Sunday, July 18, 2010

A conflict between therapy and faith

The new book I'm reading "Anger: How to Live With It and Without It" presents many good ideas about how to deal with an old and lingering problem in my life, the presence of anger that at times gives way to rage, especially when I see someone getting away with breaking rules or bullying people.

However, one of the concepts in the book is that in order to get rid of one's anger, one has to get rid of the "shoulds" in life. People who do bad things "should" be punished. I "should" have a better job and kids, or I "deserve" the best because I work hard. These are what psychologist Albert Ellis calls Irrational Beliefs, or IB's for short that we had better to dissolve if we are going to be able to work with our anger.

Ellis claims that for Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy or REBT to work, you need to believe that you "absolutely should" do NOTHING. "You have only to exist as you do and live your life as best you can. If you can learn to accept yourself unconditionally, with your handicaps and your other problems, and if you can learn to live with difficulties when you cannot improve them, you may consider yourself well-adjusted."

The idea of NO SHOULDS in life though is a tough one for me as a Christian. I feel I've been raised with so many "shoulds" about the kind of student I SHOULD be, the kind of Christian God wants me to be, the behavior I should follow, that Ellis' more morally relative commandment is a bit difficult.

However, I know part of my current anger and dissatisfaction in life is due to a belief that I DESERVE better than to suffer the slings and arrows of frequent back pain, psychological problems, boring household chores, long trips on subways, and years worth of school debt. I DESERVE better because I am a better man, and I SHOULD be doing better than this. And then I begin looking for where it went wrong, what I did wrong.

To abandon the word "deserve" is a big step. If a "child of God" deserves nothing, in essence, then what's the point of following the rules? The only solution is that in the Christian lifestyle is a formula for living my life as best I can, but that lifestyle still seems to create so many "shoulds" that Ellis' therapeutic guidance and my faith seem like they're going to clash.

Any ideas?

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