‘Do we choose – in the one life which we have – to enjoy life, or do we choose to suffer it? We can (learn to) choose how we think and how we feel.’
‘There is a large chance that we meet people in our lives that act in such a way that we get hurt. We can choose in such moments to think: “They should not be allowed to do so.” But that does not change them and it does not help us, either. We could also work to adopt the attitude that they, just like me, can make mistakes. We can see that many things influence our choices and actions. If someone does something in a certain way, then there is a reason for this. It can even be so that they have a chemical imbalance in their brain.’
‘So we can take action to protect ourselves from their actions, without judging them as a person. Maybe we even need to call the police or take judicial steps.’
But while REBT recommends to take suitable actions (regarding their actions), it is smart to constantly remind ourselves of the following two insights: 1. I can overcome that which I do not like 2. If I had been in the same situation they are in and had their brain chemistry, I might have done the same thing which they did.
Holding onto bitterness is something which Ellis sometimes described with the following image: ‘Taking poison oneself and meanwhile hoping that the other person dies of it’.
Albert Ellis preached compassion rather than bitterness.
‘We are getting to the end of Albert’s life. Paul, you were there when Al held a seminar in which he told people about the fate that had struck him.. I remember that. He had been treated brutally by people in his professional environment. And he did what I describe here: he hated what they did. We had a lawyer and we tried to get justice. But still, he did not hate the people.’
‘And did he manage to do so?’, I asked her.
‘Yes 100 percent. You are talking to the person who was with him day and night, except for when I took a shower or used the bathroom.’
‘There was one specific afternoon which i remember well. There was yet another case of distasteful behavior and it had been like this for a while. I could not hide my tears. He saw my unhappiness, took my hand and kindly said: “Debbie, Debbie, you are such a good REBT-teacher, you are a great therapist, but you are not applying it to yourself!”‘
‘He said: “Accept, accept! They need to act like they are actin right now, if they are thinking the way they are thinking. Debbie, they have a disorder in their thoughts and in their brains. He said this in a non-sarcastic tone of voice. If they are thinking as they are thinking – partially because they learned to do so, partially due to their biology – they will act like they are acting right now. He did not say that as an excuse for their poor behavior.”‘
The vision of Ellis
The most important differences when comparing REBT to other cognitive behavioral therapist, are that REBT focuses more on acceptance and compassion, and at the other hand on de-bunking negative thoughts or ideas. Albert Ellis found it important to make these lose their power rather than just replacing them with new ideas, like many people often do. Making them lose their power is done by reasoning about every detail until the irrational thought loses all of its value.
Friends and colleagues often told Ellis to let go of the concept of acceptance, because this seems like something many people cannot overcome. He refused. For him, acceptance and compassion are essential. The last few years, the concept of acceptance can be found in several types of therapy. The clearest example is ACT, ‘Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’ by Steven C. Hayes, who made it attractive. Apparently Ellis was ahead of his time.
From the long video-interview with his widow, I selected mainly personal experiences from the life of Albert Ellis, MD, for this article. Would you like to see the entire video-interview? That is possible. Go to the videos on www.15minutes4me.com/video/albert-ellis-rebt
. There, Debbie Joffe Ellis also gives a detailed explanation fo the REBT theory, with the use of personal anecdotes. I was enchanted by her story and now understand REBT better than I did before.
Read and download the full Dutch article: (pdf) Love lessons by Albert Ellis
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Paul Koeck, MD