The school holidays are getting into their stride. Maybe the kids are already bored and trying your patience. Maybe you wanted to get away but couldn’t quite afford it this year. Maybe it’s just too hot on the train into work. With temperatures rising both figuratively and literally, some days it can simply feel like it’s all just too much.
We’re not here to tell you that cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can cure all the world’s ills. We understand that personal circumstances, economic realities and heatwaves are out of therapy’s immediate spheres of influence. But what it can do is help us to see that some things are within our control. And those things are how we think, how we behave, and ultimately how we feel. And when we can control those things, how we react to, and influence, the world around us starts to change too.
The core philosophy behind Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT, the type of CBT we practice) is that of emotional responsibility. We are ultimately in control of how we feel. Yes, when something comes along to upset us, whether that’s squabbling children, money worries or something else, it is natural and human for us to experience strong negative emotions, be that anger, worry or low mood.
But the healthy, rational response is to face these problems and take steps to deal with them, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Sometimes, however, we get ‘stuck’ in an emotional response, and worry turns into anxiety, low mood into depression, frustration turns to anger and so on. REBT states that when this happens, we are somehow maintaining that emotional response ourselves. Most often by demanding something SHOULD be a certain way. ‘My children should,’t be bored.’ ‘I should have saved up more for a holiday.’ ‘It just shouldn’t be so blooming hot!’ And so on, and so on.
Whilst it may seem like your demands are just common sense, an objective look at reality tells us that that is not always how the world works. Children get bored. It’s difficult to save up with so many other expenses. The Central Line / 8.30 to Piccadilly / number 86 bus is always packed and hot . This is the reality of our lived experience.
REBT helps us see that acceptance is one of the first steps to emotional responsibility and wellbeing. To see the world just as it is, whether we like it or not, and accept it as so, then allows to choose a more realistic, rational and above all helpful attitude. ‘I cannot change my children’s’ desire for entertainment, but I can perhaps encourage them to find ways to entertain themselves. ‘I’d like to have saved up more money, but I accept I needed to get the car fixed last month, that’s life and doesn’t mean I’m a failure.’ ‘I’ve been on hot trains before and whilst it is uncomfortable, I know I can bear it. At least I can take my lunchbreak outside today’.
The above examples may seem simplistic, but they hopefully illustrate the fact that you can only change things if you accept how they truly are. Wishing they were otherwise will get us nowhere. To change what we do not like, we must first change how we feel about it, and move from hopeless, powerless unhealthy emotions to powerful, change-driven healthy negative emotions. We don’t have to like it to do something about it.
So as we approach the dog days of summer, look around at the things you don’t like and ask yourself what are you demanding of the world. What ‘SHOULD’ is provoking your disturbed mood, if you have one. Then ask yourself how different might you feel if you accepted how things really were, then took the steps to change the things that were in your control, including how you thought about things…