ABC, easy as…

…identifying the errors in your thinking that lead to a negative conclusion and thereby cause anxiety, stress and depression.

So, it’s not as good as the Jackson’s sang it, but I’m a painter, not a songwriter, dammit!

What is ABC?

ABC is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) method of capturing a negative thought process, ideally as (or shortly after) it happens.

  • Activating event
  • Beliefs
  • Consequences

A typical ABC form looks like this.

By separating the negative outcome (Consequence) from the thought triggers (Beliefs) and in turn from the cause (Activating event), it becomes easier to see where and how the way you think wholly influences how you feel.

It doesn’t mean the way you think is wrong, just that the mind can easily fall into bad habits and patterns of thinking that are harmful, at the expense of thinking in a more realistic and measured way.

Okay, so what does this really mean?

Let’s look at a real-life example to step through how the ABC model works.

A couple of months ago, I had a group of friends over for the evening, for dinner and chat. Nothing formal, just my closest friends, and me cooking a Roast Chicken.

  • Activating event
    At one point, I left the dining room and went upstairs to use the bathroom. While I was there, I could hear talking and uproarious laughter coming from downstairs.
  • Beliefs
    Immediately, I started thinking that they were all having more fun because I’d left the room. Why else would they be laughing? This must mean they don’t really like me at all and just tolerate my company to get a free feed. They’re probably laughing about what a mug I am.
  • Consequences
    I return downstairs, and am now angry and hurt. I find it hard to talk and join in the conversation, believing I’m not wanted there. As the evening progresses, I tie myself further up in knots, until I make my excuses and go to bed.

This is my ABC for that particular event. Looking back on it, I’m able to see the event in a very different manner. So this is my more rational ABC that would, had I allowed myself to think that way, have led to a less damaging outcome:

  • Activating event
    At one point, I left the dining room and went upstairs to use the bathroom. While I was there, I could hear talking and uproarious laughter coming from downstairs.
  • Beliefs
    I think that the evening is going well and that my friends are enjoying the food and having a good laugh and chat. I also feel relieved that I am now, erm, relieved.
  • Consequences
    I am able to enjoy an evening with my close friends, and am able to take some pride and joy from the fact that I’m a host who can make people feel relaxed and at home.

And that’s all it is – the same Activating Event, two entirely different outcomes. It’s easy, when presented with the examples side-by-side, to see which thought process is healthier. I think(!) this kind of sums it up:

“The trouble with most people is that they think with their hopes or fears or wishes rather than with their minds.”

~Will Durant

The ABC form allows you to capture the process and spot where your beliefs and thoughts can cause distress, for you and those around you.

Boy in the bubble…

Now, I’m not naïve, there are going to be times when people do dislike you and are laughing at you behind your back.

It’s not a way of deluding yourself into becoming a grinning moron, impervious to reality. No. Instead, the aim is to re-measure your thoughts on the evidence rather than the (often negative) assumptions.

Eventually, and with repeated use, you’re meant to get quicker at spotting the ‘thinking errors’ so you can prevent yourself making them in real-time as opposed to during a period of later reflection.

Personally, I’m hopeful that it works, and I’ve got a few forms printed out and with my things at work, to grab in an emergency.

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