the tenth anniversary.

Since that event, Renata and I have posted something on each anniversary about Albert Ellis and REBT.  Initially, those posts were very positive about the man and his theory of therapy.  But as time passed, and we found more and more problems with the man (from his autobiography, All Out!) and from our reflective analyses of his theoretical propositions, our posts became more and more distant, and more and more critical.

Books about Ellis and REBT

Wounded psychotherapistIn 2013, I published a book on the childhood of Albert Ellis, which was an analysis of the ways in which he was mistreated and virtually abandoned at times by his parents, and the effect of these early negative experiences on his psychological development.  Here are the basic details:

A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis’s childhood and the strengths and limitations of REBT, by Dr Jim Byrne

A critical review of the childhood of Albert Ellis and the impact of his suffering on the shape of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)

‘A Wounded psychotherapist’ is a critical enquiry by Dr Jim Byrne.  It is an analysis of both the childhood of Dr Albert Ellis (the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy [REBT]), and how some of those childhood experiences most likely gave rise to certain features of his later philosophy of psychotherapy.  If you have ever wondered what the roots of REBT might have been, then this is the book for you.  it explores the childhood difficulties of Albert Ellis, and links those difficulties forward to the ways in which REBT was eventually shaped.  It also identified the strengths and weaknesses of REBT, and proposes an agenda for reform of this radical system of psychotherapy. Available now from Amazon, in two formats:

Paperback: for as little as £6.66 GBP

Kindle: for as little as £6.89 GBP

Buy it now: A Wounded Psychotherapist: The childhood of Albert Ellis, and the limitations of REBT/CBT

Amazon in the US Amazon in UK (and Ireland)
Amazon in Canada Amazon in Italy
Amazon in Germany Amazon in France
Amazon in Japan Amazon in Australia

~~~

honetpieHowever, in that book, I was still very soft on some of Ellis’s major errors, such as his false definition of ‘awfulizing’, and his mistaken assumption that, just because ‘demandingness’ is often a ‘sufficient condition’ for human disturbance, therefore it is also a ‘necessary condition’, which, the Buddha’s followers would argue, it is not.  Any significant degree of desiring that the present be different from how it is, could, in theory, cause significant levels of negative affect.

~~~

Tenth Anniversary of the Death of Albert Ellis:

On this anniversary, I have today posted some feedback from Dr Meredith Nisbet of my book on the childhood of Albert Ellis.  This is what she wrote:

Book Review – by Dr Meredith Nisbet:

“I learned so much about human nature reading your book (Jim) about (Albert) Ellis. I also learned from your book about Jim Byrne. The similarities are obvious. The differences are where most of the learning comes. You overcame your childhood experiences; he lived with his experiences, but the differences were that he needed help to conquer his experiences, but he never was able to “normalize” as you did. I’d like to hear your comments on what made the difference for you  – something within you or the people who helped you? Was his problem something he missed or didn’t think he needed? I think it was more the latter. What do you think?”

To see my response to her questions, please go here: https://abc-counselling.org/albert-ellis-a-wounded-psychotherapist/

~~~

Since 2013, my thinking about Albert Ellis and REBT has moved on again, into a more detailed critique of the foundational ideas underpinning his basic conclusions about human disturbance.  This work of mine is described in my latest boon on Ellis and REBT:

Cover444REBT Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes

The book that reveals the fundamental falsehoods at the heart of REBT/CBT

At a moment in history when thousands of counsellors and therapists are being coerced and cajoled into using the ‘flavour of the month’ therapy – CBT – in order to keep their jobs and incomes, everything is changed by one action! Dr Jim Byrne has produced a devastating critique of the original form of CBT: known as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT).

Many of his criticisms of REBT apply equally to all forms of CBT which utilize the ABC model of human disturbance.

Dr Byrne begins by showing that Dr Ellis was wrong to claim that he had evidence that people are upset by their thinking, plus their thinking about their thinking.  In a line by line analysis of the relevant text from Dr Ellis, Dr Byrne destroys the basis of this false claim.

He then explores the value and veracity of some of the core principles of Stoicism , which are built into REBT/CBT, and find that they do not stand up to scrutiny!

There are at least seven key errors in the foundations of REBT, many of which overlap CBT practice.

For anybody to practice these forms of therapy, without taking Dr Byrne’s critique into account, would be a grave error and a serious miscalculation.  These systems of therapy are enjoying a short-lived popularity which will end in tears.  If you are being forced on to this particular bus, now is the time to object – to present a strong counter argument against this madness.

This madness which denies the impact of the social environment upon the body-brain-mind of the client.  This madness which blames the client for their emotional disturbances.  This madness which copies the delusions of a first century Roman slave, instead of the research evidence of modern social psychology, neuroscience, and interpersonal neurobiology!

Get this book today, if you want to retrieve your right to work for the client; to feel with the client; to champion the rights of the client; and to refuse to go along with the idea that helping the client to repress their feelings, in the name of Stoical bravery, is an adequate ‘therapeutic solution’.

Get the book here, now:

Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia Amazon Netherlands Amazon Germany
Amazon Italy Amazon India Amazon France
Amazon Spain Amazon Brazil Amazon Japan

