Book Review: Ask Albert Ellis? Straight Answers and Sound Advice from America’s Best-Known Psychologist
It goes without saying how important Self-Care is it for many aspects of our lives. In the first part of this series I talked about taking stock of my values and seeing how well I am functioning. Just like cars need regular maintenance or oil changes for proper functioning is it the same for human beings. Making sure every part of us is doing what it is supposed to do is invaluable if we desire to live a healthy and meaningful life. Whenever someone uses the word ‘self’ the person saying it will tend to be a little self-conscious about what the listener/s are thinking unless the individual lacks self-awareness then he/she would not be bothered by reaction/s of his/her audience/s.
I used to feel guilty about wanting to spend time alone and reconnecting with myself. For example, during college I had to apologize numerous times whenever I had to turn down an offer to go clubbing or go to the bars. Even though there were other activities I enjoyed doing with my friends which were in line with my self-care values, the guilt found its way creeping down in my soul. Seriously, sometimes I asked myself like David from the Good Book ‘O my soul why are you cast down.’ Thankfully I am beginning to understand and embrace who I am as a person, my limitations, and what I need for recharging in order to properly be there for the people that come across my path in the journey of life.
Back to the review of Ask Albert Ellis? This book was written for the purpose of answering the frequent questions that people have regarding REBT, and how to live their lives according to the principles of REBT, in which ‘Rational’ thinking or belief is one of the core values. The book summarized some of the main principles in a question and answer format. Several mental disorders or issues were discussed and since it is a self-help book Ellis used practical and everyday language for readers’ ease of understanding. Today I am concentrating on anxiety and what Ellis had to say on the topic.
Anxiety: According to REBT anxiety comes from irrational beliefs such as ‘The Must, The Should, and The Absolutes.” (Ellis, p.53, 2003). Anxiety can be treated through the REBT model by changing how we emphasize things, events or situations, for example changing ‘Musts’ into ‘Preferences’ (Ellis, p.53, 2003). Instead of saying I must perform well on my upcoming exams, I can say ‘I will prefer to perform well on my upcoming exams.’ Also, I am not inadequate even if I do not perform like I prefer. Sometimes we do not recognize anxiety or anxious thoughts, feeling or words (the language of anxiety). For example, I am originally from a small country in West Africa. Mental Health is never a topic of discussion. People view it as a strange topic or taboo. We have only one general hospital for people suffering severely from mental health disorders. Families who have members living with mental health disorders tend to hide them from the public eye. They will instead seek other forms of treatments while attempting to conceal the truth from society. The stigmatization of mental health in this area of the world is severe and often underestimated.
During my first year in college, I was bit depressed and anxious, but I could not even identify such feelings because I was not aware of them till I met my counselor who was very grateful to educate me about depression and anxiety. I never realized that anxiety or depression could be situational. We only really heard about clinical, severe cases. I was away from home and people I know in a new country, new atmosphere, new people and so forth. It was a normal process while I was trying to adjust to my life and trying to face the uncertainty of the future while living in a foreign country. Thanks to my school counselor and psychology classes I was able to develop some coping mechanisms which help me to this day.
According to the book an individual can be cured from anxiety by changing their perception and interpretation of events or situations with the understanding that nothing is absolute and humans are “perfectly imperfect”. Ellis posits that people can be cured of anxiety by not “awfulizing” bad situations or events and instead thinking ‘even if I might be able to prevent this bad thing from happening, I can still be happy.’ According to the book “Do this strongly and you will make yourself less and less anxious” (Ellis, p.54, 2003). Relaxation is another technique used for the treatment of anxiety. One method of relaxation is “Forcing yourself to steadily think, feel and do non-worrying things” (Ellis, p.54, 2003) such as meditation, relaxing your muscles, and engaging in deep thinking or interests and activities that make you happy. For example, sport, sex, reading, music etc.
Rational Emotive Imagery (invented by Maxie Maultsby, Jr.): The individual can imagine worse outcomes than what they fear. For example, failing an exam and having to repeat the class. The purpose of this technique is to let the individual “feel exceptionally horrified, anxious, or depressed about it”. Imagine the worst possible outcome and try to feel all the emotions and learn to reduce unhealthy negative feelings into heathy ones.
With the application of the three main philosophies (Unconditional self-acceptance (USA), Unconditional other-acceptance (UOA), and Accepting the world and its real frustrations (Ellis, p.127, 2003)), the reader should accept him or herself for who they are regardless of life circumstances. Accept others as ‘fallible humans’ who are not defined by what they do. Accepting that some events or situations are outside of the individual’s control will do more good than bad. Shame-attacking exercise is useful if the individual has social anxiety, for example fear of meeting people. The individual can “deliberately do something silly, foolish, and rejectable in public” (Ellis, p.22, 2003) to make sure that he or she believes “When people think I’m crazy and put me down, I never have to agree with them and put myself down” (Ellis, p.22, 2003).
Anxiety has different variations and different levels. People can experience minor levels of situational or circumstantial general anxiety (life changes or unexpected event occurrences). That’s why it is important to surround yourself with people who help you see the bright side of life. Nevertheless, learn and be willing to be there for people when they need you, too. In the next post on Self-Care we’ll talk about another important issue in this day and age – Depression.
Food For Thought – Tips
- Try not to awfulize the situation – but rather seek help when it is beyond your ability to solve or fix. There is a new day no matter what.
- Learn relaxation – there are tons of relaxation techniques on YouTube or seek a professional to help you. With relaxed muscles comes a relaxed mind
- Mediation – ‘If posture not right, no Tai Chi’, ‘The Shape of the Body has Power’, ‘Posture is Power’. This quote speaks volumes because everything in life must be in balance or in good posture in order to work smoothly. That is why meditation requires engaging your mind, spirit and body fully.
- Learn new hobbies or engage in doing your favorite activities such as listening to music, reading, sport, etc.
- Forgiveness – Don’t be too hard on yourself or others – we are all fallible humans who need constant grace.
- Acceptance is important because you can’t close a chapter if you think there is nothing you can do about it, and it is just over.
Exposure techniques – first with people you’re more comfortable to be around. Baby steps are usually the best or with the help of a trusted therapist.
Ellis, A. (2003). Ask Albert Ellis: Straight answers and sound advice from Americas best known psychologist. Atascadero, CA: Impact.