The Critical A
**It may be unhealthy to inhale copium. Getting high on your own supply may not be helpful.**
Quite often, clients present to session wanting to discuss a situation that occurred in their lives. However, they sometimes can’t readily identify what part of the activating event is most relevant to how they felt or responded to the occurred action.
To demonstrate how I assist with narrowing the focus of an identified problem, I will use openness, honesty, and vulnerability regarding a challenge I’ve faced. Because this is an actual issue, the content may be difficult for some to consume.
Mask up, as I explore the “critical A”—the most significant issue about a complaint—regarding the COVID-19 response within the United States (U.S.). The psychoeducational references herein are free, though inhaling copium may not be without costs.
When practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I encourage clients to consider the wisdom of Stoic philosopher Epictetus who stated, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
The ABC Model is framed as follows:
(A)ction or (A)ctivating event – What occurred
(B)elief or (B)ullshit – What you told yourself about (A) that resulted in (C)
(C)onsequence or (C)ondition – What you felt (emotion or bodily sensation) about what happened and what you did (behavior)
(D)isputation or (D)isputing– How you might challenge (D) what you told yourself (B), which led to (C)
(E)ffective new belief or simply (EB) – 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 also dispute the nonsense in order to improve our lives.
Noteworthy, Albert Ellis, creator of REBT, is noted as having stated, “There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.” In my blog entry entitled Should, Must, and Ought, I expand upon these self-disturbing demands.
The critical A
When working with clients, I find it useful to determine the critical (A)—the most meaningful element of a situation or action. Because a person’s activating event can be quite extensive, I find it helpful to flesh out a brief description of the issue.
Those who mistakenly believe in the A-C connection may tend to focus heavily on an expansive account of how terrible, horrible, or awful they think an action was. Think of a friend who goes into elaborate detail about some event.
Now, consider how animated your friend may become when telling minute aspects of the situation. How does your friend behave when simply recreating the event for you?
I find that people often disturb themselves when performing what is often termed as “venting,” or which Ellis referred to as whining, self-pitying, or moaning. It’s easy to get caught up in making a case of how unjust we think ourselves, others, or life must be.
Regarding the critical A, one source states:
“The difference between an activating event and a critical activating event is the activating event is the general situation, or general state of affairs, or occurrence about which an individual may have some kind of dysfunctional emotion or behavior; whereas the critical activating event is that portion of an activating event that is most relevant to the emotional or behavior dysfunction or disturbance.”
I know people who can spend an entire 45 minutes frantically speaking about the multi-faceted details of what took place a week prior to the activating event without even talking about the action itself. They exhaust themselves with irrelevant details.
Therefore, I assist with focusing on an action or activating event we may work on with the time we have. Once we narrow it down, I then help with determining what part of the activating event is most relevant to the consequence or condition that resulted from their beliefs about the event.
My critical A
My real scenario relates to an article recently posted in The Atlantic, entitled Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty: We need to forgive one another for what we did and said when we were in the dark about COVID.
For context, I’ve remained outspoken about my thoughts concerning COVID-19. More poignantly, I consider much of the reaction to the pandemic as tyrannical in nature.
Not only have I discussed these concerns in my personal and professional life, I’ve also posted blog content regarding these matters:
Using The Atlantic article, and without understanding of the ABC Model, it would be simple to think in terms of an A-C connection:
Action – The author of the article states:
“Misinformation was, and remains, a huge problem. But most errors were made by people who were working in earnest for the good of society,” and, “The people who got it right, for whatever reason, may want to gloat. Those who got it wrong, for whatever reason, may feel defensive and retrench into a position that doesn’t accord with the facts.”
Further, the author encourages:
“We have to put these fights aside and declare a pandemic amnesty. We can leave out the willful purveyors of actual misinformation while forgiving the hard calls that people had no choice but to make with imperfect knowledge.”
In closing, the author implores mercy of the audience by stating:
“But dwelling on the mistakes of history can lead to a repetitive doom loop as well. Let’s acknowledge that we made complicated choices in the face of deep uncertainty, and then try to work together to build back and move forward.”
If a client presented to session with as much information as what’s contained in my activating event, I wouldn’t know where to begin or how to approach precisely what it is the person considers most relevant to the emotional/behavioral dysfunction or disturbance.
Therefore, I would encourage the client to narrow down what pertinent information applies. Since this is an actual activating event that concerns me, my critical A is (per my interpretation of the article):
The author uses a significant amount of copium in order to persuade members of U.S. society to simply forget the authoritarian atrocities that occurred in the name of safety and security from 2019 through 2022.
That is a succinct summary—a critical A—with which I could assess the consequence pertaining to the ABC formula. For the sake of this blog entry, pretending I’m unaware of the B-C connection, I offer the following condition that inappropriately applies to the action.
Consequence – The perceived consequence of the action is threefold. First, I think, “Absolutely fucking not” and, “No quarter!” Second, I feel the emotion of anger. Lastly, I feel the sensation of tightness in my chest and shoulders, as well as a temperature increase in my head.
When clients mistakenly use an A-C connection, as I have here, I assist by exploring what irrational beliefs about the activating event resulted in the identified consequence of thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. We properly set up the B-C connection.
It is then that we may challenge “unreasonable attitudes, false beliefs, and expectations” of others through the process of disputation. Though an uncomfortable process and not necessarily an easy practice, disputing is where one may learn lifelong tools to get better.
In the current blog entry, I won’t get into the nuances of how disputation works. If you would like more in-depth understanding about my approach to REBT disputing, I invite you to review blog entries listed under the Disputation portion of my blog.
I not only practice REBT in my professional life, I use it in my personal life, as well. As such, I’m able to recognize the coping—or more appropriately rationalization—depicted in The Atlantic article.
I quickly dispute the bullshit I tell myself about the article. Additionally, using unconditional acceptance, I recognize that I’m a fallible human being and so are others.
I, too, have held irrational beliefs, felt disturbing emotions, and behaved foolishly. I’m grateful for those who have showed me mercy and grace despite my flaws, as I can treat others in a similarly compassionate manner.
Therefore, I’m not angered by the content in the article or even in regards to the oppressors who ruined the lives and livelihoods of countless U.S. citizens. Rather, I simply consider such content and actions as annoying, disappointing, and slightly frustrating.
I’ll accept these mild consequences over the chaos that can accompany anger. Nonetheless, “when all is said and said is done,” there is still no quarter within these walls. Absolutely fucking not.
It may initially seem necessary to divulge all the particulars one thinks are pertinent to an activating event. However, one can easily get lost in those details.
Finding the critical A may help formulate the presenting issue more appropriately. This entails fleshing out the portion of an activating event that is most relevant to the emotional or behavioral dysfunction or disturbance.
Then, we may use the A+B=C÷D=E formula in order to resolve the matter. Though we may not move from anger to joy through this process, the end result may be far more tolerable and less disruptive than the unhelpful or unhealthy alternative.
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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