Changing your Behaviour: It’s as easy as A, B, C

In CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy), the ABC model of emotions offers a simple and effective way of looking at our problems.

represents the situation itself – the cold hard truth of what happened, minus opinion.

B is the interpretation – the story that we attach to what’s actually happening.

C represents the physical sensations and emotional reactions that we feel within our body, which in turn leads into more thoughts and feelings.

As a teacher, one of the problems that I often faced when dealing with arguments and upset amongst students, as well as the daily battle for decent behaviour in the classroom, was a complete denial of responsibility. i.e. “He said that I was an idiot – so I kicked his head in!” Yes, this is a convenient way of avoiding accountability for your own foul behaviour, but that’s not to say that these students don’t actually believe their own hype – at least some of the time.

It seems to be that here’s a genuine lack of understanding in the fact that events do not automatically create some kind of pre-destined reaction.

Yes…. so he called you an idiot. So what were your thoughts? What story did you attach to what happened? What did you feel in your body? What emotions did you recognise? How did this feed into your body language, tone of voice and actions following? Which part of this could you have changed? 

I’ve taught a number of lessons of late based on these kind of ideas and it definitely seems to be getting through.

And really, this information is just as useful to adults as to children. It’s something that I have to remind myself of frequently, when I find that I’m becoming irritated and short-tempered, anxious or angry, I can pause and consider how my Bs and Cs are feeding ill-feeling.

I can remember that it doesn’t actually start with A.

It starts with B – the story that we attach to A.

And actually, just recognising this is incredibly powerful. Because we have little to no control over the events and scenarios that face us, but we do have a choice – and control – over the way we might perceive and react to them.


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