~~~

Albert Ellis was a man of his time, which was a long time ago.  He modelled his philosophy of psychotherapy[y on the idealistic notions of a Roman slave, instead of on modern theories of social psychology, developmental psychology, neuroscience, and so on. He grossly oversimplified the nature of human disturbance; blamed the client for ‘choosing’ to upset themselves; and denied the value of moral language.

We no longer need to reflect upon the contribution of Dr Ellis.  It was very small.  His contribution is evaluated in the book above: Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

~~~

 

Self-confidence through self-acceptance

Blog Post No. 44

17th March 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: How to develop more self-confidence by accepting yourself exactly as you are

The Oxford dictionary definition of confidence is:

 “A feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgement”.

~~~

Introduction

Confident-peopleMany of us would like to feel more self-confident than we are at the present moment, and in this blog I want to outline a simple technique which will increase your level of self-confidence, if you experiment with it.

What this technique will do is to bring about a change in your attitude towards yourself as you live your life, and as you perform all the necessary tasks that you have to do, in order to survive. Why don’t you give it a try and see if it changes your view of yourself?

The technique for greater self-confidence: ‘One conditional self-acceptance’

Ellis-video-imageIn the 1980’s, when I first came across Dr Albert Ellis’s concept of USA, (Unconditional Self-Acceptance), I thought that this was a very therapeutic way of helping people to stop giving themselves such a hard time when they failed or behaved poorly in work or in life. One of the ways in which people give themselves a hard time is this: They create lots of rules for themselves, like “I must achieve this goal!” Or “I must achieve highly in life!”  Or: “I must never fail in any way”.  And so on! In this kind of way, they can really upset themselves (and frequently do!) because they are not as rich/ talented/ skilled/ academically successful/perfect in all the areas that they want to be.

All around us we can see and hear people passing judgement on themselves, and this is an enormous waste of their vital life energy. (Except in one area, which is to do with morality.  It is important that we, and they, judge the quality of our moral actions, and refrain from harming others!)

Callout-5

Here is an example of such negative self-judgements: Many people have problems accepting themselves when they remember mistakes they made in the past, (as if they should be able to perform skills really well, immediately, without any failures or slipping back.  And as if they should be able to be perfect).

Our judgemental attitudes begin in early childhood.  Although we accept ourselves when we fall down when learning to walk, we then, sometime later, begin to fault ourselves when we fail to do something which is new to us.

School experiences are a case in point.  We can all remember examples of not being able to perform as well as others, in classrooms, and this can start the formation of a sense of ourselves as failures; and our abilities as lacking; or our skills as being not as good as other people. And by the time we are teenagers our self-concept can get fixed and set in stone in our minds.  We have learned to rate ourselves on the basis of our failing attempts to learn.

Albert Ellis taught that we should not rate our selves, but rather our behaviours, and to distinguish between ourselves and our behaviours.  In this way, we can preserve our good judgement of our self, and only criticize our behaviour or performance.

Callout-2For example, “I am not my mathematics ability (or my skiing ability; or my socializing ability).  I am an error-prone human, like all other humans.  And I have some areas of high skill and some areas of low skill development.  But my high skills do not make me Great!  And my low skills do not make me a Worm!
Ellis called this ‘unconditional acceptance’ of ourselves (or other people, or the world).

So unconditional self-acceptance of ourselves, in the context of our mistakes and imperfections, seemed to me to be a great idea, when I came across it in the 1980s.

