The three Fallacies of Albert Ellis

by Didier Marlier on Friday May 14th, 2021

Eleven years ago, we had invited a high level practitioner and therapist in R.E.B.T. (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, created by psychologist Albert Ellis). For those of you who know our practice well, the link was obvious with Logos, Pathos, Ethos and we were keen to understand if there was anything we could ethically (i.e. without betraying Albert Ellis or without necessarily being a psychologist) draw from this practice, to support our coachees.

Simplifying R.E.B.T. to the extreme, it seeks to help a patient identify the “negative tapes” they play about themselves and replace them by authentic, factual, “positive tapes” that the person may decide to play when their horizon gets too dark. This, of course, can be a very useful technique in coaching as well.

But what interests me, most, in those negative tapes, are three very widely spread ones that I sometimes play to myself and hear many coaches play for themselves too. Albert Ellis considers them as irrational and, very self-limiting:

  • I must do well and win the approval of others or else I am no good: People who seem desperate to gain approval, shy away from constructive conflict, look for affection and/or 100%ers, perfectionists, loyal soldiers, fearing that their mistakes may disappoint their boss, spouse, friends or others, fall in that category. Helping such people to come to grip with “what happens when you are not loved” or “were the consequences always that dramatic when you failed?” is an important tool for coaches.

The behavioural consequences that may help you recognize that such tapes are played by someone are:

    • Risk-avoidance
    • Shyness
    • Procrastination
    • Unassertiveness
    • Workaholism
  • Other people must do “the right thing” or else they are no good and deserve to be punished: I can find my “judgemental self” in that one, in particular when fatigued. My candour and forgiveness drift, I feel aggressed by others and that tape starts playing.

I become inflexible and unrealistic, I seem to assume my authority over others and am certain there is a clear-cut difference between right and wrong and expect everyone to inerrantly differentiate between right and wrong. This leads to conflict with others who also see themselves as the center of the universe. I also become non-accepting of human fallibility.I am certain you may recognize others leaders in that description.

  • Life must be easy, without discomfort or inconvenience: That is the fallacy we seem to see the most widely spread at the moment, with all of us regretting the “good old days before Covid”, bitching and moaning against our leaders and demanding that they solve the situation. It also triggers those who are afraid to take risks, resistance to change etc.

Ellis suggests that the emotional impact of such beliefs are low frustration tolerance, self-pity, depression and discomfort anxiety. The reactions may be (as many of us witnessed during the various lock downs): Procrastination, shirking (avoiding to take one’s responsibility, drug and alcohol abuse, overindulgence in “feel good” behaviours.

I tend to encounter these fallacies quite often, not only in formal coaching but also in mundane conversations and seek to support those who believe in them by questions, realisation of what happened to them when these “musts” were not met, how did they prevail etc. in order to help them realize that it may be their choice to listen and believe into a self-limiting or destructive tape, or choose another tune and go on with life as it is and not as they desperately hoped it should be.

The text that helped me write this blog comes from Will Ross, webmaster and co-founder of REBTnetwork.org.

Enjoy your leadership journey!

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