Albert Ellis is one of the founders of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), and he devised the ABC model to help people understand the relationship between thoughts and emotions. This is important because what you believe will determine your behaviour. CBT therapists use the ABC model to help clients escape unhelpful patterns of thinking that lead to problems in life. Those falling into addiction tend to suffer particularly badly from these negative thought patterns, which is why the ABC model is particularly helpful for them.
Put simple, the ABC model is a tool that can be used to analyse thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. The ABC is made up of three steps one would need to be aware of in order to see what is happening:
- Activating Event – something happens that triggers thoughts and feelings
- Beliefs – your beliefs determine how you interpret this event
- Consequences – refers to what happens because of your interpretation (these consequences can be both emotional and behavioural).
The ABC model is easier to understand by looking at an example. Imagine you walk into a room where two of your friends are laughing together. As soon as you walk in, the laughter stops and it all goes quiet (activating event). If you are dealing with low self-esteem, you may decide that this means they were laughing about you (beliefs). You may find it harder to trust these friends in future, and you may use it as an excuse to start an argument (consequences).
You can see in the above example that much of what happens in life is determined by your perception of things. The problem with this is that people can be appallingly bad at accurately assessing what is going on much of the time. It will never be possible to see inside the mind of another person, so you are always going to be relying on guesswork.
People are subject to many types of distorted thinking, meaning that they are regularly acting on beliefs that are illogical. Some of the most common types of distorted thinking include:
- black and white thinking – most things in life are never this clear and there are lots of grey areas
- catastrophising – those with low self-esteem are prone to making mountains out of molehills
- confirmation bias – means having a tendency to see what one wants to see and ignoring the things not fitting in with one’s beliefs
- magical thinking – can include a belief that you can read other people’s minds
- labelling – is another kind of black and white thinking that can easily lead to snap judgements, prejudice, and unfair assessments
- ‘us and them’ thinking
- personalising everything – is when you assume that everything that happens is somehow related to you (for example, if you hear your friends laughing behind your back, you assume they must be laughing about you).
In order to build a new life following addiction, you need to be able to escape old patterns of thinking and behaving. In order to survive in addiction, you will have had to learn to think in a certain way, and you will have picked up some dysfunctional patterns of behaviour (for example, manipulation). This way of functional is likely to have come so habitually that you do not even notice you do it anymore. You can use the ABC model to help you get a much clearer idea of what is happening inside of your mind – this knowledge can then allow you to break free of these negative patterns of thought and behaviour.