But I hadn’t taken into account human nature. I had assumed that people would mostly behave morally and ethically towards each other. Therefore, it seemed to me to be okay to address a class of 15 or 20 individuals and tell them it was okay to accept themselves exactly the way they were (without realizing that at least one of them might be a serious criminal or amoral abuser of others!)

This was rather naïve of me, given that, according to Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The line between good and evil runs right down the centre of the human heart!

~~~

Somewhere along the way, Dr Jim Byrne, who had agreed with me that Albert Ellis’s USA was a great idea, began to have second thoughts.  After examining and researching the full implications of unconditional self-acceptance, he came up with the concept of “One-conditional self-acceptance’, as he realised the flaw in Albert Ellis’s view that people should accept themselves unconditionally (without spotting that they should not do this in the case of immoral actions on their part). (See Byrne, 2010, in the References, below). Dr-Jim-Self-AcceptanceEllis’s USA approach, at least implicitly, and unfortunately, gives people permission to abuse others and to not feel bad about it afterwards.

So Dr Byrne proposed that we accept ourselves as imperfect humans. But we should not (and that is a moral should!) give ourselves permission to go out and behave badly or immorally towards others.

Jim distinguished between three areas of human activity as follows:

  1. Performance competence;
  2. Personal judgements;
  3. Moral/immoral actions.

His argument was this: It is perfectly reasonable, and indeed desirable, and certainly self-helping, to always accept yourself when you fail to perform competently; or you make poor personal judgements.  You should forgive yourself in these contexts, try again.

But with regard to item 3 above: moral and immoral actions; we owe it to our society to act morally, and to refrain from acting immorally.  And we morally must not accept ourselves as being okay if and when we behave immorally.

This means that you can practise the technique of accepting yourself as you are – an imperfect human, who makes mistakes occasionally just like everyone else. But you must not accept yourself as being okay when you act immorally!

Accepting yourself under one condition

So you can accept yourself as being totally okay on one condition – that you behave morally and ethically towards all other human beings. Treating others as you would wish them to treat you is the basic contract people have in a civilised society. It’s called following the ‘Golden rule’ and enables people to live together in a decent and safe way.

Why is giving yourself “One-conditional self-acceptance” an important factor in self-confidence? Because there are all sorts of skills which we are all learning, and practising, every day of our lives. And we inevitably make mistakes. Realistically there can only be a few skills that we are very, very competent at, in our lifetime.

Callout-4But in our cultures we will face criticism for our imperfections, as if we had to be perfect all the time. What nonsense – but it’s very powerful pressure. Just look at the pressure in the UK culture to look ‘good’! In 2015 (according to the British Association of Aesthetic plastic surgeons) 51,140 people had treatment to improve their appearance.

Most of those people could have kept their dignity, and their cash in their pockets, if they had practiced one-conditional self-acceptance.  (And we also know, from Maxwell Maltz (Psycho-Cybernetics, 1960), that having plastic surgery will not change your self-concept reliably [for a significant proportion of those surgery patients], because it’s our inner self-appraisal that affects how we feel about ourselves, and not our objective appearance.  For example, Marilyn Monroe thought she was ugly!)

However, we can learn to accept our physical appearance, even if it is ‘perfect’, by telling ourselves: “I am not my face.  I am not my nose.  I am not my balding head.  I am not my fat; I am not my skinniness; I am not my social skills.  I am not my socially disliked characteristics!”

We’ve got a moral responsibility to ourselves to reduce our contact with people who try to put us down, and destroy our sense of self-worth. But the most crucial factor in relation to our confidence is our own (one-conditional) self-acceptance of our imperfections.

“One-Conditional self-acceptance” – What does this mean in practice – in real life?

It means that if you make mistakes, you make mistakes. End of story. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad or evil person for having done so. Obviously you will need to apologize and make amends if the mistakes are very serious and (accidentally) harm others physically or emotionally. But as an imperfect human being, you are bound to make mistakes. We all do – all the time!

What happens if we don’t give ourselves permission to screw up in one way or another? Our resilience and physical energy will be badly affected. Albert Bandura stated in 1966:

There is no more devastating punishment than self-contempt.”
Psycho-CyberneticsRefusing to make allowances for our humanity and imperfections will wreck our confidence when we are trying to learn new skills.

Practising “One conditional self-acceptance” (OCSA) means that you have to extend compassion towards yourself. As the Buddha said:

Compassion that extends itself to others and not to yourself, is incomplete “.

