"One of the most important concepts in REBT is secondary disturbance: when you upset yourself about getting upset. For example, you may notice that you are anxious, then you may feel shameful about being anxious. The secondary disturbance, i.e., shame, creates an even greater disturbance than the first, and you keep it longer.
If you ever tell yourself, I must not get upset, or I can't stand this depression, you are creating a secondary disturbance. Sometimes addictive behavior can be a secondary, or even tertiary, disturbance. An example is when you tell yourself, I can't stand this stress; I've got to drink. When you find yourself disputing your irrational beliefs without benefit, you also may be upset at an upset. Your secondary upset is preventing your disputing from being effective."
(Reprinted from the Jan.. 1999 SMART Recovery News & Views Newsletter
From "Three Minute REBT: REBT and Secondary Disturbances
By Philip Tate, Ph.D. Editor,
and Author, Alcohol: How to Give It Up and Be Glad You Did )
The first step is to be aware of your secondary disturbance.
The second step is to analyze your belief that creates your secondary upset. What is it that is getting me upset at my depression, anxiety, drinking, etc. ?
Next, dispute the irrational belief. For example, dispute the belief that you must not be disturbed, or that you can't stand stress (or a craving). The resulting effective new belief may be: I can stand this stress; I don't like it, but I can stand it.
A good result of this process is greater self-acceptance. You can accept that you are a fallible creature, that you might create self-defeating feelings and acts, and that this doesn't mean that you are a weak or 'bad' person. Dealing with the secondary upset may be necessary to get started on the primary upset!
Sorting out primary and secondary emotions arising out of disturbances often leaves me exhausted. I seem to combine them without realizing I'm doing it. I have often found myself getting so confused about what I'm disputing that frustration at myself takes over. I end up asking myself what's wrong with you, why can't you sort this out? It's self-defeating and demoralizing.
I've found a way to get around this self-defeating cycle by just allowing myself to feel. For example, I'm stressed out, as a result I start feeling anxious, anxiety leads to fear which leads to anger. It snowballs into something I feel is too overwhelming to understand. Examining all of these emotions can be very hard for me. It's too overwhelming for me to dissect at the moment.
What I've learned is that I must slow down, stop, and feel. If I need to cry about it, I just cry; if I'm angry, I get angry and do something to let it out; if I'm anxious, I take deep breaths and meditate. I have found that actions work better for me than mental disputations. I must accept that I will feel things, that it's normal, that I'm not wicked or unusual and it doesn't matter whether my emotions are primary or secondary.
In the end, what ends up happening is if I respond to my emotions in a healthy active way, I can better understand them later. I don't have to understand them now. Sometimes it takes hours or even days before I can fully appreciate what caused them. As long as I have a way to accept them and relieve them without alcohol. I let the dust settle and my mind is better able to clarify them so that the next time, I can stop it dead in its tracks!
I'm not sure if this is the "right" way of doing things. For now, it's the best I can do for myself. I'm not exactly an intellect as I am so much emotional. Weeding through emotions for me is more difficult than trying to get rid of grubs in my yard!
This is a great insight you've posted. Dealing with what upsets us isn't all rational and analytical, and people have expressed difficulty reconciling their emotions with that.
I think the key is your comment about expressing them in a healthy way, and in accepting them without becoming "self-defeating and demoralizing." The emotions themselves are neither good nor bad, but the beliefs that underlie them can lead to urges. I can either separate my response to the emotion from the urge--compartmentalize it, deal with it later, and do something practical about the urge like distract myself-- or I can dispute it right now.
When it's gotten to the point of anxiety or feeling overwhelmed, it can be a little daunting to sit down and do an analysis of your beliefs, or review a cost-benefit analysis. What you really want to do is tear your hair out, go mutilate some unsuspecting shrubbery, or scream at someone.
With anger, in particular, I believe that most arises from frustration, from feeling a loss of control over events (or people), or from embarrassment or humiliation. If I can pinpoint that source of the anger, I might be able to defuse it by disputing the irrational basis ("my kids should never do that; that driver needs to learn a lesson").
My own experience with kids is that much of our anger that we direct at them comes from frustration about poor communication or their seemingly brain-damaged actions, or from the creeping loss of control they bring to our lives. I remember the day my daughter was born, I had an odd feeling in the pit of my stomach: the beginning of the anxiety of parenthood, coupled with the joy of a new birth. I realized that it was the feeling that I had just lost a measure of control over my life, and gained immeasurable responsibility over another one.
That loss of control only increases in magnitude as they get to the teen years. I've found I'm better able to go with the flow of what I call "controlled chaos" now that I'm sober. After all, before I didn't want anything to disrupt my carefully planned evenings of drinking. I'm not exactly Mister Spontaneity now, but I can do things on the spur of the moment, and I can accept the sudden 'needs' and desires teens have much better.
Every site I've found on anger management recommends dealing with the unhealthy rage first: take a break or a time out; do breathing or visualization exercises--whatever it takes to calm the physiological aspects of anger, since it is a genuine physical condition as well as an emotional upset. THEN you can try to express your feelings about the source of the anger in a non-confrontational setting IF possible.
Since that isn't always possible, finding a way to either relieve the pent-up frustration, or accept the unchangeable situation, can be the key to our own serenity (and to avoiding becoming petty and passive-aggressive!).
When one of my friends was going through a nasty divorce, she went and bought cheap coffee mugs from thrift stores so she and her teens could just go in the back yard and smash the crockery. The humor of the situation helped, too.
Of course, showing the grubs or weeds in your lawn no mercy can be an effective way of redirecting your anger and embracing a healthy hobby at the same time!
One of the biggest things I've learned recently with my children is that when they ask me a question or permission to do something, it's okay for me to say, "Let me think about it". I don't have to respond immediately. I'm so used to reacting immediately and have realized that doing so is not always what the best answer is because I'm reacting to my emotions and thoughts at that moment rather than taking in the whole picture.
For example, my 10 year old asked me, "Can I go to the pool with my friend? His Mom is going to drop us off and pick us up in 2 hours." My instant answer would have been, "No way! You're not old enough! You've never been to the pool alone. You know better than that!" Instead, I said, "Give me 5 minutes to think about it." I went outside, thought about the fact that yes, he's 10, he knows how to swim, he's not a risk taker, the pool allows children 10 and older to swim without parents present, he's never proven to me that he can't be trusted and how long will I keep him from going alone if I don't let him go now?
Conclusion, "Yes, you can go to the pool. However, please be safe, don't go in the deep end, and follow all the safety rules of the pool. Most of all, have a good time!" In the end, he had a great time and was grateful that I gave him the opportunity to feel like a "big kid".
I'm learning to use this on my urges to drink as well. The thought to drink doesn't have to be stopped immediately. I need to feel the urge, understand that it's normal, step back from it and often times distract myself so that I can think about it later. I thought about it the other day and followed this process and found it worked perfectly.
When I went back to the thought of drinking, not only had the urge disappeared but found out that my desire to drink was due to the anxiety I was feeling over doing back-to-school shopping. Silly, but the truth. You're right, I found humor in it at that point and got myself in the car soon thereafter and did some of that shopping that was causing me to feel anxious.
Maybe in time, I'll be able to dispute things immediately. At this point I'm not able to do it without risking a frustration level that I'm unable to understand and cause urges that I may not be able to defeat. I believe this doesn't make me stupid or unable to utilize the tools, only that I have to adapt them to the capabilities that I have.