Albert Ellis, an important contributor to the ideas behind cognitive-behavioral therapy and the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), discovered that people’s beliefs strongly affected their emotional functioning. In particular certain irrational beliefs made people feel depressed, anxious or angry and led to self-defeating behaviors.
When Ellis presented his theory in the mid-1950’s (Ellis, 1962), the role of cognition in emotional disturbance had not been fully addressed by the field of psychology. Ellis developed REB theory and therapy in reaction to what he saw as the inadequate techniques of psychoanalysis and behaviorism. He attributed the deficiency in the two camps’ techniques to their conceptualization of personality and emotional disturbance. Ellis felt that by ignoring the role thinking played in emotional disturbance both psychoanalytic and behavior theory failed to explain how humans originally became disturbed and how they remained disturbed.
The word “belief” means a conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something. So a belief is a thought with an emotional component (conviction) and a factual component (truth, actuality or validity). Beliefs can be either positive or negative. Having a negative belief is not necessarily a bad thing; however, when one believes in something that is false, a negative belief tends to become what Ellis called an “irrational” belief. Irrational beliefs are not friendly to happiness and contentment and are definitely unhelpful for getting one’s basic desires for love and approval, comfort and achievement or success met.
Core Irrational Beliefs
- Demandingness or Absolutism – inflexible, dogmatic, extreme beliefs signaled by words such as should, must, have to, and need to (e.g., “I should not be in pain” or “I should be able to do what I used to do”). This is not the kind of should as in “I should go to the store and get some milk,” but rather a should with a capital “S”, a demand.
- Demand for Love and Approval from nearly everyone one finds important
- Demand for Success or Achievement in things one finds important
- Demand for Comfort or nearly no frustration or discomfort.
When someone holds one of these irrational beliefs, they also tend to hold one or a combination of the following irrational beliefs.
- Awfulization – refers to 100% disasterizing beliefs signaled by such words as disaster, horrible or awful, and catastrophe.
- Low Frustration Tolerance – beliefs signaled by words such as intolerable, can’t stand it, and too hard.
- Global-Rating – beliefs in which you condemn or blame your entire selfhood or someone else’s basic value in some important way. Global rating is signaled by such words as loser, worthless, useless, idiot, stupid.
ABCDE Model of Emotional Disturbance
Albert Ellis thought people developed irrational beliefs in response to preferential goals being blocked. He set this up in an ABCDE model (Ellis and Dryden, 1987). “A” stands for Activating Event or Adversity. This is any event. It is just a fact. “B” refers to one’s Irrational Belief about the event at “A.” That belief then leads to “C,” the emotional and behavioral Consequences. “D” stands for disputes or arguments against irrational beliefs. E stands for New Effect or the new, more effective emotions and behaviors that result from more reasonable thinking about the original event.
Disputing Irrational Beliefs
It is important to use vigor or energy when disputing irrational beliefs. Disputing is not just a rational or cognitive method but also an emotional method of changing irrational beliefs into rational ones.