~~~

Taking action

Trying out this technique (OCSA) means that you have a much kinder and much more accepting attitude towards yourself when you make mistakes; form poor judgements; or act incompetently.

This helps you to feel much stronger when it comes to handling criticisms from other people (and internal criticism from your ‘Inner Critic’).

Callout-1If you practice this one-conditional acceptance approach to yourself, you will be taking a huge burden off yourself – one that you may not have realised you were carrying.

And guess what? If you have children, they will see you accepting your own humanity and imperfections, and not mentally beating yourself up for being imperfect.  And they will copy what you do, and accept themselves more. Do you remember the quote about what makes a great leader? “Example, example, example!“

How happy do you want your children to be?

This change of attitude towards yourself – of accepting yourself one-conditionally – will take time to become part of your approach to yourself as an imperfect human. (It can be very hard for us to accept ourselves when we make mistakes – especially when we screw up in front of other people).

Teaching is a very public job, and I found during my early teaching career, that making mistakes in front of others as I learned my job, was very challenging and emotionally threatening. But accepting my mistakes and learning from them really helped me to recover and keep my equilibrium, so I had the energy to keep learning and trying to improve my performance.

For these reasons, I strongly recommend practising “One-conditional self-acceptance” in your daily life and especially if you are learning any new skills, or have got problems in any of your relationships.

Callout-3.JPG

Can you imagine how much less stressed you will feel, if you give yourself permission to be an imperfect driver? Or mother? Or husband? Or worker/professional? (So long as you are doing your best, and not acting immorally or unethically, or disregarding the possibility of harming others!)

This then gives you the mental space to realise that, if you wanted to, you could slowly learn new behaviours to improve your performance, and your judgements, but without your inner critic nagging away in the background.

This would amount to treating yourself with respect and consideration, just as you would treat your best friend if they were in the same situation, with undeveloped skills which they wanted to improve on.

If you experiment with this self-permission, this self-acceptance, you could find it a real life-changer!

That’s all for now,

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~

References:

Byrne, J. (2010) Self-acceptance and other-acceptance in relation to competence and morality. E-CENT Paper No.2(c).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT.  Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

