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  • Writer's pictureDr. Karin Anderson Abrell

It’s okay to be irate, but let’s not get irrational

It’s okay to be irate, but let’s not get irrational.

Getting angry and getting irrational often go hand in hand.

But they don’t have to.

When we get irrational, we exacerbate the problem and contribute to our own misery.

As one of my favorite psychologists, Dr. Albert Ellis, states, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to what happens to you, that makes the difference.”

We can’t always control what happens to us, but we CAN control how we react. And by choosing rational responses instead of irrational ones, we maintain a handle on the situation—despite how disappointing, frustrating, or upsetting it may be.

We take charge of the power we do have—we take charge of our thoughts.

But how?

It’s as easy as ABCDE.

Ellis provides this simple acronym for his technique for identifying irrational thoughts and replacing them with rational ones.

Let’s walk through it step by step. I’ll share a “real world” example from my days on the dating scene. I used Ellis’ technique all the time when I was single and I still use it whenever I find myself feeling angry or down. 

A = Activating Event.  An unpleasant occurrence or adversity. Example:  A breakup.

B = Belief System.  Often we don’t recognize that many of our beliefs are irrational because they feel very true to us. Example:  “Another breakup???  I’ll never meet The One!”

C = Consequence.  Feelings which stem from the irrational belief. Example:  “I feel horrible, hopeless, and depressed.” The breakup devastates me, not so much because of the loss of the relationship itself, but because of my irrational thoughts surrounding the breakup. These thoughts confirm my fear that I’ll never meet The One.

D = Disputation.  Here’s where we dispute the irrational thought. I personally like to specifically identify how irrational it is. Example:  “It’s irrational to believe that just because this relationship didn’t work out that I’ll be single forever and never meet the right one. There’s absolutely no evidence to support this irrational belief. And because I’m a rational person, I intend to replace my irrational belief with a rational one.”

E = Effective New Belief.  The new, rational belief provides a more realistic way to react to the upsetting event (the breakup) and it has the added bonus of helping us feel better! Example:  “Yes, it’s disappointing to endure another heartbreak, but the fact that this relationship failed, does not mean that subsequent relationships are also doomed. 

F = Feeling.  New feeling resulting from rational thinking. Ellis did not initially add the “F” but I’ve seen several models which include it. It pulls together the power of the process because our rational thoughts lead to a more positive emotional state. Example:  “I feel hopeful for the future and maybe can even find some peace in the breakup because moving away from the wrong guy gets me closer to the right one!”

P.S.  There are times when we have every good reason to be upset and the thoughts that contribute to our negative emotions are completely rational. But even in extreme circumstances, we can use Ellis’ approach to greatly reduce our suffering. I’ll be sharing an example of this very soon!

This post originally appeared on Instagram in collaboration with The Fairy Godfather.


Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

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