Psychological Self-Help

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suicidal depression, rage, and self-depreciation. Even in milder forms,
such as tension or boredom or irritation or subordination, emotions
may make us miserable. Yet, we can feel happy, proud, loving, or
fascinated, which makes life great. At this point in time, psychologists
know more about reducing unwanted feelings than about increasing
the desired emotions. In this chapter, we focus on methods for
controlling our four major emotions, primarily anxiety, depression,
anger, and passive-dependency. 
Chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8 explain how the major emotions are
learned and developed. Of course, many basic emotional reactions
may not be learned; they may be inborn physiological responses, like
pain, fear, crying, hunger, sensual and sexual pleasure, frustration,
pleasure, etc. These and other emotions, like ecstasy, sadness,
irritability, rebelliousness, fears, or sudden episodes of agoraphobia,
may be genetic, physiological, hormonal or drug-induced (Adler, 1985)
and responsive to medication (Sheehan, 1984). As we grow out of
early childhood, however, certain emotions become associated with
certain situations and events; that is a learning process. Many of these
associations are not rational. We fear situations that are not dangerous
(like meeting someone or speaking up in class). We get upset about
things that couldn't be avoided. We may briefly distrust the entire
opposite male or female sex after we have been dumped by one of
Some emotional reactions, like anger or dependency, also seem to
be operants (yield some payoff); other emotions seem classically
conditioned to certain situations, like anger in response to a defiant,
smart-mouthed teenager. Most often, both operant and classical
conditioning are involved in developing an emotion, e.g. the fear of
public speaking increases (1) as fear is experienced while speaking
(classical) and (2) as public speaking is avoided for fear of fear
(operant). Of course, telling ourselves how stupid we will look if we
forget what to say also increases our speech anxiety. 
Indeed, many emotional reactions seem to be largely generated by
our thought processes, rather than by operant or classical
conditioning. Lazarus (1984) contends that cognition is always
involved in our emotions because emotions reflect our cognitive
evaluation of how well things are going for us, namely, if our situation
is seen as getting better or worse. The question is: What thoughts
(meanings or inferences or expectations) arouse which emotions? For
many years, Ellis & Harper (1975) have been reminding us of the
2000-year-old idea that our intensely sad or hostile feelings are a
result of our own thinking, our irrational ideas. For example, we
assume that situations (failing an exam) and people (someone lied to
you) cause our emotions, but Ellis says most emotions result from our
insisting that the world and others should be unfolding differently.
And, like a child, we get upset--we "awfulize"--when things don't go
the way we want them to go: "It was a stupid exam!" and "It's terrible
that he/she lied to me!" Cognitive methods for reducing emotions
are described in chapter 14.
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