Maltz, Maxwell (1960). Psycho-Cybernetics. Simon & Schuster.

~~~

 

 

Albert Ellis’s childhood shaped REBT

Blog Post No.117

Posted on 13th March 2017 – (Originally posted on 5th February 2015).

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: A counsellor blogs about John Reinhard’s misquoting of Dr Byrne’s book about the childhood of Albert Ellis…

Copyright ©Jim Byrne, 2015/2017

Introduction

It is not easy being me!

(It’s not easy being anybody – but I mostly know about me!)

rebt-whats-wrongI wrote a book on the childhood of Albert Ellis, with the intention of correcting the mistakes that persist in REBT (and presumably in derived forms of CBT), which arose out of the psychological trauma inflicted upon Little Albert Ellis by his neglectful parents.  My hope was that followers of REBT would take this critique seriously, and set about reforming REBT to make it less distorted by Ellis’s unresolved neuroses – mainly avoidance of emotion, and his (largely successful) attempts to suppress all thought of childhood trauma, in himself or anybody else.

In three earlier posts, I have addressed some of the ways in which one of Ellis’s followers – one John Reinhard – has failed to engage with my critique.

Today I went back to see how selectively Reinhard had dealt with my criticism of the inadequacies of REBT therapists when it comes to the question of empathy for the client.

I was appalled at how little attention he’s paid to my actual arguments.  Here is the whole of the relevant section of my book.  Tell me if you consider that I have said “REBT therapists skip all forms of empathy”.  Tell me if I’ve in any way misrepresented the actual position that Ellisian REBTers take on the subject of empathy in psychotherapy:

Foreword

“If it was never possible for us to relive on a conscious level the rejection we experienced in our own childhood and to work it through, then we in turn will pass this rejection on to our children”.  Dr Alice Miller[1]

Wounded-psychotherapist-ellisThis book represents an attempt to deconstruct Dr Albert Ellis’s story of his childhood, with a view to rescuing ‘Little Albert’, who has been ignored and discounted by Older Albert, just as he was ignored and discounted by his own parents.  It also seeks to evaluate his theory of therapy (REBT), and to try to identify links between his major childhood experiences and his adult theories of human behaviour.

Why do I want to do this?  What is my goal?

I am doing this because, as it stands, Albert Ellis’s system of therapy – called Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) – and those therapies which have been inspired by him, which includes most of the cognitive behavioural therapies – ignores the childhood pain of counselling and therapy clients; and recommends that they “forget the god-awful past”.  In the process, those rational counsellors and therapists unknowingly promote an unnecessarily callous attitude towards client suffering, and an indifference towards childhood suffering in general.

On the other hand, I suffered emotionally as a child, and only managed to recover from that seriously damaging experience by processing it – making it conscious; feeling the previously denied or repressed feelings; and moving on.[2] I resolutely refused to try to “forget the god-awful past” – partly because it’s actually the non-remembered bits that do the most harm; and we have to remember them first, process them, and file them away, before we can healthily forget them!

Cognitive empathy versus emotional empathy

I am not saying that REBT/CBT therapists show no empathy for their clients whatsoever: they do.  But their empathy seems to be mainly ‘cognitive’ – or cool ‘understanding’ – instead of also including some ‘felt affinity’ with the suffering client.  (Of course there are exceptions to this rule, and Janet Wolfe is the main one I have seen on video, warmly empathizing with a client who she judged to be “in need of tender loving care [TLC])”. That felt sense of affinity with the client – when it occurs – is experienced by the client as both caring for them, and also legitimating their sense of having been wronged or short-changed by life.  An REBT /CBT therapist might be concerned that this kind of emotional affinity could encourage the client to ‘catastrophize’ about their childhood suffering, but this is not a necessary outcome from emotional empathy.

For example, in both the therapy work of Milton Erickson[3] and the coaching work of Stephen Covey[4], the emphasis is on, firstly, understanding and empathizing with the client – and showing a sense of fellow feeling; and then, secondarily, trying to show the client some potentially better ways of thinking-feeling-acting in their problem situation.  Why does the REBT/CBT therapist have to urgently skip that first essential step?  Why not bide their time until the client feels understood, before presenting their proposed solutions and improved ways of thinking, feeling and acting?

And even in the case of offering cognitive empathy, the REBT/ CBT therapist (who follows Ellis’s lead) is likely to only empathize with those aspects of life’s difficulties which are seen as ‘legitimate’.  And that tends to exclude childhood suffering.  (Albert Ellis has been shown – in some video clips of his therapy work – to empathize with people who feel guilt or shame, [presumably because he thinks nobody should ever have to feel guilt or shame – which I will show to be an unhelpful approach when it comes to moral issues].  But he does not empathize with:

(a) individuals who feel they need a loving partner, (presumably because he does not believe anybody needs to be loved);

(b) people who suffered in their childhood, (presumably because he believes they have a duty to ‘forget the god-awful past’ – like he did!)

(c) people who complain of being treated unfairly, (presumably because he foolishly thinks that this is always and only beyond the control of the client – which it [very often] most definitely is not!)

In this book, I am seeking to help children, and the inner child of adult clients, by promoting empathy for victims of childhood suffering. This empathic understanding is a necessary precedent to the process of completing those painful experiences, reframing them, and then letting them go[5].  In addition, I also want to rescue what is good about REBT, while dumping what is un-helpful.

It is my belief that Little Albert Ellis suffered enormously, but that Older Albert Ellis was in denial about that suffering.  As such, Older Albert was never able to become a self-actualized individual, in the fullest sense: especially in relation to his capacity to love and to relate warmly and intimately to others (although he began to make apparent improvements with Debbie Joffe-Ellis, after the age of 88 years!)  And as a therapist, he was unable to fully, emotionally, empathize with the childhood suffering of his clients.

If you think you ‘already know’ Albert Ellis and REBT, then prepare for a shock.  You are about to be introduced to their normally ignored ‘shadow sides’.

And if you think there is only one way to relate to Albert Ellis – to love him or hate him – prepare to be introduced to the ‘middle way’.

