After years of teaching stress management using a variety of techniques, I came upon the work of Dr. Albert Ellis. As I read his book “Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: A Therapist’s Guide,” the words “we disturb ourselves” jumped out at me, and I had an epiphany: We all do this in some manner. We take something relatively easy to cope with and make it into a crisis.
We’ve all been with someone who goes on and on about the fact that it’s raining.
“What are we going to do? We’re going to get wet, and our hair will be a mess!”
This is completely irrational, but these people can’t seem to appreciate that. They’re more invested in making themselves nuts. They’ve certainly seen rain and have gotten wet before, and nothing catastrophic happened then, so why can’t they just grab an umbrella and get over it?
But the rain isn’t really the issue, is it? I’m convinced that we don’t want to stop whining because in some way it gives us attention. And since most of us aren’t feeling very appreciated or nurtured, we use negativity as a way to get our needs met, even though we know that it turns people off.
One of the ways we can begin to shift this behavior and make ourselves and everyone around us feel better is to use the art of exaggeration. It’s simply a twist on how we disturb ourselves.
In other words, if you’re passionately pursuing guilt, try exaggerating the feeling. Victor Frankl calls this “paradoxical intention,” which means that if we intentionally disturb ourselves to the point where we get to an extreme place, it becomes ridiculous. It helps create the ability for self-detachment: You become you looking at you.
It’s common for people to become irrational in traffic. I have been the passenger in vehicles where the driver acted as if the other drivers had somehow been given licenses without having to be tested. After all, why else would all these idiots be on the road?
Try taking your ranting up a couple of notches. Tell yourself those other drivers will all be arrested and put in a maximum-security prison for several years without any hope for parole. This will allow you to be the only car on the road.
If it’s starting to sound ludicrous, it’s because it is. If you can begin to intentionally make your minor irritations worse than they are and then laugh at yourself, you are on the road to less stress.
We live in a very complex world, so we need as many tools as possible to manage our lives. My sense of humor has helped me through many difficult situations. It more than likely saved my sanity. Keep this in mind: You need to use it or you’ll lose it.