Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, A Brief Primer Part 2: The ABC’s of Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors

Albert Ellis is the father of what is known as Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy or REBT. Today, a lot of techniques used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) come from REBT and that includes much of the theory that our thoughts control our feelings and behaviors.

Most people believe that an event or person “makes” them feel a certain way, when in actuality, it’s their thoughts (perceptions) and what they are telling themselves (self-talk) that actually make them feel and thus react in a certain way.

However, REBT and CBT teaches that by controlling your thoughts, you can control the way you feel which will in-turn affect the way you feel.

Let’s take for example that you are dating someone and then they suddenly break up with you. Most people will internalize everything by telling themselves things such as “what did I do wrong”, “maybe he/she found someone better”, “I just lost a good thing” or “I’m such a loser”.

Those thoughts will then lead to the person feeling down, depressed, like a “loser” and possibly even anxious and desperate.

They are then more likely to do things depressed people do such as over eat, over sleep (or under eat and under sleep), cry, isolate themselves, turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain of rejection, etc.

Now let’s take that same person and the same situation, but this time after the break up they tell themselves “he/she just lost a good thing”, “Oh well, on to the next one”, “he/she must have other issues”, “now I’m free to find someone worth my time”, or “it’s better to find out things wouldn’t work out now then later”.

That person is more likely to not feel so rejected, to possibly even feel somewhat relieved or even optimistic about the future.

Because of this, that person is likely to go on with their life with little interruption, returning to life as normal, without all the negative behaviors that came along with the first example. The event didn’t change, but the thinking and perception did.

Your thoughts are so powerful! No one can make you mad, sad, anxious or whatever, only your thoughts can do that.

If I am going to speak in front of a million people and all I’m telling myself is that “I’m going to mess up. I’m not qualified to give this talk”, then I am going to lose sleep, be extremely anxious and probably stumble as a self-fulfilling prophecy during the speech.

However, if I convince myself that “I’m going to rock this. I am more than qualified to do this”, then I am likely to be much less anxious and thus more likely to actually give a great speech.

The event didn’t change (having to give a speech), the only thing that changed is my thinking!

In short, Albert Ellis broke it down into four simple rules to help evaluate your thoughts and see if they are rational or irrational.

A. Activating Event: What exactly is going on?

B. Beliefs (perceptions): What thoughts are you having about the event? What are you telling yourself?

C. Consequences (behaviors): What do you do or how do you act in response to the beliefs and thoughts you have about the event.

As a last example, let’s take something almost everyone can relate to, the terrorist attacks that happened in America on September 11, 2001, that would be our activating event.

People in the United States were angry, scared, and shocked about the terrorist attacks, while the terrorist were elated. In America we prepared for war, started avoiding certain places and even slid into a recession, that was our consequences/behaviors, while the terrorist celebrated as seen on CNN and Al- Jazerra video.

How could the same exact event have starkly contrasting reactions? The answer is the difference in the way the two groups perceived the events.

And then there is the last part of the ABC’s of thinking and that is “D” for disputing our thinking.

It is imperative that when we have thoughts that upset us that we challenge or dispute them to see if they are irrational. What evidence do we have that we are going to fail, be alone forever, not get the job we applied for, etc.

Without disputing or challenging our irrational thoughts, we’ll always believe they are true, even when they aren’t. In the next part of this series we will explore negative thoughts a little more in-depth.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, A Brief Primer Part 1: Automatic Thoughts, Assumptions and Personal Schemas

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most popular forms of therapy used in the Western world. The premise behind CBT is that stressful states such as depression, anxiety and anger are often maintain or exacerbated by exaggerated or biased ways of thinking. The role of the therapist is to help the patient recognize his or her idiosyncratic style of thinking and modify it through the application of evidence and logic.

One of the key components of CBT is getting the person to start recognizing their automatic thoughts which usually serve to maintain their undesired state.

Automatic thoughts come spontaneously, so much so that we often give no thought to them, and they appear to be true even when distorted, which often lead to problematic behaviors and disturbing emotions.

Some forms of automatic thoughts include fortune tellingdichotomous (all or nothing thinking), catastrophizing, personalizing, mind-reading and labeling.

Automatic thoughts could be true or false. For example, someone may have the mind-reading thought that “My boss doesn’t like me” and that could be true. However, the problem is that without sufficient evidence, we usually believe our automatic thoughts to be totally accurate, even when they aren’t. Combine this with the other underlying assumptions and rules that we all have, which tend to be rigid, over-inclusive, almost impossible to attain and ascribe vulnerability into the future, and we have a recipe for repeated disappointment, anger, depression, anxiety and a host of other unhealthy feelings and thoughts (Leah, 2003).