~~~

End of extract… From The Childhood of Albert Ellis…***

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

~~~

Footnotes

[1] Miller, A. (1983) For Your own Good: Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence.  London: Faber and Faber.  Pages 3-4.

[2] See my Story of Origins and my Story of Relationship – two ‘training analyses’ – here: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

[3] See the book, My Voice will Go with You: The teaching tales of Milton H. Erickson.  Edited and with commentary by Sidney Rosen.  1982.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company.  Erickson is quoted as saying: “First you model the patient’s world” – which means understanding it – “Then you role-model the patient’s world” – meaning you provide a new and better model for the client to consider adopting.

[4] The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  A book by Stephen Covey (1989), in which his fifth principle is: Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.  An REBT therapist could apply this principle to first allow the client to have their thoughts and feelings; to accept them; validate them; and then to look at whether it might be better for the client if they were moderated or modified in some way.  But jumping to that second stage immediately is probably often felt to be insensitive and discounting by the client.

[5] Byrne, J. (2011a) Completing your experience of difficult events, perceptions and painful emotions.  E-CENT Paper No.13.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy.  Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

Stress management and love for counsellors and others…

Blog Post No.90 

Posted on 25th August 2016 (Originally published on Saturday 28th June 2014)

Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne

A counsellor’s blog: Stress counselling; Ellis on love; and to hell with Socrates…

Introduction

Chill Out, coverEarlier today, I was discussing with Renata what I could write about this week.  She thought it would be good to write about stress.  But I have written a lot on the subject of stress, including a published book on the subject. However, Renata wondered if perhaps some of my readers often missed the point about the crucial importance of learning stress management skills, in the sense of this being a life and death issue.  I asked her what she meant, and she said she could write out two statements which would alternately make readers’ hair stand on end – regarding the importance of stress management, and the dire consequences of ignoring their own stress warnings – and another piece that would fundamentally reassure them that they could resolve all their stress problems satisfactorily.  So I said, “Okay; please show me what you mean”.  She then sat down and wrote the two following statements:

Today’s bad news:

Jim-Renata7.jpgAccording to The Times – Body and Soul supplement, page 4 – today, 28th June 2014, there was an interesting study on stress conducted two years ago by University College, London. It looked at the relationship between men in demanding jobs and heart disease.

This study tracked the health of 200,000 people.  The findings were these: The men most at risk of developing stress-related heart disease had two characteristics:

Firstly, they were in demanding jobs.

Secondly, they felt that they had no power in their job role to control the stressors around them.

How can we handle massive pressures at work if the job gives us no power to manage them?  What if we’ve got to keep working to pay the mortgage (or rent), to feed the kids, etc.?

~~~

Today’s good news:

Human-heart.jpgYou can immediately drop your stress level by deciding to take your control back.  You can’t (very often) change your job – but you can change yourself!  If you get a professional ally – a counsellor, psychologist, psychotherapist – they will work with you to give you real, sustained backing as you learn to manage yourself, and learn to control what you can control.

