The “ABC’s” of behavior

by Dr. Ken Larsen

Who can make you mad, or sad, or happy or serene…

“People and things do not upset us, rather we upset ourselves by believing that they can upset us.” Dr. Albert Ellis built a whole system of thought around this premise.  It has often been labeled the “ABC’s”* of behavior.  Many of us are familiar with the system and I believe all of us need to review this basic truth from time to time.

It was a major “AHA!” for me when I first saw this explained.   It helped me understand more of my own behavior.  It also helped me see why we notice different responses from different people to the same situation.

Here’s a quick review of the system.

abcThe “A” stands for activating event.  What would a camera see?

The “B” stands for your belief about the activating event.  What did you tell yourself about what you saw?

The “C” stands for consequences.  What did you choose to do?  How did you act?  How did you feel?

The key to understanding this system is to understand that it is not “A” that causes your feelings or actions, but “B” which gives you the choices to shape your further behavior.

There are many similarities between the insights of Dr. Ellis and Dr. Glasser’s “Choice Theory”.  For example Dr. Glasser tells us that our inner perceptions are more real to us than the real world.  Those inner perceptions are what shape the choices we make.  This echoes Ellis’s insight that it is our internal beliefs that drive our behavior.

The ability to understand this process can have a profound impact on our mental health and happiness.  It affirms the truth that Dr. Glasser gives us, that our behavior is controlled from within ourselves and that we have choices in the ways that we respond to life’s events.

BTW, Dr. Glasser and Dr. Ellis did know each other and held each other’s work in high regard.

*”Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy”

Keywords:  Choice Theory, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, internal control, emotions, behavior, Dr. Glasser, Glasser, Dr. Albert Ellis,  Ellis,  REBT, insight, control, behavior



1 thought on “The “ABC’s” of behavior

  1. I once heard Dr. Glasser say it was his influence that led Ellus to renam his work Rational Emotive Behavior therapy from Rational Emotive therapy.

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