Tool #1: To understand and appreciate the role emotion
plays in everyday life
Home page Tool #2
|A Dysfunctional Amount of Emotion
|Getting Better vs. Feeling Better
Dr. Ellis always made between feeling better and getting
There are many ways to temporarily feel better. Some are
healthy, many are not. People are sometimes taught and
encouraged to engage in one or more of the common
healthy ways to temporarily feel better. For example, yoga,
meditation, relaxation, biofeedback or exercise. These are
really examples of the life skill known as Self-Soothing or
Self-Regulation. They are things people can do after the
fact to address a dysfunctional amount of emotion they may
To understand how they work, we need to look at a formula
for feelings. That formula is: EVENTS + THOUGHTS =
FEELING. Whatever happens, or whatever others say and
do is technically an EVENT in the formula. Events can be
real or imagined. The brain is always generating thoughts
about such events, trying to make sense out of them, and
recognize any threats to us. The important point is that it's
our thoughts about the real or imagined events in our lives
that really determine how we feel. We'll discuss why this is
The many different ways of temporarily feeling better work
by doing one of two things. It doesn't matter whether they
are a healthy way or unhealthy way. One, they give people
a time out from the events of their lives and the thoughts
they have about them. Or two, they deplete the energy to
move that people generate in response to life events. In
one or both of these ways, people get temporary relief from
how they feel. However, once they stop engaging in such
1) more than they'd like to have
2) more than they know what to do with
3) more than is healthy for them
4) more than in necessary or helpful to the life situations they find themselves in
5) a type and frequency, intensity and duration of it that works against them
instead of for them.
|The Think-Feel-Do Thermostat
Picture an old fashioned thermostat with a needle you can
move up or down to change the temperature in a room.
Move the needle upward and the room gets hotter. Move it
downward and the room gets cooler. Move it too high or
too low and it gets too hot or too cold for most people. Now
picture that thermostat being for thoughts, feelings and
behavior. It's divided into three columns and three rows.
The columns represent thoughts, feelings and behavior.
Each column is divided vertically into three sections.
In the Feel column, the bottom section represents Calm.
The middle section Frustration, Concern, Sadness, Regret
and Remorse. The top section represents Anger, Anxiety,
Depression, Shame and Guilt. Within each section, you
can go from a low to high frequency, intensity and duration
of a feeling.
In the Do column, the bottom section is Do nothing. The
middle section is Respond. The top section React and
Overreact. If we generate frustration, concern, sadness,
regret or remorse, we have energy to move to make our
lives better. However, it's not so much that we react or
overreact. If we push our needle into the upper section we
become angry, anxious, depressed, and feel shame or
guilt. That will cause us to react, or overreact to what's
happening. There's two ways to make a situation you don't
like worse. Do nothing and overreact to it. People usually
do the latter because they generate anger, anxiety,
depression, shame or guilt.
Frustration and anger are not simply weaker or stronger
versions of the same feeling. They are qualitatively different
emotions. That's because of how they come about.
In the middle of the last century, Dr. Albert Ellis identified
four basic types of irrational thinking that people engage in
cause them to generate a dysfunctional amount of emotion.
One of those is called DEMANDINESS. People go from
simply wanting, preferring and desiring something to think
they need it, it's a necessity, and DEMANDING it.
We can represent this type of philosophical shift in the
Think column. The bottom section is Don't care. The
middle section is Want, Prefer, and Desire. The top section
is Need, Necessity, and Demand. If we don't care, it's easy
to stay calm. If we want, prefer or desire something be
some way, and it's not, we'll feel frustrated, concerned, sad,
regret or remorse. The F.I.D. of those emotions will depend
on how much we wanted, preferred or desired it to be that
way. However, if we think we need something, it's a
necessity, and demand it, and then don't get it, we'll be
angry, anxious, depressed, or feel shame and guilt. The
F.I.D. will depend on how much we thought we needed it, it
was a necessity, and demanded it.
