“It realistically accepts the human condition (that is, the innate and acquired tendency toward self-defeat and sinning) as many philosophies, religionists, and writers have shown. At the same time, it accepts the human tendency toward self-enhancement, self-actualization, and constructive problem-solving, as also noted by many philosophies, religionists, and writers. (Ellis, 2004)”
My confidence in myself decreased dramatically when I pursued my postgraduate studies in New Zealand. Perhaps this was due to the thought that I must excel in my studies as I did during my undergraduate. Phrases like “I must be the best student”, “If I can do it during my undergraduate, I also can do it now”, “There is no reason not to get high grades” and “I must perform well in all the tests and exams” would flow through my mind endlessly. I was unaware of its serious implications. At the beginning, I thought those thoughts were good and having the feeling of anxiety and pressure were needed for me to stay focused on studying. However, when I had my first test, I started to experience intense anxiety symptoms.
A week before the test, I began to have negative thinking about myself such as “My English is not good and I will fail”, “I am only a second class citizens”, “What if the lecturers do not like me and fail me in the test?”, “Am I still good?” and many other racing thoughts came into my mind. I started to feel extreme fear of failing, disappointments, anger and depressions. My hands were trembling each time I wanted to study and having short breaths when the lecturers mentioned about tests. I was really under a great stress and it lasts for almost eight months.
Due to that, I started to feel displeased with my grades and began to feel bad about my self. These contributed to more negative thoughts. At the time, I began to have more internal messages like “It is extremely difficult to study here”, “Everybody hates me” and “I should not be here”. At that particular time, I was about to make decision to return to Malaysia and start a new life.
Under ordinary circumstances, before I began to use REBT on my own self, I realized that I was very annoyed with the feelings I had. It convinced me that those feelings and thoughts were largely created by my ultimate demands that I must get the best out of myself. I became conscious that I had traveled so far and why should I let go the opportunity I had.
I started to monitor my constant internal thoughts and once I identified the negative messages I was sending to myself, I disputed them by telling myself that “I am here to acquire knowledge, to have different perspective of psychology and gain new experience. If I am not able to repeat the same achievement, it does not make me a total failure”. I set up cues at my room – study table, beside the bed, on the door and each time the negative thoughts running in my mind, I stopped it immediately by reading the cues. I developed this over a period of time and I began to experience feeling more comfortable. Unintentionally, I had engaged myself with REBT.
I knew it was part of REBT technique when a preview on counseling skill seminar was presented in one of the classes I attended. The experience was like eureka!. I began to read more books on Elbert Ellis and REBT. Search in the library and started to help myself, dealing with my irrational beliefs. I was like buying myself a new tank of oxygen. Through hard work and determination, I overcame my problems using REBT. And of course decided to stay and continue my studies. I did not want to self-sabotaging my self and of course, my future.
Application of REBT
About eight months in bewildered, the insight I got from attending the seminar was just the beginning. I began to think the impact of these negative thoughts on myself, and my future. How it got started in my life and how those negative thoughts started running into my mind. I started to learn the concept of REBT thoroughly. The ABC Model places a good deal for me to overcome my issues.
I learn to realize the activating event that led me having those thoughts came within my own self. Perhaps I was so contented to see the proud faces of my family during the graduation and I wanted to repeat the success. I was eager to repeat the success over success. I was too confident. Everything was at the most extreme of the dichotomy. Unconsciously, I formed my absolutistic demands that I must reiterate the success.
Eventually, the unconscious mind started to develop the irrational beliefs (e.g. “I must be the best student”, “If I can do it during my undergraduate, I also can do it now”, “There is no reason not to get high grades and I must perform well in all the tests and exams”). The stronger the irrational beliefs, the faster it leads to more generalized concept – self-hatred. I began to develop more negative thoughts (e.g. “My English is not good and I will fail”, “I am only a second class citizens”, “What if the lecturer does not like me and fail me in the test?”, and “Am I still good?”). The worst part was I started more serious destructive thinking (e.g. “It is extremely difficult to study here”, “Everybody hates me” and “I should not be here”).
As the consequences, I experienced some biological changes. My hands started to tremble each time I think or someone was discussing about the tests. I occasionally had flu and short breath. I felt that I was incapable to take care of my own health. The negative thoughts kept on running into my head and worsen the situation was that I felt helpless. I was unable to get help as I did not disclose this to anyone, including my family members.
It was hard for me to survive there until I got so wretched with my own feelings. To run away with this, I initiate my own strategy, having a cue to help me to deviate the negative thinking to a better one. And that was highly related to REBT. From the article I read on REBT after attending the seminar, I started to learn to challenge my own thoughts. This is when I began to move on to the next stage of the ABC Model in REBT.
