ABCDE Model of Emotional Disturbance

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In the midst of a challenging situation, do you ever find yourself reacting in a way that doesn’t benefit you, or even makes the matter worse? If so, regaining your self-control could be as easy as ABCDE.

Devised in the 1950’s by psychologist Dr. Albert Ellis, the ABCDE Model of Emotional Disturbance is a framework that helps us to review our internal processes by looking at an event through a different lens.

Ellis devised the ABCDE model to segment an emotional disturbance into five clear stages, thereby helping to increase our self-awareness, and allowing us to view the situation with a different perspective.

Deciphering the acronym

ABCDE Model of Emotional Disturbance
ABCDE Model of Emotional Disturbance

Activating event

The activating event refers to an external occurrence or situation that most of us blame for our problems. In a sporting context, the activating event could include not being selected for a team, being asked to play in a position we don’t like, losing a match, making a mistake and so on.


Our belief is what we tell ourselves about these activating events, which can then lead us to experience either positive or negative emotions. For example, let’s say the coach has just announced the team for the next match, and I’ve not been included. From this announcement (Activating event), I could form the belief that the coach must think I’m a bad player because she’s not picked me.


The consequence relates to the emotion which is formed from our belief. Using the example from above, if I now believe that the coach thinks I’m a bad player, consequently I could suffer any number of self-defeating feelings, such as depression, anxiety, self-pity, anger, and so forth.


The dispute phase is when we challenge any harmful beliefs that relate to the activating event. This involves examining and questioning our rational and irrational thoughts emanating from the activating event – irrational thoughts are those which lack clear evidence, are exaggerated, or are otherwise based on faulty reasoning. By examining and questioning our beliefs, and therefore identifying any irrational and harmful thoughts, we increase our self-awareness, gaining insight into how we tend to think and behave.


The effect alludes to the result of actively examining and disputing our irrational thinking, namely an alternate line of thinking which is based upon a more plausible set of beliefs. By going though this process, and thereby gaining new perspectives, we experience cooler and calmer emotions which allow us to rationally approach the situation, which in turn improves our chances of achieving a more positive outcome.

Epictetus was right

When we encounter an emotionally disturbing situation, most of us begin the ABCDE process at the C stage, therefore experiencing a negative emotion. It is common for us to then make a mental leap to stage A.


In other words, we wrongly assume that the activating events in our lives are the causes of our negative emotions.

Yet this is not the case. It’s our thought process (Belief) that causes the emotional upset.


As the Greek philosopher Epictetus said all those years ago…

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

Wisdom indeed.

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22 Thoughts

  1. I like the quote and the model too. The thing that is of interest to me, is: how is it that some people can take such models, ideas and concepts and apply them in their daily lives, yet others, find it so difficult to do so? It can’t just be our own personal values, beliefs, experiences or the way that we interpret a situation. There must be something deeper going on inside of us. After all, on the surface, the model makes sense, yet in reality, for some people switching from a negative belief to a positive one is very hard to do.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, that’s the tricky part! The environment we spend most of our time in tends to shape our behaviour, which consequently forms our habits….which have a powerful influence on our reactions and outcomes. Therefore, changing this instinctual behaviour is difficult….but through frequent self reflection, and looking at things from a different point of view, we can become better equipped to choose how we respond to situations. Terrific question, thanks!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This reminds me of that month long emotional awareness exercise where you keep a page with 4 columns, the event and initial feeling, primary and secondary causes of the feeling and at the end of the period you notice a pattern of your predomninat emotions and triggers and subsequently should have become more aware and chosen to start reacting differently (ideally) don’t know the programmes name but it aims at getting to the psychological root of the emotion

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Talking about feelings, traditional Chinese medicine recognises 7 emotions: grief, sorry, worry, fear, joy, anger, fright. And it is ok to have anyone of the feelings at any moment. However, holding on to any one of these feelings can lead to disease or illness.
    I really like this concept as it allows people to have feelings, and to be ok with those feelings. And it also shows that we must let our feelings come and go. For instance, if we are always happy and excited, never sad, then we might become ‘hyperactive’ or unable to relax. So, have a balanced set of emotions, excepting your emotions, and not holding on to them is an important concept in having a balanced state of mind.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. thank you, just re-read it, I meant to say: have (having) a balanced set of emotions, excepting (accepting) your emotions, and not holding on to them is an important concept in having a balanced state of mind 🙂


  4. I absolutely agreed in reference for what you have mentioned in the post, external things are out of our control as long as it is are too far from our control we should not react negatively, all we have to do is just to secure our inner peace from external affects by going through what we have it in control only. It is common sense, very great and simplified article to the point of view of Epictetus. 1000% agreed in the excellency of this post, thank you Nathan 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This reminds me of your post about extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. I like how you incorporate this into sports, and yet it applies to all walks of life at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

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