Written by: Danny Brooks
Relationships can cause a lot of stress, especially if you are dealing with toxic ones, groomers/manipulators, or a lot of conflict. Typically, we talk a lot about how to deal with the relationship, but we do touch on some coping skills to help with the emotions that come with them. One such coping skill is Name, Claim, and Tame which is a way of identifying an emotion, taking responsibility for your part in it or the choices you have moving forward, and then doing something you know will help calm you down. Today I am going to explain something known as the ABC model used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which is another coping strategy aimed at better emotional and behavioral responses to situations.
First, let’s look at what each letter stands for. The A stands for the adversity that you are facing or the activating event. So let’s say that your friend gets mad at you because you can’t hang out for the third time in a row that they have asked you because you have practice, homework, family stuff, or anything else going on that is keeping you busy.
The B stands for your belief that you filter the event through. So let’s say you have some underlying beliefs about what a good friend should be and this includes spending time together and investing in the relationship. So you see your friend getting mad at you because you can’t hang out and your belief in what a good friend should be will lead to some emotional or behavioral responses.
The C is the consequence of the event being filtered through the belief. This consequence can be a feeling, like anxiety or anger, or it could be a behavior, such as hanging out with your friend because you feel guilty even though you have to miss something important.
So your friend is mad you can’t hang out; you believe that good friends should hang out; and then you skip practice, miss a family party, or don’t finish your homework on time in order to hang out with your friend so that they aren’t mad at you. What now? How does the ABC model help with any of this situation?
Well let’s assume that most of the time you can’t control A. You are always going to have people getting mad at you or feeling let down or expecting something of you. You will always have unexpected and frustrating things popping up in your life and most of them are not your fault and you can’t change them. So don’t put a lot of energy into A. People that do, end up trying to change people they can’t control or become manipulative in the hopes that they can.
The goal is to reduce your C which is stress, anger, or guilt. The way to do this is by looking at B. In the example scenario, your belief is that good friends hang out with each other. This is true, but it’s a bit more complicated than that as you probably guessed. Good friends do a lot of other things too. For example, good friends respect boundaries, help you achieve your goals, use empathy, calmly bring up disagreements or hurt, and don’t put pressure on you to be the perfect friend. So, when you examine your belief that good friends hang out with each other, although it is true, you are focused on one narrow belief among many others you may have. So if you examine your beliefs, now you can go back to your friend and tell them that your expectation is that they be patient with you and not get mad because you have other priorities in your life. So instead of giving in and hanging out with them at the expense of other important aspects of your life, you change the consequence (C) by changing your emotional reaction and your behavior. This all happens because you focused on your beliefs (B) and made sure you knew what you believed and didn’t let your friend dictate your beliefs to you.
The other reason it is important to focus on B is because you may have an irrational belief. For example, in the scenario we have been imagining, you might have the irrational belief that “if I don’t hang out with my friend this week since they asked me three times then I am a bad friend or bad person.” You may also have the irrational belief that “if I don’t hang out with them then they are going to hate me and it’s going to be my fault”. If you choose not to hang out with them, they may get upset, they may call you a bad friend, and they may decide to hate you and stop being your friend. The irrational belief is that these things are your fault. You could just as easily argue that they are a bad friend because they are mad at you, they are not patient, and they don’t care about your priorities and boundaries.
If your friend in our scenario used the ABC model, they may realize they have some irrational beliefs as well. “If they don’t hang out with me it must be because they have other friends and they are lying.” “If they don’t hang out with me it must mean that I am worthless and no one wants to be my friend.” Neither of these beliefs are true, but, if your friend is telling themselves this, it is the reason they are mad and may even use a grooming tactic like guilt tripping to get your attention.
There isn’t a lot that you can control around you, especially in relationships and this is where people mistakenly try to control others through grooming or deny responsibility for their actions through blame-shifting. Learn to take control of yourself, your beliefs, and your emotional and behavioral responses and you will learn to deal with stress and anger and any other emotion that comes your way like a champ. Go for the Gold!