313: People who “yes-butt” you.
People who resist exposure.
Does God exist? Does the “self” exist?
How to you justify Ellis?
“Should” we care about Putin’s war on Ukraine?
1. Rhonda asks: How can you respond to someone who yes-butts you?
2. Thomas asks: Do we have a self? Does God exist?
3. Thomas also asks: Ellis said we should upset ourselves over someone else’s problems, but how about Putin, and Russia?
Note: The answers below were generated prior to the podcast, and the information provided on the live podcast may be richer and different in a number of ways.
1. Rhonda asks: How can you respond
to someone who yes-butts you?
Thanks, Rhonda. We can demonstrate this with Matt on the podcast recording later today!
The answer is to fall back to Empathy and try to see how we are creating the problem. For example, when we are giving advice, we may have fallen into a trap, in which we are getting ahead of their resistance and would want to get behind it.
As often happens, the question, and its answer, went in an unexpected direction. Rhonda, like many therapists, noticed that one of her social anxiety patients was subtly resisting exposure—facing her fears. Matt and Rhonda model how to respond to patients who keep putting off the exposure.
This answer illustrates how therapists and the general public alike can improve your use of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication (LINK) with the use of “Deliberate Practice,” with role reversals and immediate feedback on your technique.
Rhonda starts with a low grade, and then rapidly achieves an A grade!
Click here for the Five Secrets of Effective Communication
2. Thomas asks: Do we have a self? Does God exist?
Thank you for giving me your time and attention. I appreciate it, even if we don’t agree. I have talked about whether or not God and the self exist. David Hume made the argument about not having a self, only perception. Of course, questions arise if we don’t have a “self.”
Thomas also comments on Nathaniel Brandon:
Why do we use the words who? Him? Her? He she they.?? I certainly don’t believe Nathaniel Brandon’s horseshit. He talks about a teenage self, a father self, and a child self
And all that is just horseshit.
But do we have any self?
Hi Thomas, Thanks for your question! You ask, “But do we have any self?” You ask about God, too.
People have been asking for my chapter on the “Death of the Self,” and my efforts to debunk the idea of a “self.” I have not had the time and motivation to bring that chapter back to life, since it is so hard for people to “get” what I’ve been trying to say, which is exactly what Wittgenstein and the Buddha were trying to say. But I will try to share one idea with you, in the hopes that it might make sense.
As I have previously suggested, these questions about some “self” or “God” have no meaning. For example, how about this question: ‘What would it look like if someone had no ‘self?’ What, exactly, are we talking about?
I know what this question means: “So you think Henry is too high on himself.” This means that we think some person named Henry is arrogant or narcissistic, something like that, and we want to know if someone agrees with us. I understand this question, it makes sense. There is a distinct difference between people who are quite humble and folks who are overly impressed with themselves. So, we are talking and using words in a way that has meaning and makes sense.
However, I cannot answer the following question because it does not make any sense to me: “Does Henry have a ‘self’?” So, this question, to me, is language that is out of gear, like a car in neutral gear. No matter how hard you press on the accelerator, it will not move forward or backward.
If you cannot “see” or “grasp” the difference between my examples of a meaningful question and a nonsensical non-question, that’s okay. In my experience, few people can grasp or “get” this. But to me, the difference is quite obvious.
Is it okay if I use your email as a somewhat edited “Ask David?” I can change your name if you prefer. I don’t think people will “get” my answer, but hope springs eternal!
Many brilliant minds have addressed this question in more eloquent and thorough ways than I could, including the Stanford-trained neurologist and philosopher, Sam Harris, in his book, ‘Free Will’ and Jay Garfield in his book, ‘Losing Ourselves’ There’s very little I can say, about this topic, that hasn’t been said more eloquently by individuals like these and many others.
Meanwhile, I’m glad that this question has arisen on the podcast because I see clinical utility in the implications of this question, including in the treatment of depression, anxiety, anger, narcissistic pride and relationship problems.
For example, I might be thinking, ‘I’m so mad at my (bad) self for eating all those cookies’. Or, I’m so proud of myself for making a million dollars’. I might start to think I deserve more, because of my special self and feel superior and angry, ‘that persons (bad self) shouldn’t have cut me off in traffic!’.
When we take the ‘self’ out of the equation, we realize that these thoughts don’t make sense. If our brains are just following the laws of physics, without any self, jumping in there to influence the process, then we couldn’t have done differently, with the brains we had, and neither could anyone else.
Hence, the idea that people have ‘selves’, which can be good or bad, make decisions and the like, is a setup for suffering. In the cookie example, I would have to train my brain, through practice with therapy methods, to develop a different set of habits, rewiring of my brain, to reach for a salad rather than a cookie. I can’t simply insist that my ‘self’ rewire my brain for me. I’d have to practice and do my TEAM therapy homework!