For example, if the person who has the automatic thought “My boss doesn’t like me”, also has the underlying rule that “Everyone must like me or I am a bad person”, will be deeply upset over the thought that his/her boss doesn’t like them. The same is true with rejection which partially explains why some people do not take rejection as well as others. One person can ask someone out on a date and if that person politely says “no”, that person goes on with their day, giving little thought to the rejection. But if another person has the rule and automatic thought “If she rejects me, that means I am undesirable to all women and will spend the rest of my life alone”, they will handle the rejection totally differently.

Underlying assumptions are deeply linked to personal schemas. Personal schemas are basically the core beliefs of what we belief about ourselves. We all have personal schemas, some positive and some negative, which influence the way we interpret information filtered through our automatic thoughts.

Back to our example. If someone has the personal schemas, “I am undesirable”, “I am worthless”, “I am unattractive”, they will have selective attention and memory as they look to validate their core beliefs about themselves and thus their automatic thoughts will also work to validate their core beliefs. So if the person already has the personal schema “I am undesirable”, and the automatic thought “this person will probably reject me” (mind reading), if they get rejected it will validate their personal schema and thus send them into a tail spin of self-pity, depression and anxiety, building on the strength of their erroneous thinking, assumptions, and schema.

(The ego always wants to be in balance with you and wants to make you happy. “The ego’s mission is to take the beliefs of the self and turn them into the experiences of the self.” – Falco, 2010)

This person, like many people with depression or anxiety, will filter out any information that contradicts their negative personal schemas and assumptions. For example, they may not notice the cute guy that flirts with them, but will fall to pieces at the person who makes a disapproving comment about her hair or her dress.

The goal of a CBT therapist would be to get the person to start recognizing all of these erroneous patterns of thinking, unravel them and replace them with more accurate forms of thinking.

We will discuss in a later post how thoughts create feelings.

Personal Responsibility

Most of the teens I work with have a multitude of problems, but one trend I see a lot of is the lack of personal responsibility. They think of themselves as victims and take on a personality of victimhood where everything happens to them and they have no direct effect on their lives as

Most of the teens I work with have a multitude of problems, but one trend I see a lot of is the lack of personal responsibility. They think of themselves as victims and take on a personality of victimhood where everything happens to them and they have no direct effect on their lives as if they are living life passively and everything that happens is not their fault. If they fail a class it’s the teacher’s fault, other students in the class’ fault or their parents fault… anybody’s fault but their own. The same is true when they get in trouble, despite any evidence provided to them that it’s their fault, their mindset of victimhood makes it hard for them to see reality for what it is.

I spend a large amount of time teaching the teenagers I work with that they are not victims and are not passive participants in life, but that they directly effect their lives every single minute of the day. Even when things are out of their control, they are still in control of their thoughts which in turn gives them control to how they will feel and react to any situation they don’t have direct control over, but more importantly, they have much more control than they realize.

Thoughts, Feelings, Behaviors

Teenagers (and adults) love to say that someone made them mad, sad, angry or whatever feeling you want to insert here. It takes me awhile to get them to understand that they are not victims and no one can make them mad or sad, but that they do it to themselves with their thoughts. I won’t go into much detail here because it can get complicated and probably deserves it’s own post to pay it proper attention, but basically your thoughts control your feelings which in turn control your behaviors. It’s the things we tell ourselves and the thoughts we have about a situation that makes us feel a certain way and then those feelings make us act in a corresponding way… depressed, angry, nervous, etc. Teaching them to control their thoughts is the first step to getting them to take more personal responsibility.

Things I can and Things I can’t Change

One thing I have them do is make a list of things they can control and things they can’t control. This helps them to realize how much power over their lives they actually have. Many times teenagers are stressed and angry at things they can’t control such as their parents, their teachers and their friends. I let them know that everyone was giving one life and they have to learn when to let other people live their lives, despite the paths they chose, so that they can live theirs. I teach them that they can’t control the situation, but they can control the way they think and respond to the situation.Otherwise what happens is that everyone becomes the blame when something doesn’t go right in their lives instead of them taking responsibility for their own life.

