Does somebody’s behaviour really annoy you and leave you feeling resentful? Would you like to get rid of this particular stressor in your life?
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
– Malachy McCourt –
Your brain can keep you caught in a very unproductive thinking loop that causes you stress and drains your energy.
It feels as if the *** situation or ***’s behaviour instantaneously makes you angry, but really it is your own thinking making you that way.
When we tell our subconscious, “*** should listen to me,” when clearly *** is not listening to you, your subconscious will get very angry or anxious because it believes exactly what you’re telling it. But in your conscious mind, you know that other people don’t often do what you think they should or shouldn’t do. It would be unusual if everybody behaved exactly as you think they should.
In fact, you don’t even behave as you think you should behave sometimes. How often have you told yourself you should exercise more or shouldn’t eat another cookie, and then just ignored your own advice?
It’s more rational to recognize that, although you would rather see other people behave as you’d prefer, getting angry and frustrated about it is like getting angry with the weather.
You can unhook yourself by practising the ABC’s of Rational Thinking.
Practise, Practise, Practise
Every time you practise using the ABC’s of Rational Thinking, you will gain skill and confidence. This technique will give you much more control over whether a difficult situation or a difficult person causes you to be upset.
Soon you will find yourself welcoming challenging situations as an opportunity to enhance your ability to control your level of unpleasant feelings directly. You will be intrigued to notice that situations or people who used to make you very angry or very anxious, no longer have that power over you.
When you find yourself getting very upset about something, this is your first indication there is an opportunity to practise. If you can, grab a piece of paper (or your electronic device) and on the right-hand side of the page, put C (Consequences) and quickly list your feelings. Are you feeling angry, anxious, very frustrated, guilty, helpless, hopeless, or any other intensely uncomfortable feeling? Make notes quickly about how you are feeling.
Recognize when your feelings are more uncomfortable than necessary. For most challenges, it is appropriate to be concerned, annoyed, irritated, disappointed and somewhat frustrated. But the everyday challenges do not need to cause us terror, rage, feeling disgraced, worthless, overwhelmed or depressed.
Now move to the left-hand side of the page, put A (Activating Event) and note what is happening or just happened to trigger those feelings. Be as specific as you can. For example, “my daughter” is not clear enough. “My daughter not cleaning up her room” was the real Activating Event in this example.
Now you move into the middle of the page and label it B (Beliefs). Ask yourself, “What do I think about this?” As each thought comes to mind, write it down, then ask yourself, “If that is true it means_____” and write down the next thought that comes to mind. Keep going until you get to the irrational thought.
Let’s take the example of a mother with a 17 year old daughter who will not clean up her room. So that is the Activating Event. The daughter maintains it is her room and she can keep it any way she likes. Every time the mother thinks about it, she feels frustrated, very angry, and hurt. When I asked the mother to tell me what she thought about the situation, especially when she felt hurt, she told me the following:
B (Beliefs): “She knows I hate the untidiness,” and then I asked, “if she knows you hate it, that means?” The mother said, “Why not clean up for me.” And when I asked, “If she won’t clean up for you, that means?” the mother said, “She doesn’t care about me.” And when I asked, “If she doesn’t care about you, that means?” the mother said, “She doesn’t love me.”
This is an example of where someone’s thinking has gone from disliking the fact her daughter would not keep her room organized to believing it was a sign her daughter didn’t love her.
When I asked the mother, “Where is the evidence your daughter doesn’t love you?”, she paused for a minute and then answered with a laugh, “There isn’t any, we get along well most of the time; I just wish she would keep her room clean.”
Prepare a reasonable thought, a dispute for your irrational thinking. In the above example, the next time the mother found herself getting upset about her daughter’s room, she used the following:
D (Dispute): “I would prefer she cleans up her room, but it is her room, and she is willing to keep the door closed so I don’t have to see it.”
The mother then felt calmer about the issue of her daughter’s room. Her daughter agreed to keep her bedroom door closed at all times.
Then the mother discovered she was getting embarrassed about her daughter’s closed door when they were entertaining, which they did quite often. When she recorded what she was thinking, it went like this:
B (Belief): “I like to have the whole house tidy and to leave the bedroom doors open. Visitors have to pass my daughter’s bedroom door on the way to the main bathroom. If we have to close a bedroom door, what will people think?”
When the mother realized she was irrational to imagine people would even notice, never mind care about whether a bedroom door was closed, she came up with the following dispute to use whenever she started to feel uncomfortable about the closed door.
D (Dispute): “People come to spend time with us. The house is clean and tidy, and a closed bedroom door is not important. “
E (Evaluation): The mother felt calm and only mildly irritated about the untidy room. When friends were coming over, she did not get into a fight with her daughter about cleaning her room. After a few months, her daughter did clean up her room from time to time. It was often pretty messy, but it was no longer a stressful issue for her mother.
The next time a situation arises when you begin to feel those strong, uncomfortable feelings, say your Dispute to yourself several times and notice how your feelings change.