Anger and Narcissism are some of the hardest-to-defeat problems. However, realizing other people are simply doing what their brains are programmed to do, takes away the anger and blame. Just like we wouldn’t hold a grudge for years against a wild animal that bit us, we could also forgive and accept a person who bit us. and we can’t feel unnecessarily superior or proud of our ‘self’ if we accomplish something wonderful, because we don’t’ have a ‘self’ that did those things, just a brain and the right environment, neither of which we can take credit for.
This approach is called ‘reattribution’ in TEAM, which is useful for defeating ‘self-blame’ and ‘other (self) blame’.
Here are some other methods to leverage the no-self concept and free your mind of this hazardous way of thinking:
1. Experimental Technique: Try to define what a ‘self’ is. Then conduct an experiment to see whether the self is capable of doing the things you think it can do. For example, can your ‘self’ stop understanding the words you are seeing on this page? Or does your brain helplessly decipher the shapes of these letters into meaningful sounds and language? Can your self exert its free will to decide to focus exclusively on one thing for one minute, like your breath or a point on the wall? It can’t. If your self can’t do such simple tasks, what can it do? One can see meditation as a kind of ‘experiment’ to see whether our ‘self’ is calling the shots, using its free will, or if our brains are just doing what brains do.
2. Socratic Questioning: You can ask questions that can’t be answered to show that the ‘self’ is more like a ‘unicorn’ than a cat. For example, how big is the ‘self’? What’s it made of? Where is it located? Can you see it on a MRI? No radiologist has ever visualized a ‘self’ and you probably realize you can’t answer these questions, any more than you can, ‘what do Unicorns like to eat?’, bringing us closer to understanding that it’s probably a made up thing.
3. Examine the Evidence: What evidence is there that there’s a Self? What evidence is there that there is no self? On the latter side, Consider Occam’s Razor, which suggests that the better hypothesis is the simpler one which still explains the observations. One hypothesis is we have a brain generating consciousness. Another hypothesis is that we have a brain that generates consciousness and a self that is having those experiences, operating the brain. Based on Occam’s Razor, the better hypothesis is the former, that we have a brain creating consciousness.
4. Outcome Resistance: People get scared off by the idea that there’s no self or free will, that their brain is making decisions, without a self intervening. In Christian Tradition, for example, Thomas Aquinas essentially invented the concept of ‘free will’ so that God’s punishment of Adam and Eve could be explained, morally.
Otherwise, God would seem rather cruel, to create a system where he knew that would happen. This is an example of how ‘free will’ and the ‘self’ are linked to blame and anger.
Even if you don’t believe in God, you might be concerned that the idea that there is no free will would mean that the criminal justice system would fall apart. Criminals could say, ‘I had no choice’. Talking back to these elements of ‘resistance’ could help free one’s mind.
For example, without free will, it’s true that blaming other people and retaliatory justice wouldn’t make sense. However, one could still enforce laws, only in a compassionate way, for the sake of protecting others making the same mistake. A murderer, if they realized this, could mind meaning in fulfilling their sentence, realizing they were doing a service to humanity, rather than being punished for their bad self. Instead of seeing other people as having ‘bad’ selves, we can have a sense of sadness, connection and concern, even with a murderer, when carrying out justice, understanding that, ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’.
David mentions, in passing, a mild red flag with the concept of “free will.” He points out that this is another concept, like “God” or the “self,” that has no meaning, if you really grasp what Ludwig Wittgenstein was trying to say in his classic book, Philosophical Investigations. One way to “see” this, although it is admittedly almost impossible to “see:” because it is so simple and obvious, would be to ask yourself, “What would it look like if we “had” something called “free will?” And what would it look like if we “didn’t?”
The question is NOT “do we have free will,” but rather, “Does this concept have any meaning? Once you suddenly “see” that the answer is no, you will be liberated from many philosophical dilemmas. But as they say, enlightenment can be a lonely road!
the Buddha, as well as Wittgenstein, ran into this problem that people could not “grasp” the simple and obvious things they were trying so hard to say! As humans, we get spellbound by the words we using, thinking that nouns, like “self,” must refer to some “thing” that either exists or doesn’t exist! To my way of thinking the question is NOT “Does god exist” or “do human have free will,” but rather, do these questions make sense? Do they mean anything?
The answer, to my way of thinking (DB), is no.
However, . . . you might not “get” this!
3. Thomas also asks about Dr. Albert Ellis
Do you agree with Ellis that one is better off without making oneself upset over other people’s problems?
What about Putin and Russia and all the violence, another mass shooting, and trump running for president again?
Ellis didn’t think one should be disturbed about these things. Or at least upset. What do you think?
Here’s my take. Healthy and appropriate negative feelings exist! One SHOULD be upset by horrific war crimes. I suspect that if Beck and Ellis, were they still alive, they would both strongly agree, but of course, I cannot speak for them!