Architects 

The other thing I teach them since most of them are trying to figure out what and who they are, is that they are all architects. They are, like all of us, architects, creators and designers of their own lives. They build, create and establish the life they want, no one else does. Sure many of them are born in poverty and have horrible guardians, but unless they learn that they are responsible for getting themselves into a better situation, they will just replay history and be stuck in the same situation over and over again. I tell my kids who I know are in impoverished situations and yet don’t take school or life seriously to look around. I tell them that if they like where they live and how they are living then to keep doing what they are doing, but if they want something better they have to do something different… different for them and definitely different from what others around them have done even if it means they will be doing something no one they know has done such as going to college, the military, trade school or whatever. They design their own lives and as long as they are allowed to believe they are victims then they will never reach for the stars and will blame everyone else for their failures.

CEOs, CFOs and Mission Statements

I also let them know that besides architects they are also already chief executive officers of their lives. They are in charge of the business of them. They are the sole person responsible for them becoming who they want to be. And I also let them know that they will soon be chief financial officers, in charge of their own money and prosperity. I get them to write mission statements because every company has a mission statement and I think ever person should have a mission statement. A mission statement states who you are, what you believe in, what you value and what’s your purpose. Many of them have no clue about these things and further more, never took the time to sit down and think about it so this is the prime time to have them do this.

All of these things combined together add to a greater sense of personal responsibility and loosens the shackles of victimhood. My question to you is, what is your mission statement? Share it with me if you would like and even if you don’t share it, please think about it and make a mission statement even if it’s just for your eyes. I know it will change the way you interact with life for the bette

if they are living life passively and everything that happens is not their fault. If they fail a class it’s the teacher’s fault, other students in the class’ fault or their parents fault… anybody’s fault but their own. The same is true when they get in trouble, despite any evidence provided to them that it’s their fault, their mindset of victimhood makes it hard for them to see reality for what it is.

I spend a large amount of time teaching the teenagers I work with that they are not victims and are not passive participants in life, but that they directly effect their lives every single minute of the day. Even when things are out of their control, they are still in control of their thoughts which in turn gives them control to how they will feel and react to any situation they don’t have direct control over, but more importantly, they have much more control than they realize.

Thoughts, Feelings, Behaviors

Teenagers (and adults) love to say that someone made them mad, sad, angry or whatever feeling you want to insert here. It takes me awhile to get them to understand that they are not victims and no one can make them mad or sad, but that they do it to themselves with their thoughts. I won’t go into much detail here because it can get complicated and probably deserves it’s own post to pay it proper attention, but basically your thoughts control your feelings which in turn control your behaviors. It’s the things we tell ourselves and the thoughts we have about a situation that makes us feel a certain way and then those feelings make us act in a corresponding way… depressed, angry, nervous, etc. Teaching them to control their thoughts is the first step to getting them to take more personal responsibility.

Things I can and Things I can’t Change

One thing I have them do is make a list of things they can control and things they can’t control. This helps them to realize how much power over their lives they actually have. Many times teenagers are stressed and angry at things they can’t control such as their parents, their teachers and their friends. I let them know that everyone was giving one life and they have to learn when to let other people live their lives, despite the paths they chose, so that they can live theirs. I teach them that they can’t control the situation, but they can control the way they think and respond to the situation.Otherwise what happens is that everyone becomes the blame when something doesn’t go right in their lives instead of them taking responsibility for their own life.

Architects 

The other thing I teach them since most of them are trying to figure out what and who they are, is that they are all architects. They are, like all of us, architects, creators and designers of their own lives. They build, create and establish the life they want, no one else does. Sure many of them are born in poverty and have horrible guardians, but unless they learn that they are responsible for getting themselves into a better situation, they will just replay history and be stuck in the same situation over and over again. I tell my kids who I know are in impoverished situations and yet don’t take school or life seriously to look around. I tell them that if they like where they live and how they are living then to keep doing what they are doing, but if they want something better they have to do something different… different for them and definitely different from what others around them have done even if it means they will be doing something no one they know has done such as going to college, the military, trade school or whatever. They design their own lives and as long as they are allowed to believe they are victims then they will never reach for the stars and will blame everyone else for their failures.

CEOs, CFOs and Mission Statements

I also let them know that besides architects they are also already chief executive officers of their lives. They are in charge of the business of them. They are the sole person responsible for them becoming who they want to be. And I also let them know that they will soon be chief financial officers, in charge of their own money and prosperity. I get them to write mission statements because every company has a mission statement and I think ever person should have a mission statement. A mission statement states who you are, what you believe in, what you value and what’s your purpose. Many of them have no clue about these things and further more, never took the time to sit down and think about it so this is the prime time to have them do this.

All of these things combined together add to a greater sense of personal responsibility and loosens the shackles of victimhood. My question to you is, what is your mission statement? Share it with me if you would like and even if you don’t share it, please think about it and make a mission statement even if it’s just for your eyes. I know it will change the way you interact with life for the bette