Emotional Insight: Demandingness

Dr. Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), religiously warned his clients against “Demandingness.” According to Ellis, demandingness is the human tendency to rigidly demand that the world, others in the world, or people themselves MUST be different than they are! REBT contends that demandingness, people’s devout belief in this “logical fallacy that, because I want X, it MUST be so,” is the source of people’s emotional discomfort [1]. To devoutly believe and demand that something MUST be, when it actually does not is at best pretentious and at worst an informal claim of “God-like powers”—as Ellis articulated, “My will be done!” [2]. REBT posits that insisting that reality (you, others, or the world) should not, must not, ought not be as they are is illogical and self-defeating for several reasons.

Must or should statements (“I must get accepted into an Ivy League university”) often implies an intolerance for humanness (an exposure of human fallibility) and an insistence on human perfection. What the aforementioned example actually means is, “Because I want very much to get accepted into an Ivy League university, the universities I apply to MUST accept me.” People who elevate their wants to a “must,” fail to make the distinction between wants and musts, and in doing so make them equal [3]. A person’s preferences, wants and desires are not something to be challenge, as preferences are “neither rational nor irrational, and neither right nor wrong” [4].

Again, REBT suggests that once a desire is turned into a demand, discomfort will soon follow. Therefore, what a practitioner would challenge and/or suggest a person change is the demand (“universities I apply to MUST accept me”). REBT theorizes that when you informally position yourself as the “King of Kings” by profoundly believing “universities I apply to MUST accept me”, “my husband MUST love me as much as I love him,” or “I MUST be treated with respect,” you set yourself up to feel anxious, depressed or unhelpful anger when your demands are not met!

Subsequently, people often engage in “self-downing” beliefs and statements as a result of their demands on themselves, others or the world. For instance, “I should have been accepted to the Ivy League universities I applied to. Since I didn’t, I’m a failure”; “My husband still doesn’t love me as much as I love him, I am worthless as a wife.” Self-downers rate their human worth on the basis of their traits and behaviors, often times focusing on their less than stellar moments [5]. This act of condemning oneself (“I’m an idiot, I’m worthless, I fail at everything I try, I’m such a failure”) for having messed up produces emotional consequences: feelings of depression, destructive anger or guilt. Subsequently, these self-defeating feelings (the emotional consequences) lead to behavioral consequences: unmotivated to take responsibility for what you can change, apathetic towards problem-solving, indifference to counterproductive substance use, and negative predictions about the future. Thus, insistence on only accepting yourself when you perform well, lays the foundation for self-hatred and a pessimistic view about your future. For these reasons and more, the problem with demandingness is as Ellis stated, “{it} leads to self-abuse” [6].

Action Plan

Here are some takeaways to consider:
1. Your demandingness (i.e., shoulds, musts, and oughts) are irrational and unhelpful demands on reality and are central to your emotional discomfort.
2. Accept that empirically, things are not the way you want them to be, and they do not have to be the way you want them to be—you are not god and the universe and it’s inhabitants are not obliged to yield to your commands.
3. Emotional relief will come once you recalibrate your desires and demands—establishing a clear distinction.
4. Never rate yourself, only your performance. In the words of Gandhi, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.”
5. Unconditionally accept yourself as a fallible human being. There are billions of fallible human beings just like you!

References:
[1] Backx, W., DiGiuseppe, R., Dole, K., & Dryden, W. (2013) A Practitioner’s Guide to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (3rd Ed.) (p.190). New York: Oxford University Press.
[2] Backx, W., DiGiuseppe, R., Dole, K., & Dryden, W. (2013) A Practitioner’s Guide to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (3rd Ed.) (p.190). New York: Oxford University Press.
[3] Backx, W., DiGiuseppe, R., Dole, K., & Dryden, W. (2013) A Practitioner’s Guide to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (3rd Ed.) (p.193). New York: Oxford University Press.
[4] Backx, W., DiGiuseppe, R., Dole, K., & Dryden, W. (2013) A Practitioner’s Guide to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (3rd Ed.) (p.191). New York: Oxford University Press.
[5] Rational Eatting 138
[6] Backx, W., DiGiuseppe, R., Dole, K., & Dryden, W. (2013) A Practitioner’s Guide to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (3rd Ed.) (p. xvii). New York: Oxford University Press.