Ask Dr. Ellis
Question: What about obsessive shyness in 2006? Does what you said in 1952 about overcoming severe shyness by approaching possible female partners, as you did when you were 19 years-old, still hold true? Is in vivo desensitization risk-taking still the way to go?
Dr. Ellis answers: Yes, using in vivo desensitization risk-taking interrupts irrational self-talk like, “I must not be rejected! I’m a no-goodnik for failing to get accepted! My whole worth as a person rests on my being approved!”
With your irrational self-talk you invent the necessity — instead of the preference — of being approved by partners and you make their rejection “terrible” instead of “unfortunate.” You obsessively-compulsively demand that acceptance by desired partners equals your worth as a person.
By using in vivo desensitization, you see that this equation is false and that it’s highly desirable to have selected partners favor you, but it is not necessary that they do.
If they now don’t do so, that only shows that they presently reject your presence — and not for all time or not by all possible partners. There can always be a tomorrow — so you keep risking failure until you sometimes succeed.
Being rejected does not mean your rejectors will, with their own obsessive-compulsiveness, eternally disfavor you. Even when they usually do so, that still doesn’t mean they forever will. Also, they may dislike something about you, but rarely will they dislike you totally, in every respect.
You may hate yourself totally for one or a few rejections — but, if so, you arrantly over-generalize, as Alfred Korzybski said in Science and Sanity in the 1950’s.
You may do rejectable things, but you are never totally rejectable or worthless. Someday you may act acceptably — especially if you keep persistently trying with in vivo risk-taking.
So be heartened. Yes, you may have done badly this time but you are not what you did. You are many possible acts — some of which you will discover if you keep trying.
Moral: Try it and see! If you unconditionally accept you with others’ rejections of your behaviors, you won’t always win. But you also won’t always lose. Experiment! Try it!
~Dr. Albert Ellis~
May 24, 2006
THE ORIGINS OF REBT:
How a Shy Teenager Started a Paradigm Shift in Psychotherapy
As many fans of REBT know, Dr. Albert Ellis first flirted with behavioral techniques at age 19. It was a way to get over his shyness, fear of public speaking and a fear of approaching women.
He had read in philosophy that if you did what you're afraid of doing, then you could get over your phobia about it. He learned that we upset ourselves if we construct an idea that failing is horrible and being rejected is horrible. It isn't the act of failing or being rejected that upsets us, but our ideas about it.
AS A YOUNG MAN, AL WAS AFRAID OF PUBLIC SPEAKING
Young Albert Ellis had a public speaking phobia. He read in John B. Watson, the early behaviorist, that if you took a feared animal like a rabbit, and put it at one end of a table and a phobic child at the other end, the child would be terrified. Watson and his assistants gradually moved the animal closer and the child got unterrified and started petting the animal after a short while.
Al said if it's good enough for children, it was good enough for him. He made himself uncomfortably speak and speak and speak in public instead of phobically avoiding it, and he completely got over his public speaking phobia in seven weeks.
FEAR OF APPROACHING WOMEN
Even more important to the young Albert Ellis was his shyness around women. He flirted with them in Bronx Botanical Garden near his home, but he never approached them. Instead he made up all kinds of excuses to avoid doing so because he was scared of rejection.
At the age of 19, he gave himself a homework assignment when he was off from college. He went to Bronx Botanical Garden every day that month, and whenever he saw a woman sitting alone on a park bench, he would sit next to her, which he wouldn't dare do before. He gave himself one minute to talk to her, calming his fears by saying silently to himself, "If I die, I die. Screw it, so I die."
He didn't die.
He found 130 women sitting alone that month on park benches. He sat next to all of them, whereupon 30 got up and walked away. He spoke to the remaining 100 — for the first time in his life — about the birds and the bees, the flowers, books, whatever came to mind.
Al later said, "If Fred Skinner, who was then teaching at Indiana University, had known about my exploits, he would have thought I would have got extinguished, because of the 100 women I made one date — and she didn't show up!
"But I prepared myself philosophically, even then, by seeing that nobody took out a stiletto and cut my balls off, nobody vomited and ran away, nobody called the cops. I had 100 pleasant conversations and with the second 100 I got good and made a few dates.
"I used techniques I later developed into Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy on myself by thinking philosophically and differently. Nothing is awful or terrible, it's just a pain in the ass. That's all it is.
"There's no horror in being rejected. I forced myself uncomfortably to do what I was afraid of, the opposite of what phobics do, because whenever they're afraid of innocent things, they beat it the hell out of there and then never get over their fears.
"They increase their phobias, as I at first did. In Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy I combined thinking and philosophy for the first time with feeling — emotion — and also with behavior therapy, which I got from John B. Watson, Fred Skinner and others.
"So it's one of the very few therapies that is multi-modal in Arnold Lazarus' sense, and it includes thinking, feeling and behavior, and has about 20 or 30 techniques under each heading; it has lots of evidence in favor of it."
The emotiveness of REBT makes it unique among the popular cognitive and behavioral therapies used today. The Friends and Supporters of Albert Ellis feel honored to help Dr. Ellis carry his life's work into the 21st century where REBT is as fresh and exciting as it was when the young Albert forced himself to sit on that park bench many years ago.
In our support for Albert Ellis and REBT, we're willing to do what Al suggests— take the risk, experiment, try it!