This will have an immediate beneficial effect on your health.  Do you remember the Zeebrugger ferry disaster?  Research conducted in 1991 found that there was a 50% reduction in stress levels in survivors of that and other disasters, after they had talked to trained helpers, and had just eight weeks of help, one hour per week.

~~~

Thanks, Renata.  You made your point very well.  Stress is a hugely important topic for everybody to address, for the sake of their physical and mental health; and it is indeed possible to address it, at relatively small financial cost.

My expertise

Jims-counselling-div2I (Jim) have been studying stress management as a discipline for at least twenty years, and in that time I have developed about eighteen main strategies for reducing physical and mental stress and strain.  I have taught those strategies to hundreds of clients who have improved their physical and emotional health as a result.

See:

My introductory page on stress management.***

My book on stress management.***

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Albert Ellis on Love

Wounded-psychotherapist-ellisTo summarise my conclusions (presented on 7th anniversary of Dr Ellis’s death, on 24th July 2014): Albert Ellis was damaged as a small boy by the neglect he experienced at the hands of his mother and father.  He was not actively loved, nor sensitively cared for.  Indeed, he had to become a little mother to his younger brother and sister, when he was about seven years old, and onward from that point.

As a result of his parents neglect of him, he did not understand what it meant to love and be loved.  This was clear from his description of his attempt to establish a relationship with his first potential girlfriend, Karyl, as told by himself, in his autobiography, All Out!

See my biographical sketch of Ellis’s life, and how it impacted the development of REBT: A Wounded Psychotherapist.***

Because he did not learn to love and be loved, he developed an avoidant attachment style, and related to significant others at a considerable, cool distance.  From this stance, it was important to him to invert Karen Horney’s principle, that we all need to be loved, and to thus arrive at his “Irrational Belief No.1”, which claims that “…virtually all humans demand that they absolutely must be loved by somebody, and often they demand that they must be loved by everybody”.  In my post on 24th July, I will demonstrate that, at most, about 20% of the population (of western cultures) may tend to have this sense of an absolute need to be loved.  For most other humans, the need for love is much less anxious and ambivalent; much less insecure.  Watch this space: Albert Ellis on Love.***

Love is hugely important.  Here’s my niece, Jenni, singing a song she composed for her sister (Ruth’s) wedding to Linval.  Love is a potent force in the world:

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To hell with Socrates

SocratesI have done quite a bit of work on the subject of Socratic Questioning, and certainly enough to satisfy myself that Socrates should never be used as a role model by counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, etc.

In my first study of Socratic Questioning, I concluded, in line with Dr Edward De Bono, that Plato’s-Socrates – (who is the only substantial Socrates known to the modern world) – held the beliefs that:

  1. Most people do not know how to think straight;
  2. That they tend to hold contradictory beliefs;
  3. That, in order to learn some better ideas – or perhaps to learn that they know nothing and are incapable of knowing anything – the first step is to demonstrate to them that they do not know what they are talking about.

How could these three beliefs form the foundation of the questioning strategies of counsellors or psychotherapists?  I do not believe they could.  I think it would be a dreadful abuse of clients to approach them with those three beliefs in mind. Not because those three ideas are necessarily wholly false, but because challenging people on that basis has the predictable effect of making them feel wrong, or stupid!

Socrates’ dialogues (in Plato’s dialogues) show a lack of sensitivity to the person to whom he is speaking – their vulnerability to feeling bad about themselves.  In Buddhism, there is the concept of ‘upaya’ – or ‘skillful means’ – which suggests that, when a Zen master is dealing with a student, they should aim to be skillful.  (Not that the approaches of Zen masters form a good model for counsellors: Remember it is not okay to throw your fan at a client; or to whack them over the head with your bamboo pole! :-))

And yet, when I challenged the idea of using Socratic Questioning in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), Albert Ellis told me that, while he could see some merit in some of my critique of Socrates, nevertheless, REBT is “…substantially Socratic”.

Nierenberg-negotiations-book.jpgMy own argument, following Nierenberg’s ‘Complete Negotiator’ approach, is to consider that questioning in counselling and therapy has certain instrumental functions, as follows:

1. To cause the client to focus upon a particular point (event, or object);

2. To cause their thinking to start up;

3. To ask them for some information;

4. To pass some information to them (rhetorically); and:

5. To cause their thinking to come to a conclusion.

Nierenberg also argues that you can arrange those five questions in a grid, like this:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
1.  Combined Qs 1 & 3
2.
3.
4
5.

Dr Jim's photoUsing this grid, we can see that a question can be in two parts; e.g., 1+3 – To cause the client’s attention to focus on a specific event/experience, and to ask them for some information about that event/experience.

The great beauty of this system is that it gets rid of the “Socratic smart-arse” aspect of questioning the client.

The problems with classic Socratic Questioning include:

  1. That the client may interpret the therapist as ‘picking a fight’ with them;
  2. That the client may become anxious when asked particular kinds of right/wrong questions (perhaps because of re-stimulation of the humiliating experience of being at school and being subjected to interrogations, the aim of which was to find a reason to punish the client as a child).
  3. That the client may (as suggested by Asch, Milgram, Zimbardo) simply go along with the therapist’s inferences, as a form of obedience or conformity to authority.
  4. That the therapist never gets to *know* the client, because s/he (the therapist) is always tilting at the windmills of ‘innate irrational beliefs’ – or ‘negative automatic thoughts’).

And on and on.

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That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

 

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone:

01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

~~~

Blog Post No.89 

Posted on 25th August 2016 (Previously published on Saturday 14th June 2014)

Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne

The Counselling Blog: A counsellor writes about “The importance of love…”

Kate-Atkinson-Life-After-Life.jpgI recently mentioned that I had acquired a copy of Kate Atkinson’s new novel. My intention was to read fiction for some part of each day – say 30 to 60 minutes – as a way to have a mental break from my tendency towards overworking.

