From the Docs

What You Think Determines How You Feel

One of the common things that people seek assistance with from a psychologist is dealing with anger. There are a number of skills sets, techniques and tools that one can employ to help in this area. One of the most powerful of these tools is known as A-B-C. The letter A stands for the activating event. We all experience many such events on a daily basis. The letter B stands for the meaning or conclusion we give the event in our minds. The letters A plus B equal C, in which the letter C stands for the reaction or behavior that follows from the combination of A and B.

A common example of this tool is illustrated in something as simple and seemingly innocuous as passing someone in the hall and greeting them. Let’s say that you say good morning to someone in passing, and they do not reply. What just happened? Well, it depends on what you tell yourself about the letter A, which in this case, is greeting someone who did not respond in kind. What happens next is your subconscious mind very quickly attaches some type of meaning or conclusion about the fact that the person did not respond, and it goes from there. So, for example, if you tell yourself something like “He/she probably didn’t hear me,” you are likely to go on your merry way. But let’s say that instead, you tell yourself something like “He/she just disrespected me” or “no-acked me” or some other negative self-talk statement. Your letter C is likely to be one of anger, sadness or wondering what you did to make the other person ignore you.

The problem with all of this is that the letter B (e.g., self-talk statements) are primarily on auto-pilot and out of our conscious awareness. In the previous example, we don’t stop and ponder why the other person did not respond to our greeting. Rather, it is all mostly automatic. So what determines what any given letter B response is likely to be? It largely depends on your past experiences. Our thinking about any event is influenced and determined by all of the other events in our lives that have preceded the most recent event. This begins at birth (maybe even before) and continues throughout one’s life. So, for example, if you grew up in a home where the environment was primarily loving, nurturing and supportive, you are more likely going to experience events in a way more consistent with that upbringing. If you grew up in a home environment that included domestic violence, anger issues, divorce or substance abuse, you are more likely going to experience events in a way more consistent with that upbringing.

The goal in using the A-B-C tool is to “reality check” the letter B self-talk statement and to try and determine if the statement is a rational or irrational thought. If the self-talk statement is irrational, the next step is to try and replace it with a more rational statement that might better explain what happened and then deal with the situation accordingly. If it is a rational statement, then one needs to come up with what is referred to as an ‘effective response.” The most common triggers for angry reactions are caused by irrational negative self-talk statements. Being able to learn how to be more aware of one’s thought process and self-talk can go a long way to reducing anger and, in doing so, improve emotional and physical well-being.
If you think you need some support or help with your own self-talk dialogue, feel free to contact the Employee Support Services Bureau. You can call for a consultation or to make a confidential appointment at (213) 738-3500. To obtain additional information, you can visit our intranet site.