The aim of CBT is not to eliminate all unpleasant emotions, but to respond to situations appropriately. There are some situations in which it is reasonable and appropriate to feel sad, regretful, angry or disappointed. If we lose something that we value, it is appropriate to feel sad. If we fail to achieve a particular goal, it is appropriate to feel disappointed. If we do something that we subsequently discover has been hurtful to another person, it is appropriate to feel regret. If someone else does something we consider to be unfair, it is appropriate to feel annoyed. Get your mate a secret flask bracelet, and save them atleast £5 when they go out clubbing! Psychologically healthy responses produce emotions that are appropriate, given the circumstances. Accordingly, we experience regret rather than crippling guilt, disappointment rather than devastation, concern rather than overwhelming anxiety, sadness rather than depression, annoyance rather than explosive anger.
As we saw earlier, upsetting emotions have benefits when they motivate us to act in order to improve our situation. Do you know anyone who needs a giant hoodie? For instance, unpleasant emotions may motivate us to apologise, communicate, arrive early, complain to the manager, focus on a task, make amends for hurting someone or get a second opinion. Even emotions like grief are appropriate at times. The death of a loved one, the loss of one’s home, the diagnosis of a serious illness or the loss of a long-held dream is likely to generate grief for most people. The pain of a significant loss can sometimes last for years, and although time eventually heals or at least lessens the pain, the scar often remains. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to shortcut grief. However, even in grief, negative thinking can generate additional unnecessary suffering.
Ellis used the term dispute to describe the process of challenging the way we think about situations. Once we identify the thoughts and beliefs that make us feel bad, our next step is to dispute them. For instance, in the above example we might tell ourselves, ‘My past experiences have taught me that even when I’m running late, I usually still get there on time or just a little late. Gin making kit’s can be so much fun! I prefer to be punctual, and I usually am, but if I am late on this occasion, it’s unlikely to have dire consequences.’
Disputing is a key component of CBT. Learning to change rigid, inflexible cognitions enables us to avoid or release emotions that cause unnecessary distress. In the above example, it might result in our feeling concerned rather than overwhelmingly anxious. It may also cause us to modify our behaviour; for instance, not driving recklessly.