A famous psychologist, Dr. Albert Ellis changed the face of psychology on the 60’s and 70’s by arguing that it is our self-talk or thinking patterns that determine how will respond to events in our world and what we will feel about them. He went on to explain that this also explains why person “A” responds differently to an outside event than does person “B” even though they both experience the same thing.
Sounds rather obvious to us in 2010, but it was a major mind-blower back then, especially for those who believed the extensive writings of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, or the school of thought that said we are like knee-jerk animals and all our behavior is determined by simply stimulus-response connections.
Dr Ellis wrote a signature book called “Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy” in which he argued that it is as simple as “ABC.”
A is an outside event like a marital conflict.
C is an emotion connected to that conflict such as anger.
But, Dr. Ellis explained, Anger is NOT caused directly by the marital conflict.
(Stay with me and I’ll explain….)
Rather, something comes between “A” and “C” that causes “C.”
That something (”B”) is our beliefs about “A”. It is our thinking (or self-talk) ABOUT the Conflict (or the original issue that you are fighting about) that causes anger or other negative emotions. Because of this unique human ability, we can modify and control how we feel and what mood we are in.
So, here is how it works:
A - An event that happens (the marital fight or conflict)
B- Our beliefs and self-talk about marriage (or our partner) or the beliefs (and self-talk) around the issue that causes the fight.
C- All our negative emotions such as anger, frustration, fear, etc.
Psychologists/therapists who teach clients how to think differently about events in their lives in order to change how they feel and behave are called “cognitive” therapists and their practice is called CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
I am this type of psychologist and try to teach my local therapy clients that we as human beings should take responsibility for how we interpret and deal with the world because the only alternative is to try and change the world. Sometimes we can change parts of it, but most of the time a better strategy is to develop skills to deal with it more effectively.
Visit the Anger Coach Webisodes section of our website to see a video of this and other very practical and useful mental health tool videos. Thanks to Jason Badham of Population Four for his help in producing this ongoing video series.