Thanks for listening today!
Matt, Rhonda, and David!
Dr. Rhonda Barovsky is a Level 5 Certified TEAM-CBT therapist and trainer and specializes in the treatment of trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. Check out her website: www.feelinggreattherapycenter.com.
You can reach Dr. Burns at email@example.com.
Rhonda and I are convinced that Dr. May is one of the greatest therapists on the planet earth. If you have a question or would like to contact Dr. May, please check out his website at: www.matthewmaymd.com
This is the cover of my new book, Feeling Great.
It’s on sale right now on Amazon, and it’s ridiculously cheap!
The kindle and audio versions are available now too! Check it out!
Like Mat May and many of your esteemed students, someone like me who is new to TEAM CBT is also intrigued by your concept of “No Self” in reality; and even if someone has a notion that his Self exists (due to some thought pathology), try to kill it.
I have only heard the name of Buddah and read only a little about Wittgenstein. Most I know about “Self”, is from you (book Feeling Great). Though I understood the essence but remained confused about the definition of Self. Nevertheless, I took copious notes on the margin of your book Feeling Great. Today early morning I heard your podcast 313. It prompted me to read the show-notes and revisit my notes on the relevant chapters, too.
You said you did not have the time and motivation to say more on the subject. Let me attempt what you want to say if you tolerate a few words from one of your most newbie students.
As the human body is real, it’s identity-“Self” [Soul or Mind (including it’s memory, beliefs, skillset etc.)], is also real. If not materially, at least for utilitarian reasons (Jeremy Bentham). Like his body, for an individual, Self is not an illusion.
In my view, David Burns has explained Self in his trail blazing three decade old book entitled “Feeling Good”. In a chapter “Dare to be Average”, David teaches that our true or real or healthy “Self” is “Average”. So the Self of every individual is the “Average Self”. Any other type of Self is a thought-pathology and needs to be killed (shunned), teaches David Burns in his book Feeling Great.
So what is “Average Self?” Every single individual is an Average Self or has Average Self. This means that each individual is superior to most people in the world in one or two or some of the human traits and also inferior to others in remaining traits. There is hardly any exception and the description applies to all including Warren Buffet, Jack Mae, Einstein, Newton, Allen Musk or Aron Beck or David Burns or Wittgenstein or a pedestrian like Rizwan or Joseph or Vikram living in the darkest corners of the world. In addition to other techniques, any notion of a special self can be eradicated using Feared Fantasy technique.
So which type of Self David asks us to kill? He wants us to kill “Special Self” using relevant techniques with discipline (even without motivation). These techniques are available in the toolbox of more than 100 techniques. He has explained 4 types of Special Selfs or Pathological Selfs that need to be eradicated.
(1) Needy-Self-Criticizing-Self. We need to purge ourselves of this special self by recalling that everyone is superior in some traits and inferior to others in different traits. So between our superiority and inferiority we are actually Average. We are our average selfs. There are plenty of techniques in the toolbox to eradicate Needy-Self-Criticizing-Self with a healthy “Average Self”.
(2) Entitled Self. Just in case some of our human assets from a list including our bodies, our ideas, our products, our skills, our performances, our lineage, our religions, our countries etc are superior to others, some of our human assets are definitely inferior to others, too. Therefore some of our superior assets don’t give us any superiority over others; or entitle us to judge or look down upon others. Replace your bogus Entitled-Self with an Average Self.
(3) Fearful Self. We aren’t in the type of dangerous environment (diseases, wars, natural disasters etc), our ancestors were, 100 years ago. Our earlier ancestors were even in a a lot greater peril. Today, even social threat has subsided as knowledge and especially social knowledge has grown and spread. We can do anything legit, we set our hearts on, even when we feel a lot of fear provided we employ relevant discipline and don’t wait for motivation to come.
(4) Instinctual Self. We aren’t our “Instinctual Self”. We can delay gratification and temptations, postpone urges, tolerate uneasiness for extended periods of time for greater and long term benefits. To kill Instinctual Self we need to employ relevant techniques with discipline and without any motivation.
Hi Rizwan, I love your thoughtful note. So filled with wisdom “non-average wisdom” acquired through lots of thought. That’s how I’ve thought over the years as well, thinking through philosophical ideas as well as practical ways to help this or that person move into a sense of “average enlightenment!” Warmly, david
Hi Rizwan, I came across your comment and I found it very interesting.
Regarding this one: “. In a chapter “Dare to be Average”, David teaches that our true or real or healthy “Self” is “Average”.”
I can’t agree more. What I understand is that it means “being centered.” In Buddhism, there is a saying called “taking the middle way.” It is actually one of the main teachings. There is a God who plays Lute in Buddhism, and the God tells us you can’t play good music if the string is too loose or too tight. Such is life.