People receive more helpful advice and information than
ever before in human history. Advice and information about
how to live longer, healthier, happier and more productive
lives. They receive just as much advice and information
about how to have healthy, satisfying relationships and be
better parents. Yet we have millions of people who start
and continue to behave in all types of unhealthy, self-
defeating behavior. Millions still struggle to have satisfying
relationships and be good parents. They often do so even
when they know better, or have suffered in some way
because of what they've said or done.
Behavior of any kind starts and continues because it serves
a purpose. It's always goal-orientated. that includes any
unhealthy, self-defeating behavior. Unfortunately, people
often have "mistaken" goals that get them off course from
getting what they want in life. For example, power,
revenge, avoidance of failure, or withdrawal-avoidance-
relief. A large part of what gives purpose to unhealthy,
self-defeating behavior is that people generate a
dysfunctional amount of emotion in response to their life
events. The more emotion they generate, the more
purpose unhealthy, self-defeating behavior will serve in
peoples lives. For example, the more anxiety, depression,
shame or guilt people
|The "Tools" that can help
|Goals in terms of the Emotional Thermostat
One goal would be to teach people to control their own
thermostat. Most wrongly believe other people and the
events of their lives actually control their thermostats.
Another would be to teach people how to turn their
emotional thermostat down. One way would be to reduce
the frequency, intensity and duration of emotions like
anger, anxiety, depression, shame and guilt. The other
way would be to replace a feeling like anger with a
qualitatively different one like frustration, irritation or
annoyance. To replace anxiety with concern, depression
with sadness, and shame and guilt with regret and remorse.
So what could we do to teach people to generate a more
functional amount of emotion? How could we teach them
to have more control over their emotional thermostat, and
turn it down. To free them to be more response-able
instead of reacting or overreacting to what happens in their
First, teach them to have USA or unconditional self-
acceptance to combat shame. Shame comes from
believing we don't live up to expectations. We all have
plenty of expectations placed on us throughout life. We
often have many more of ourselves. That means plenty of
opportunities to feel shame. Shame often plays an
important but unrecognized role in unhealthy, self-defeating
behavior. It blocks change. That's true for people of all
ages, but especially young people. USA combats shame.
Second, teach them to have an internal locus of control.
Most people have an external locus of control. They
wrongly believe that what others say and do, and what
happens makes them feel the way they do. They believe
others control their emotional thermostat. That puts that at
the seeming mercy of their life events and the actions of
others. It usually
Starting to teach young people to have truly effective
emotional management wouldn't require any new
teachers, classes or funds. It would be the simplest,
quickest, cheapest and most importantly, the most
effective way to really target the underlying cause of so
much that goes wrong in and out of the classroom, now
and later in their lives. The "tools" can act like a "mental
and emotional vaccination" against mental health, health,
If they can learn to turn their emotional thermostat down,
they'll be less reactive, and more response-able. They will
have more response-ability, or the ability to respond to life
instead of just react to it. It will become easier to access
and act on helpful advice and information they have. They'll
be more likely to consider consequences before acting. It
will become easier for people to learn from their own and
others experiences. Their morals and values will be more
likely to play a role in their decision making. Finally, they'll
be in a better emotional place to make the best possible
behavioral or lifestyle choice.
causes people to feel worse than necessary or helpful, for
longer than needed. More importantly, it causes them to
miss many opportunities to feel better. It's actually what we
choose to think about what happens that really determines
how we feel. Thoughts cause feelings, not events. We all
have a host of cognitive choices that we make all the time
that really determine how we feel. People can be taught
how to use these choices to have power and control over
their emotional destiny. They can be taught to control their
Third, teach people to recognize and correct the irrational
thinking that causes them to generate a dysfunctional
amount of emotion and behave irrationally. Thoughts
cause feelings, not events. Peoples behavior always
follows their emotions toward their life events. And attitude
is always the father of behavior. Dr. Albert Ellis identified a
simple pattern to irrational thinking that's easy to teach
people to recognize in themselves and others. He also
created simple but effective ways to correct the four types
of irrational thinking.
social and academic problems. Theycan be a much
needed "shot in the arm" for those already struggling with
such problems or issues, be they young people or adults.
