When practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I use psychoeducation to teach clients about how their minds impact their emotions, body, and behavior. This lessons includes the elements of personal responsibility and accountability—collectively: Personal ownership.
This concept isn’t quite the same as extreme ownership, because not all events that occur in our lifetimes are the fault of our own actions. For instance, I can’t take credit for a volcano erupting and the devastation that follows as a result.
Personal ownership entails looking at what role we play and what effect we would prefer, while understanding that not all matters within life are within our control. As an example, if something I say leads to conflict with a friend, I can look at my behavior as a contributing factor with the problem.
(A)ction – What occurred
(B)elief – What you told yourself about (A) that resulted in (C)
(C)onsequence – What you felt (emotion or bodily sensation) about what happened and what you did (behavior)
(D)isputation – How you might challenge (D) what you told yourself (B), which led to (C)
(E)ffective new belief – What (E)ffective new beliefs you can tell yourself rather than using unhelpful or unhealthy narratives (B).
REBT maintains that rather than an A-C connection we disturb ourselves with beliefs—B-C connection. If we tell ourselves narratives which lead to needless suffering, we can in turn dispute this nonsense in order to improve our lives.
I like to think of the ABC Model as a formula:
Action + Belief = Consequence ÷ Disputation = Effective new belief
Suppose you hear a phrase with which you take offense. I imagine it won’t be difficult for you to think of a term that qualifies. Maybe you take issue with a throwback racial term I heard tossed around as a child—pickaninny.
If you had to look up the meaning of the word and had no familiarity with it prior to reading this, how offended could you possibly be by learning of its existence? It’s a dated phrase many now associate with racism.
The existence or use of the word constitutes an (A)ction. The basic element of language that carries with it some form of meaning is independent of you. It doesn’t cause the (C)onsequence of anger or discomfort.
Still, your understanding of the term requires some (B)elief related to historic racism and how it shouldn’t, mustn’t, or oughtn’t have served as an oppressive standard that impacted people. It is therefore your (B)elieve about the (A)ction that causes a (C)onsequence.
Even if you knew about the phrase and its place in a history of racism prior to reading this post, the formula remains true and sound. Your (B)elief leads to the (C)onsequence, forming the B-C connection.
This is the essence of personal ownership. A word existing in the ether has very little power over your outcome unless you allow it to disturb you. And even then, it isn’t the word that is the problem, because you disturb yourself with what you believe about the term.
Once you realize that you are personally responsible for the thoughts stemming from your interpretation of an action, feelings resulting from your beliefs, and subsequent behavior associated with your thoughts and feelings, you can then acknowledge that you are accountable for these consequences.
Personal ownership isn’t about rigidly demanding that others must not offend us and declaring that people must treat us in a certain manner. Instead, we take ownership of our outcomes by altering the only thing we have the capacity to change—ourselves.
I often observe subtle ways in which personal ownership is abandoned in favor of the perception that others have more influence in our lives than they actually do. Consider the following example:
Scenario 1: You’re telling a story to a friend about having witnessed an auto accident and recalling how ineffective other witnesses were. You state, “You just saw people standing around and doing nothing,” though your friend wasn’t present for the collision.
Scenario 2: You’re recounting the same event to your friend who didn’t witness the accident. You say, “I just saw people standing around and doing nothing.”
In scenario 1, you depersonalize the narrative by inserting the friend into the story. In scenario 2, you personalize the account by taking responsibility of your role in the event. Scenario 1 isn’t representative of ownership, though scenario 2 is.
In high school, I was removed from a children’s home in which I lived and was placed with a white family. They were aware I was biracial, white and black, as they interacted with my black dad on occasion.
Though there were many instances of racial and cultural dissimilarly that provided ample opportunity to discuss herein, only one small example may illustrate how my lack of personal ownership allowed me to disturb myself so many years ago.
The white father of the family had an image of a Bull Durham smoking tobacco ad that featured a pickaninny eating watermelon while seated on a porch. The phrase featured in the ad stated, “My! It shure am sweet tastan[.]”
I knew what a pickaninny represented. I also knew what a porch monkey was, as the symbolic imagery wasn’t hiding its message. Further, the misspelling of how a black person spoke was akin to the idea of black inferiority through unintelligence.
Not knowing of the A-C connection at the time, I thought the disgust and anger I felt were directly associated with the image. “How could he display this fucking racist garbage, knowing I’m part black,” I thought.
Therein was the connection between the action and the consequence. My belief was essentially that the father of the family—a Christian man who took me into his home—shouldn’t have had different perspectives than I had.
Think about that for a moment. I wasn’t upset over the man’s displayed image. It simply was what it was—a throwback to the Antebellum Period of United States history.
Rather, I upset myself by inflexibly believing such imagery shouldn’t be appreciated by others. It didn’t matter what relationship the man had to me, I disturbed myself about people thinking thing X and me being opposed to thing X.
Now that I understand the B-C connection, I can take personal ownership of the outcomes in my life. While I can’t change the past, I can apply this knowledge, wisdom, and understanding to the present and my future.
Bull Durham, the white family that took me in, and no other person, group, company, or entity owes me an irrationally-conceptualized “right not to be offended.” No such negative or positive right exists.
Moreover, I can choose not to allow my beliefs to cause such offense, because the actions aren’t what lead to consequences in this regard. Therefore, I can stop disturbing myself.
I can appreciate the REBT practitioner who stated:
“Once you realize that you (and only you) are responsible for your own emotions and behaviors, you will realize that you also hold the intrinsic power to change how you feel and how you react: to cognitively transform your unhealthy negative emotions into healthier alternatives and your unhelpful behaviors into helpful alternatives!”
By taking personal ownership and not demanding, “You must treat me well. And the world must be easy,” I’m empowered to determine outcomes in my life. Own it!
Would you like a similar opportunity so that silly words may no longer bother you?
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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