I have now finished reading that book, at an average of three to six pages per day.  In a review, by ‘Bron’, at Amazon.co.uk, we get the following insight into the fundamental theme of Kate Atkinson’s new book:

“A seemingly small event can change the direction of a life completely: a chance encounter with a stranger who harms you or a conversation that detains you which means you miss bumping into the person, a meeting with the German you fall in love with and marry or being helped up from a fall by an Englishman. Life is full of moments which change the direction a person travels in and we have all wished we could go back and change something, or do it over again in a different way. And Life after Life explores this theme intricately, with sympathy, compassion and superb writing and plotting.”

Domestic-violence.jpgI was deeply moved by the emotional tone of Kate’s book, but I was never able to express what I was ‘getting’ from the experience.  It rattled some skeletons in the non-conscious basement of my mind, and sensitised me to some aspects of human suffering which were not previously in my range of experience – such as being a young woman, in her twenties, who is the victim of wife-beating and emotional abuse.  (Reading Kate’s vivid descriptions of wife-beatings, and eventual murder, happened on top of recently learning that one woman in three will be beaten by her partner.  What a world!)

I suppose a lot of my feelings were of being able to identify with a woman in a predominantly man’s world.  And, in addition, there were lots of descriptions of war and its horrors.

Soon after finishing reading this book, I sat down and wrote the following statement, which must have been, to some extent, inspired by reading Kate Atkinson’s narrative:

In CENT counselling, we are sometimes asked: ‘What is the purpose of life?  What’s it all about?’  This is our attempt at an answer: “We are born and we die.  We come into the world alone and with nothing in our hands, and very little in our hearts and minds.  And we leave this world alone and empty-handed.  The purpose of life, then, cannot be to get; to acquire; to want and desire.  The purpose of life must be to leave this world knowing we have made a difference (a positive difference!) to the lives of those people we met and knew and left behind.  The purpose of life must be to love; to give; to make a contribution to life on earth for our family, community and the people we love”.

~~~

Love-matters-Gerhardt.jpgSue Gerhardt’s book – Why Love Matters – is a wonderful analysis of how affection shapes a baby’s brain, and the long-term implications of childhood experiences in relationships with early carers.  She “…explores how the earliest relationship shapes the baby’s nervous sytem.  She shows how the development of the brain determines future emotional well being, and goes on to look at specific early ‘pathways’ that can affect the way we respond to stress, and can contribute to conditions such as anorexia, addiction, and anti-social behaviour”.

And she presents an easy to understand analysis of the emergence of attachment styles – secure and insecure.

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This brings me to the problem of teaching my counselling clients – who often have insecure attachments to their parents – about love: its importance, what it is, and what it feels and looks like.  This is how I sometimes express it:

Teaching the client about the nature of love is one of the most difficult challenges a counsellor faces:  “There are no short-cuts to understanding what love is.  If someone has been deprived of the crudest infantile experience of love then he might be permanently crippled or, at least, have great difficulty in learning later what the word can mean.  In learning what it symbolises, I need to re-write my autobiography over and over again.  To grow is to re-organise the past now and to move into the future”.

Robert F. Hobson, Forms of Feeling: The heart of psychotherapy, Page 212. (25)

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road-less-travelledI like to teach my clients M. Scott Peck’s definition of love: That love is a process of ‘extending yourself in the service of another person’.  It is not primarily about ‘nice feelings’, although nice feelings normally flow from the process, especially for the love object.  But, of course, what goes around also comes around – so ‘cast thy bread upon the waters, for it shall return after many days’.  Or, as Albert Ellis would say, “The best way to get love is to sincerely offer it”.

But this statement by Ellis is an anachronism.  He is right; but he most likely did not implement that policy in his own life, based upon the research I have been able to do on the subject.

Dr Albert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) was greatly emotionally deprived as a child – on one occasion spending almost ten months in hospital, around the age of five or six years, during which time he just one or two visits from his mother, and none from his father.

Wounded-psychotherapist-ellisHe failed to understand how wounded he was, and went on to make a virtue of his insecure attachment style – trying to teach emotional coldness to his clients as a ‘superior, rational form of functioning’ –relative to having feelings of need to give and get love.

To those who told him they needed love, he objected, and insisted that nobody needs to be loved, and that they were ‘love slobs’ for thinking they did need love.  I wrote some more on this subject in time for the seventh anniversary of his death, here: About Dr Albert Ellis.***

If you want to find out more about Ellis’s childhood, and how his emotional deprivations affected the eventual shape of REBT, then please take a look at A Wounded Psychotherapist.***

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone:

01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

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