Even in the absence of any significant problem or issue,
the "tools" can give anyone, of any age, the "mental and
emotional fitness" to function at levels they are capable of,
and want to, giving them their best shot at having the kind
of life they really want to have.
their events are usually waiting for them, if only in their
imagination. Their thoughts about their events usually
quickly return. They start to build up energy to move all
These ways to temporarily feel better are like using OTC
(Over the Counter) medications for the symptom of a cold.
As long as such medications are in their bloodstreams,
people get relief from the symptoms. However, once the
medications leave their bloodstreams, their symptoms
return. The reason being that the OTC medications did
nothing about the cause of our symptoms - a virus infecting
their tissues. In an analogous way, once people stop
engaging in an activity to feel better, their feelings start to
build back up. Not simply because the events of their lives
are waiting for them, or return, but because the real
causes of their feelings do. That's what people choose to
THINK about their life events.
Getting better means to permanently reduce the overall
frequency, intensity and duration of emotions like anger,
anxiety, depression, shame and guilt. The only way to
GET better is for people to change the way they THINK.
It's called cognitive restructuring.
We do little if anything in schools or most families to really
teach people to have truly effective emotional
management. That despite the important role a lack of it
plays in so much that goes wrong in the lives of
individuals, and in families, schools and society. We allow
too many young people to enter adulthood deficient in this
important life skill.
generate, the more purpose alcohol and drugs can serve in
their lives. The more emotion people generate, the more
driven they will be to achieve their "mistaken" goals. For
example, the angrier people make themselves, the more
driven they would be to seek revenge. This is part of why
people often struggle to stop behaving in unhealthy,
self-defeating ways. The behavior continues to serve a
purpose. It continues to do that because they continue to
generate a dysfunctional amount of emotion.
Make a list of all the problems and issues people of all ages
struggle with. You find that some of those problems and
issues are literally defined by generating a dysfunctional
amount of emotion. For example, people have anger
problems, anxiety disorders, phobias, depression, low
self-esteem and are too stressed out. Other problems and
issues will be caused by what they do because they
generate a dysfunctional amount of emotion. For example,
road rage, violence, abuse, or bullying. Still others will be
what they do to try to get relief from a dysfunctional amount
of emotion. For example, smoke, drink, use drugs, overeat,
starve themselves, self-injure or even suicide.
E-motion can be a nice thing to have. For example, joy and
happiness. It can also be helpful energy to move. For
example, if you get frustrated, you might be motivated to try
harder, hang in there longer. If you're concerned, you
might be more motivated to take reasonable precautions.
However, people often generate a dysfunctional amount of
it. By dysfunctional I mean
Anger, anxiety, depression, shame, guilt and loneliness
often end up being dysfunctional. People often do
unhealthy, self-defeating, and sometimes even illegal or
self-destructive things when they have these feelings.
Generating such feelings is part of being human. We're
hardwired to do so. However, we want to always look at the
Frequency, Intensity and Duration of such feelings.
Then we want to ask some simple questions.
1) What do we really want?
2) How's it working for us to make ourselves feel the
way we do? Does it allow us to get what we really
want from and in life? Or does it make it harder?
The main way a dysfunctional amount of emotion works
against people is that it causes them to react tothe events of
their lives instead of respond to them in the best possible
way. It makes them less response-ABLE. It makes it harder
to access and act on helpful advice and information they've
received. People are less likely to consider consequences
before acting. They are less likely to learn from their own or
others experiences. They are more likely to violate their own
morals and values. It's harder to function at levels people are
capable of, or might want to. In all these ways, a dysfunctional
amount of emotion makes it harder to make the best possible
behavioral or lifestyle choice.