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When Emotions Overtake Rational Thinking

by Frances Coombes(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 273 - September 2021

Does displaying how you feel count more than engaging in rational thinking? Rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT) has been around for a while and, for those who need some balance, it teaches rational thinking.

You can’t solve a problem without talking out loud, and social media thrives on us unloading our emotional pain with as wide an audience as possible.  Britney Spears, Prince Harry, and Johnny Depp have all let their emotional guard down in public lately but that doesn’t mean that it’s always the best thing to do.  Emotionally charged feuds that are conducted in full view of audiences can rarely be smoothed out afterwards in private.

Emotions are our drivers, they are how we are wired to exist, they are what brings meaning to our lives.

 The Triune Brain Courtesy Wikipedia

Spending Too Long in the Emotional Zone

But when we spend too long in the emotional zone it can narrow our focus, so we can’t see the big picture any more.  We go for the short term consequences and don’t look ahead at the long range consequences of our behaviour and how it contributes towards reaching our goals. When getting emotional becomes our regular ‘go to’ setting it can cause us distress over the smallest miscommunication.  Whilst an emotional outburst may feel satisfying and disburse tension at the time often we can’t control what follows in its wake.

We may be demanding that others change their thoughtless behaviour towards us.  Instead when we tell them how uncaring they are and how we are suffering because of their actions, they seem ungrateful to us for putting them right and indifferent to our straight talking, and if we broadcast our thoughts to the world then it is unlikely we can ever put things back the way they were.

When We Demand that Others Must Do What We Want We Set Ourselves Up for Disappointment.

Demands:  A demand is the rigid expression of a desire that something must or must not happen.  A demand takes the form of an absolute such as ‘I must succeed,’ ‘You must treat me with respect’, ‘I absolutely should!’ or ‘I must not fail’. ‘I must be perfect!’. ‘They must not reject me.’

Do Humans have a Bias Towards or Away from Rational Thinking?

It seems we have both. Albert Ellis, the Psychologist who devised Rational Emotive Therapy in the 1950s said that “human beings are biologically predetermined to take what we desire and want in life and turn it into a need”. This, he said, is at the “core of emotional disturbance” and the behaviours that spring from that disturbance.

If you only have one way to behave when a situation presses your buttons – then you’re limited.  When you can choose how you want to behave in a situation, this gives you choice.

Ellis said in 1984: “If children were taught simple rational thinking in schools, it would help combat some of the more irrational thinking they might be subjected to elsewhere.  If all children were taught rational thinking they would then at least possess a means, a tool, a method, for thinking logically.”  

Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT) has been taught in schools as a program offering children and adolescents emotional literacy skills.  It is an effective intervention in reducing anxiety and other commonly occurring difficulties.  It helps children by teaching them to challenge irrational thinking, to minimize their reactions to disappointment and frustrations, to cope more effectively with problems, and to more fully accept themselves.

Irrational Beliefs are Rigid, Inconsistent with Reality, Illogical and Unhelpful to the Individual in Pursuit of their Goals. 

They largely take the Form Of:

  • Rigid demands and self-depreciation, “S/he must do what I want”, “they must accept me”, “if they don’t accept me then I am worthless”.
  • Awfulizing - turning a bad situation into an awful situation.  “it is awful, the end of the world if people don’t do what I want” Nothing really is that awful, we just make it that way in our mind’
  • Low frustration tolerance beliefs.  “Things must not be difficult for me in life, everything should come easily, and if it doesn’t happen then life is terrible”.
  • Self Damning (Or Damning other People Either “I am bad” or ”they are ‘bad’) “I did not pass the test, which means I am a failure.” “I did not succeed, therefore I am worthless.” “You did not do what I wanted you to do - so that makes you a terrible person”;

A demand is essentially a ‘non acceptance’ belief. It is inconsistent with reality. Your successes are not you; your failures are not you. If you rate yourself according to how well you perform an act, then you must continue to improve in order to maintain your self-esteem, this is not humanly possible. If you rate yourself – then you berate yourself.  Human beings simply cannot be 100 per cent perfect all the time.  Acceptance does not mean ‘approval’. It simply means the acceptance and acknowledgement of the situation.

  • Self-deprecation Belief
    This is a global negative rating of yourself. It is rating yourself as ‘totally bad’, ‘a total failure’ e.g. ‘I am a failure or worthless because I failed’.  This statement is often based on a single instance of failing;
  • Awfulizing
    ‘Awfulizing’ is an unrealistic rating of how bad it is that a person’s demand has not been met. The badness of the situation is rated at 100% or more bad. The person believes that it is the worst thing that he/she can ever experience. e.g. “it’s awful that I failed”;
  • Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT)
    This is an irrational rating of a person’s ability to handle or cope with difficulty or frustration e.g. ‘I cannot tolerate failure’, ‘I cannot tolerate mistakes’.

The Difference between holding a Rational or Irrational Belief

REBT makes the distinction that people can have rational healthy negative beliefs about a situation, or irrational unhealthy negative beliefs. 

  • Irrational beliefs are rigid, inconsistent with reality, illogical and unhelpful to the individual in pursuit of his/her goals;
  • Rational beliefs are flexible, consistent with reality, logical and helpful to the individual in pursuit of her/her goal.

REBT teaches us self-acceptance, using the rational part of our brain, and that it is easier to express our wishes and adjust our expectations of what is possible from ourselves and others – rather than expecting them to change their ways.



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About Frances Coombes

Frances Coombes Advanced Dip CBT/REBT Dip CBT offers one-to-one therapeutic coaching in North West London and on Zoom.  She is a is a CBT/REBT psychotherapist in North West London, a NLP Master Practitioner and Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapist and runs life coaching groups in London and on Zoom.  She teaches NLP at The City Lit in Central London and tutors at the City Lit and Mary Ward Centre in central London on Using REBT for Managing Stress and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). She runs goal setting and REBT coaching groups for vulnerable people for inner London authorities and charities.  

Her most recent book is Motivate Yourself and Reach Your Goals, pub, November 2013, Hodder Headline. Available on and  For extract visit To inquire or book personal development courses contact Frances on Tel: 07818 896 795; 


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