Manage Your Emotions by Disputing Them with REBT

People—including you—run on emotion. No matter how hard we try to approach situations with an open mind and an eye toward critical thinking, our feelings are always there coloring our views. Occasionally, very negative feelings can take over, and things are said or decisions are made that we later regret.

Fortunately for us, Albert Ellis introduced Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, or REBT, in 1952. The best way to think of REBT is as a technique for replacing unhealthy negative feelings for more healthy (though not necessarily positive) ones. Before you understand REBT, however, you need to understand the ABC Model. 

ABC Model

The ABC Model describes the process of how people develop a feeling about a particular situation: action, belief, consequence.

1. Action

You observe an action taking place, e.g. “A person cut me off in traffic.” You may be actively involved or not (doesn’t matter).

2. Belief

You develop a belief about the action: “That person who cut me off did so because they’re a bad person.”

3. Consequence

You develop an emotion: “I’m angry!”

What’s great about the ABC Model is that it forces you to accept that you are in control of your own emotions. In the previous example, it wasn’t the unsafe driver who made you mad. You simply chose anger as the appropriate emotion based on a belief you had about a situation. Why does that matter? It matters because it means you’re in control.

Analyzing Your Feelings

REBT extends the ABC Model by giving us a way to analyze how we look at a situation.

4. Dispute

Examine the belief that led to your emotional consequence, and look for evidence that disputes your belief. Common irrational beliefs include:

  • demands (“Everyone must approve of my decision” or “Events must unfold exactly the way I want”)
  • viewing a situation in terms of catastrophe (catastrophes are rare)
  • generalizations about people (that person did something bad; therefore that person is bad)

In the example above, we could easily decide that the unsafe driver was a bad person. Instead, we should consider why that person decided to act the way they did. Were they just cut off by someone else? Are you driving too slowly in the fast lane?

5. Effect

The exercise of disputing your beliefs about a situation forces you to confront your feelings. Whereas disputing is very active, allowing your reflection to have an effect is a far more passive activity. You might think, “I know that driver was being unsafe, but I do remember a time when I did the exact same thing,” or “This isn’t really worth my time or energy, and I should really be focusing on other things.”

The next time you feel your blood pressure rising, consider taking a deep breath and taking the time to consider how you should feel.