Friday, September 11, 2020

The ABC of thinking equation and how it’s used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

In counseling, I often get folks to give me a list of their “negative” reactions to triggers in their life. It is often very enlightening by applying the variables to the ABC of thinking like in algebra. 

Triggers (A-Antecedent event) + Beliefs (B-Beliefs) = Reactions (C-Consequence)

So like in algebra, if we know A (triggers) and C (reactions), we can work out B (Beliefs, thoughts, fused stories). This will give us the opportunity to change or defuse from those beliefs and associated thoughts/stories. 

When people have a negative reaction to a trigger, the natural tendency is for us to try and change/remove that trigger, avoid the trigger, change/suppress our outward reactions to that trigger. Often this does not work long term as we don’t often have full control of our external environment, and changing those does not change the beliefs that underlie that context.  In actual fact, it often reinforces it.  This strategy represents the external locus of control. 

Alternatively, we can focus on our beliefs/thoughts/stories underlying that context. Same trigger but different beliefs lead to a different reaction.  So if we can change or defuse from our beliefs/thoughts/stories, we can change our reactions and how we feel about them. This represents the internal locus of control. 

Making that list for ourselves can be an eye opener as well. 

The common unhelpful beliefs, thoughts, and “fused stories” (the B in the equation) are:

  • I am not good enough.
  • You can’t trust anybody.
  • I can’t cope on my own.
  • Everyone will leave me in the end.
  • Nobody loves me.
  • I am all alone.
  • I am the black sheep. I am too different.  
  • When someone does something wrong, they need to be punished including me.
  • Things has to be done properly or not at all.
  • Why me? 
  • Why can’t I have what I want?
  • Something bad is going to happen to me.
  • If I fail, I am insignificant.

Once we are aware of them, we can defuse/detach from them or even change them. Like when we know and understanding how a magic trick is done, the optical illusion has less grip on us. 

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