In Chinese Taoism, there is also a teaching. Take the Dao (natural way). Do nothing, and everything will be done. It corresponds to how some great successes are created even when people think it’s impossible.
But yea so wonderful. I am gonna buy the book “Feeling Great” now.
Have a great day.
Very cool, Rizwan. I think you must be enlightened! Warmly, david
I ask myself why my traditions & culture still denies a group of people who deserve the same respect & good life as anyone else. My previous self delayed to accept my own son because I followed the “laws” to be I am trying to forgive myself for I did & help the youth who struggle living in homes under difficult circumstances
With much respect & gratitude
Thanks, Lila! Best, david
Hi Dr. Burns, I am Ling from China and I am reading your book Feeling Good recently. Just wanted to tell you that Feeling Good is such a great book and I have been practicing some of the methods from books myself. It is so amazing how our beliefs can change our mood in just a second. I personally have experience in noticing a voice in my head doing all the narratives. Do you think every body has a voice in their head? Very curious on your opinion.
Thanks so much for your kind comment. My colleague, Dr. Matt May, was excited by what you said! I do think we all “talk to ourselves” in various ways. I don’t “hear” my inner voice like you do, but I can certainly “hear” the messages I give myself! Best of luck, and thanks again, Ling. Warmly, david
This is always a fascinating discussion to me. On the point “without free will, it’s true that blaming other people and retaliatory justice wouldn’t make sense” I would argue that even if we have no “selves” or free will as such, we don’t really seem able to experience life in any other way than AS IF we did have some form of free will. Everything about our being feels like we can make decisions autonomously even if perhaps logically we may be “just” brains generating consciousness all by themselves according to the laws of nature (although I don’t think physicists, or biologists have been able to explain how consciousness works and what it is yet).
To get back to the point about justice, even if we don’t have free will, we are influenced by our environment and external inputs. That includes our moral and social environment. We cannot deny that different moral and social codes produce different results in society, as does the way (and strictness) with which these codes are upheld (and transgressions punished). A certain amount of retaliatory justice might deter a certain amount of unwanted actions in society and might encourage a certain feeling of justice in the individuals that were harmed by certain actions (or in society at large).
So even though we may not have free will, it is probably still in society’s best interest to in a way act as if we do, otherwise what do with do with ideas of accountability and responsibility?
And of course, judges and lawmakers also have no free will so they could not really have chosen any other way than making and upholding the kind of laws that we have now 🙂
Thanks, Michiel, for your thoughtful note. I want to be clear on my thinking. Matt does talk about “free will,” so he may find your thinking interesting and helpful. To me, the concept of free will has no meannng, so sentences about it make no sense to me. Most people cannot understand what I’m saying. It is similar to what the Buddha said, and what Wittgenstein, the philosopher of the 20th century said. Like both of them, I am tempted to give up on expressing my thinking, since it is extremely simple, obvious and basic, but very few people have any idea of what I’m tryin to say!
It is the same with the idea of a “self.” the notion makes no sense to me. But again, people WRONGLY conclude that I’m saying “we have no self,” but I’m not saying that. I’m also not saying that e DO or DO NOT “have” something called “free will.” What I am saying is that dialogues and sentences containing those “sounds” are nonsense to my ears. A “word” is only a “sound” that is used in a variety of overlapping and non-overlapping WAYS in language. I would go on but you are likely already lost and bewildered. Essentially, you are “enchanted” by nonsense. My opinion only! david
Somewhat funny Dr. Burns, and with respect for your greatness: ‘The way you deny God looks like the way you deny your self.’ When I read about Witgenstein, he appeared very careful to speak about something he did not know, e.g. god. Perhaps he could hope for a god and for an eternal life.
I would instantly agree that there is a lot of silly (human unworthy) thinking and talking both about god and self.
Thanks William. Great note!
David does not “deny God” as you suggest. David does not know what you mean by the concepts of “Gad exists” or “God does not exist.” David and I both doubt that Wittgenstein would know, either, what you are talking about. If you explain what you mean by the term, we could see if it perhaps makes sense, or perhaps does not. Things, to our way of thinking, have to have meaning before they could be true or false or whatever. It’s been my experience that when david tries to explain this type of thinking, people for the most part just don’t “get it.” So they think David must be trying to defend some position, like “God does not exist,” or “the self does not exist.” These are not positions that represent David’s thinking. Best, david
Hello, I have a question in regards to alternative other than antidepressants ( I’ve been on eight in two years) how do you feel about Cereset? Is it worth it, I’m working through your book as we speak but I’m curious about this.
Hi Valerie, I cannot give medical advice in this forum. That’s something you could discuss with your prescribing physician or therapist, thinking of the pros and cons of this specific medication. I don’t know this med specificially, but have not been impressed with the research on previous antidepressants in various categories. Lots of free resources on my website. Thanks, david