Emotional responsibility and accountability

The headline in today’s Mirror was a quote from Dennis Waterman saying ‘I hit Rula … but clever women make men lash out’ and the inside story had another quote ‘It’s not hard for a woman to make a man hit …’

Denis Waterman with Rula Lenska (Picture from the Mirror Newspaper)

This erroneous belief is at the heart of emotional problems and behavioural problems and indeed at the heart of abusive relationships.  If it was true then the only solution to solving this issue for those men who believe “clever women MAKE men hit them” is for women to be less clever than them.

Is it true that events or people make us do what we do?

Let’s think about what we do and assume that people make us behave as we do.

Example:  A clever woman argues better than a man = Man hits her

If it is true that a clever woman ‘makes’ a man hit her, then every clever woman would experience the same physically abusive behaviour.  It would mean that every man who has relationship with a clever woman would be unable to control himself and would be hitting the woman.

10 Clever women argue better than 10 men = 10 Men hit the 10 women

100 Clever women argue better than 100 men = 100 Men hit the 100 women

1000 Clever women argue better than 1000 men = 1000 Men hit the 1000 women

Does this make sense?

The problem is that people say ‘he made me do it’ or ‘she made me lose my temper’, ‘she made me hit her’.  It is as if they have absolutely no control over how they feel or how they behave.  If we do not have a part to play in how we feel and behave then we would be completely stuck, unable to move forward or do anything useful.  Is this what we see happen to everyone around us?

So who is responsible for your feelings, attitude and behaviour? 

The simple answer is ‘you are’.  You are responsible for your feelings and reactions and they are provoked by your thoughts; the attitudes you’ve formed; the habits and beliefs you no longer question.

This is the principle of Emotional Responsibility:  “You are largely responsible for the way you feel and act”.  Largely does not mean the other person sometimes causes your behaviour.  We just mean that there are some disorders like Manic Depression or Clinical Depression that are organic in nature; meaning it’s do with the person’s biology or genetic makeup.

The principle of emotional responsibility can be difficult for some people to accept, particularly if you are going through a difficult time or have experienced a personal tragedy.  It is natural to feel angry, sad, depressed or hurt in response to accidents, illness and other challenges in life.  It is also natural to experience negative emotions when you find someone challenging, but you can change your reaction.

Different people feel and experience contrasting emotions even when they experience the same challenge or difficulty. Therefore it is not the situation or another person that makes you feel or do.

This quote is conceptualised by one of the main schools of cognitive behaviour therapy called Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy’s (REBT) ABC diagram of human disturbance.  It is not the event, but the belief or view you hold about the event, which is at the heart of emotional states and performance.  Emotions, thoughts, behaviours can be healthy and functional or dysfunctional. The event can be something that has happened in the past, something that is happening now or something that could happen in the future.  It can also be real, imaginary or internal or external.  Internal events can be thoughts, images, memories, physical sensations or even emotions.

ABC Event Belief Consequences

ABC - Event, Belie,f Consequences Diagram

ABC – Event, Belief, Consequences Diagram

Beliefs that are unhealthy have at their core explicit or implicit rigid, powerful demands and commands usually expressed  as MUSTs, SHOULDs, HAVE to’s, GOT to’s e.g. I absolutely must not be rejected.  Essentially, unhealthy demands are not based on what is possible in reality.  Therefore, certain unfavourable or undesirable possibilities are not accepted e.g. rejection.

These demands also have powerful derivatives such as “If I am rejected, which I MUST not,

a) It’s awful (i.e. 100% bad)

b) It’s unbearable (i.e. can’t survive, cope or be happy at all)

c) It proves I am a worthless person.

So REBT is about:

  1. Helping      a client understand their emotions, behaviour and goals,
  2. Identify      their unhealthy or unhelpful beliefs that are sabotaging their happiness      and goals,
  3. Challenge      them and replace them with their healthier version in order to become      undisturbed and eventually happy.

So as far as the ‘Clever women make men hit them’, it is simply untrue and does not make any sense.  The B is missing in the ABC.  The A is Clever Woman, the C is Man hitting her but the B is the Man’s unhealthy belief about the clever woman which then leads him to lash out.  His belief is his responsibility and his alone.

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