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By Joseph Ssebunya

Albert Ellis in 1975 developed the ABC concept as part of his theory of Rational Emotive Therapy to explain the role of reasoning in shaping our attitudes, thoughts and behaviour.

The ABC model is at the core of understanding why people feel or behave the way they do and how we can gain emotional concord by learning to regulate our thought process. He explained thus; A- Represents the Activating event that is a person’s actions, attitude or actual
physical event caused by the environment.
B- Represents the Belief (perception) the person has about the event. C- Represents the Consequence of the event in terms of the individual’s emotions or behaviour in relation to their experience or perception of the event.
Activating events (A)

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A represents any experience or event that may affect your thinking, feelings or behaviour. This event can be the loss of a loved one or of property, a failure in a given endeavour, a hurt from another person such as an insult, and similar unpleasant experiences that may reduce our peace and happiness.

Relationship problems present a lot of activating events: A lady is jilted by a boyfriend she adores and gets a neurotic breakdown. A person is divorced by a spouse who marries another. Your bosses ask you to do something unethical and when you refuse, he gives you a pink slip.


B represents one’s perception of the event; your thinking, beliefs or attitudes. Remember that perception is subjective. What is a big devastating experience for one person can be a light one for another depending on the importance they assign to the experience.

Ellis noted that one’s belief or perception regarding an event (and not the event itself) is the cause of the reaction/consequence in his emotions or behaviour. We are affected not by what happens to us but by how we choose to interpret the unpleasant events. Hence our perception/thoughts/attitudes affect our response to, and how we are affected, by an event.

also read Agony of the step child

When we face a life threatening experience or lose a precious object (like death of a beloved one), the gravity of our pain does not depend on the loss per se but on how much importance we attach to that which we have lost; on our interpretation of the loss.

When you go through an unpleasant experience, you may choose to think less of yourself. You may say to yourself, ‘I am use-less, worth-less, power-less, hope-less and help-less: I am a failure and nobody values me!’

These beliefs are based on a very low opinion of yourself and self blame for not achieving the desired targets, many of which may be unrealistic. One example of such crooked beliefs is perfectionism. One sets unachievable goals or targets and when s/he fails to achieve them, s/he blames him/herself as worthless or a failure.


C represents you response or reaction to the unpleasant event. It is the behaviour or emotional reaction as a result of your thought process in view of the activating event. We note that negative or self-defeating self statements lead to unpleasant consequences.

When the person keeps hamming these negative self statements to his mind, they eventually cause disturbed emotional reactions like anxiety, rage, resentment, vengeance, depression, paranoia, fear and hostility.

Why does one run mad because her fiancée has left her? If you tell yourself that he left you because you are ugly and that you are too ugly to get another man, you end up with emotional disturbances. If you think he left because he is a womanizer and has problems settling down, it will hurt you less and you will be able to recuperate quickly and find new love. Your perception determines your emotions and consequent behaviour.

Introducing D to the equation- the Disputing Intervention

The remedy of self healing lies in evaluating those disturbed thoughts related to the event. This leads to an understanding of how you think and can enable you to regulate how you think.

Remember how you think (attitudes) determines how you feel and behave. When you adjust you thinking in view of the disturbing event, you can either lessen or increase its impact on your emotional resources.

So, a disputing intervention, D, is introduced at B to work on your beliefs/attitude and to help you modify and regulate your thought process.

A –Activating event/ experience
B –Beliefs, Perceptions, Attitudes D Disputing Intervention
C –Consequence, Response, Reaction

The disputing intervention is an attempt to regulate your thought process, to adjust your perception of a disturbing event, to modify your rigid dogmatic beliefs by replacing them with rational realistic ones.

The search for emotional insight and clarity of thought can be achieved by challenging or disputing your belief system. So, D works to modify B by challenging or disputing the internalized thoughts or self defeating utterances.

If you analyse and ‘see’ how you think, to ‘see’ clearly what you are telling yourself about your unpleasant experiences, you can easily adjust your thought process to accommodate new and realistic perceptions about the same experiences.

It requires that you be ready to flex your frame of mind and to attain a paradigm shift. This will mean changing those useless values or the dogmatic beliefs that keep you captive thereby denying you self acceptance and self determination.

This process also involves changing your language. For instance, you learn to change from saying ‘I should’, ‘I must’ or ‘I ought to’ to ‘I can’ ‘I will’. The self commanding language reflects your fake belief system and needs to be modified if you are to take charge of yourself.

The solution for all this lies in questioning or disputing those thoughts that give rise to the feelings you have. If you realize that those thoughts are self defeating and only internalized by continuous negative self talk, try to actively dispute them; challenge them and try to remove them from your mind.

When you learn to apply the disputing intervention, you cease to be a prisoner to your crooked thought process, you break the handicapping power of false belief systems and loosen the emotional ropes of self putdowns.

This article was entirely based on Rational Emotive Therapy, a counseling method developed by Albert Ellis in 1975.

The writer is a counsellor and former headmaster


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