It may sound be easy to change the irrational belief, but the easiest way to do this was to change the words I used. I replaced the statements I created, - more on question statements instead of a phrase or ordinary statement. I kept on questioning myself about the negative and pessimist statements I had written them on the paper. Each time I felt not comfortable with the negative thoughts in my mind, I would write it down and asked my self that who actually imposed those ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’. Who says that I am no good? Anybody specifically tell me about the second class citizen? What evidence that shows me it was difficult to study abroad?
Nobody has told me to be the best student in my postgraduate studies as well as in my undergraduate. It just happened. I gained my strength to confront my own irrational beliefs. Finally I realized that the harmful emotions and dysfunction actions of my own were after effects of my irrational beliefs. I learned to understand that I am responsible for my own thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
At this stage I was aware how many irrational beliefs I had in my mind. I thought it would not harm me, but now I realized that with those irrational beliefs, tons of those could really pull me down. I told myself that I had to find a way to strengthen my rational beliefs, especially the reasons I why I pursue my studies.
I kept on telling my self that I don’t want to stumbling along the path I choose. I had planned each step before I came to New Zealand and I would work smart to achieve the goals I set for myself. I had to listen to my rational mind. I was repeatedly write those negative statements in a notepad. All the irrational beliefs that came into my mind I put them in words and I argued those irrational beliefs. And each time I could not provide the answer, the more it gives me greater sensible beliefs. This moment, I started to talk to myself.
I found that ‘self talk’ at this stage was very helpful. Sometime I did ask my self whether I am going mad talking to my self (unconsciously I use humor therapy) or am I in a delusional. When I was disputing my own irrational beliefs, I felt that I was in the court, finding facts and seeking for scientific proofs.
At this level, I began to seek more practical techniques. I went to short courses organized by the University such as mental relaxation. I also became a volunteer involved as client in a hypnotherapy projects. The hypnotherapy session was very intense for the first place as I have no knowledge about it at all. I had no idea what to expect that time. I went to the lab and signed in the form, and an agreement that I had had to went through the hypnotherapy sessions for four sessions (again, I was given the choice to continue after a session or to stop)
However, after went through the first session, I felt some relief. That day, I did not think about my issue. After few days, I could concentrate in my studies, and not too worry about those feelings. But I still wrote the negative thoughts when it came into my mind. The third session made me feel like a brand new me. Somehow I learned that life does not always have to be like what we have planned. I became more rational. And most of all I was able to understand that the experienced I went through and looked it at different perspective.
I constantly writing those irrational beliefs and challenged them. Slowly, I learn how to accept others. I felt the awareness and I could let go of the fear I had and allowed love and acceptance to replace them. Now, I can feel the effect that I could see significant progress in my routine life. I feel extremely confident and positive thoughts, realistic and achievable were strongly reinforced in my mind. I also learned that I would never again to waste my time with those negative thoughts and feelings which made me feel uncomfortable, sad and bad, instead do and be aware of I want in my life.
Applying REBT and its practical techniques make me realize that I have power to choose and to accept myself as I am. As a human being, I have to accept that I have both strengths and weaknesses. At this level, I began to create new belief system – more rational, healthy and constructive. Instead of feeling guilty, I feel acceptance. The anger I had towards my self, turned to love.
From the effect, then I moved to the ‘new feeling’. The new feeling I had after ‘recover’ from those unwanted thoughts give me a new way of looking into my journey. REBT has given me a weltanschauung (comprehensive view of human life and the world at large). Now, I feel that I have completed applying REBT in dealing with my own self-created problem. I leant that I need not to prove myself, nor to impress anybody. Mistakes are part of life learning process and I need not to live with too much rules and expectations. I just have to be ‘me’.
In the nutshell, based on the REBT basic principles, I have recovered from the life challenges I faced which nearly drown me to more negative decisions. I was so glad and never ever regretted having the challenges ahead because I am now believe that there is always rainbow after the rain.
REBT has been helping me until today and I am applying it with my clients. Simple guide about life is that to think life as series of opportunities and within the opportunities they are interruptions. Those interruptions are brief and provide opportunity to learn, to explore and to experience. Most important is to realize that how I am using thoughts, imaginations, emotions, intuitions to raise my self esteem and of course, the ultimate reason is to take control of my own progress. REBT has given me the chance to allow myself to believe into my conviction and that helps me to grow and flourish. I used many strategies in my recovery of which I still use them and get licensed to apply those techniques. I believe that REBT to the ‘drafthorse’ of my tool in counseling as well as in many areas part in my life. In conclusion, REBT is an action- and results- oriented psychotherapy which teaches me how to identify my own self-defeating ideas, thoughts, beliefs and actions and replace them with more effective, life-enhancing ones.