A stands for the activating event that seems to trigger an emotion

B stands for the belief system that underlies the way in which a person appraises the event

C stands for the emotional and behavioral consequences of that appraisal

D is the key to changing maladaptive emotions and behaviours: disputing or challenging an erroneous belief system

And this is the ABCD of Human Emotions, as developed by Albert Ellis – an American psychologist and psychotherapist. Ellis pointed out that people are accustomed to viewing their emotions [C] as being caused directly by the events [A]. Thus, a young man who is not selected in the football team may feel rejected and sad. However, Ellis would insist that the coach turning him down is not the true reason for the emotional reaction. Rather the young man’s sadness is caused by his irrational belief [B] that “because I am not a part of the football team, I am not going to be a part of anything good in life.”

If the young man does not want to feel rejected and sad, this belief must be countered [D] and replaced by a more rational interpretation (eg:, “It would have been nice if I would have been selected but it is not the end of the world. It does not mean that I would not be selected next year or that I am unworthy of applying to other extracurricular clubs.”)

And it is this thought base which led to Ellis developing the Rational Emotive Therapy in which clients are asked to identify their irrational beliefs and then change these into more healthy ones. They are encouraged to place themselves in challenging situations and then practice control over their emotions by using new and healthier self-statements. 

Here are two examples of the same:

Irrational Belief:

It is essential that I must be approved by everyone for whatever I do. 

Rational Alternative:

Yes, I do prefer being approved over being criticized. But my self worth should not depend on the approval of others. Rather, I should turn inside and reach out for my self-respect and hold it firmly; not letting it go to gain the appreciation of others.

Irrational Belief: 

I must succeed at everything I do. To fail is to be a failure.

Rational Alternative:

Humans are fallible by nature. As much as we are likely to succeed at something, we are also bound to not. Let’s not see the not-succeeding as failure but rather as an opportunity to improve and hone our skills, as an opportunity to learn and grow. Afterall, if everyone were successful with no bits to work on, what a boring world it would be!

Final Word

Albert Ellis experienced anxiety about approaching women. So he decided to overcome it by visiting the Central Park in New York, practicing anxiety-reducing self statements and striking up conversations with 100 different women. Even though he got only one date, he was able to overcome his anxiety around women. 

Thus, what we tell others does matter but so does what we tell ourselves (maybe more)!