ABC theory of personality (A 3 point guide)

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This blog post will explore what is the theory of personality according to the ABC model. 

We will also explore the history and development of the ABC model and what it actually is and how it is applied in therapy.

What is the ABC theory of Personality?

The ABC theory of personality is the focus of Albert Elis’ REBT Model of psychotherapy. 

According to the ABC theory, an individual’s development of personality involves their interaction and their patterns of the ABC elements. 

This theory suggests that a person’s goals are often impacted by various events called Activating events (A) which leaves an impression on them. 

This activating event results in emotional or behavioral consequences (C )  which impacts the perception of themselves, the world around them, and other people. 

This perception then becomes internalized beliefs based on which their patterns of behaving, feeling, and thinking are based on which becomes their governing personality patterns.

Oftentimes, these parts tend to be functional and the beliefs are not harmful when the activating events are positive and support their goals and visions for their life. 

However, when the activating events no longer support their goals and vision, it can cause disturbances because the events and challenges that they face are no longer attuned with the beliefs  that they hold which can lead to frustration and distress. 

According to Albert Elis. The components of ABC can influence and interact with each other and each have components that are emotional, cognitive and behavioral which impact each other leading to emotional disturbances in the individual. 

The components to ABC lead to the development of “musts’ ‘ in an individual which are absolutist beliefs that are developed as a result of the A and C elements which often leads people to develop intolerance and frustration when things do not go their way or oppose their absolutist beliefs. 

An individual as a result develops a low frustration tolerance that further influences their patterns of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors and often leading to anxiety when their absolutist views are threatened. 

This theory takes into stride the various factors that influence the development of an individual’s personality. These factors include:

  • Biological factors that make an individual vulnerable to mental dysfunctions while others more resilient. Albert Elis also  believed that human beings have an innate biological tendency to react to certain situations and events in certain patterns- specifically reaction in negative ways when they do not receive gratification immediately. 
  • Social factors such as interpersonal relationships- family, peers, and other social environments are considered by Elis to have considerable impact on the individuals expectations of the world and themselves. These environments impact how an individual defines themselves as well as their beliefs and perspectives. 
  • This theory also suggests that people have varying degrees of vulnerabilities to disturbances and often , their dysfunctional beliefs that are brought one by their process of socialization aggravate their vulnerability.

He notes that these irrational beliefs include beliefs surrounding an individual’s competence, about love and approval, about fairness, and about safety and comfort. 

What is the ABC model in CBT?

The ABC model of Rational Emotive Behavioral therapy is the core component of REBT theory of psychotherapy. 

According to this model, the crux of every individual’s problems is a direct result of how the ABC components of the ABC model interact and influence the patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behavior of an individual. 

The components of the ABC model are:

  • Activating events (A) include various impressional experiences that occur in life, usually in a younger age. It is divided into two parts: what actually happened and how it was perceived by the individual. 
  • Beliefs (B): that are either rational or irrational beliefs. Problems and dysfunctions usually arise due to irrational beliefs that are borne out of the consequences of events and reinforcement of beliefs. These irrational beliefs get in the way of an individual’s goals and cause frustration and anxiety. 
  • Consequences (C ) of the event which are often related to our emotions, thoughts, and behavior as a response to the event. The consequences are usually what brings an individual to therapy- it is often observable in their behavior and thought patterns. 

According to this model, an individual’s psychological disturbances are a result of one’s patterns of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that are a direct result of the irrational beliefs held and not the event itself. 

According to this model, the process of helping an individual to become psychologically healthy, they must also go through the therapeutic interventions of the ABC model which include DEF.

Disputing these irrational beliefs that get in the way of their progress and goals. 

Developing a healthier and more rational philosophy about themselves, the world, and others

Identifying a new feeling borne out of this new philosophy.

Let us take a closer look at how this model is applied to the process of therapy. 

How is the ABC model applied in therapy?

When it comes to the application of the ABC model which is a core component of the REBT theory of psychotherapy, the major principle is that one must simply change their beliefs about the world they live in and about themselves to see change that is positive.

The efforts here are made not on the outside world or the circumstances of an individual but rather their own perceptions of the world and the circumstances.

Exploration of the ABC

When a client is in REBT-based therapy, a lot of the effort is made in the process of exploring the client’s ABC components. 

The therapist often spends time asking questions related to the circumstances surrounding the consequences that have brought them into therapy. They Will also ask you to explore your emotional and cognitive responses to the activating events.

They will also explore the link between your belief systems and the consequences of those beliefs as well as ask you whether those beliefs are rationally true or not. 

As the therapist explores the Consequences of their beliefs, they might also assist the client in developing and learning awareness about emotions, teach them how to be more mindful about their cognitions-  especially for clients who lack insight about their patterns. 

Psychoeducation about the ABC model

When the theory is applied and the model is used in therapy, it usually begins with psychoeducation the client about the interaction between one’s beliefs and its influence on the cognition, emotion, and behavior of an individual.

According to one study that employed a brief intervention onto young students in a school to understand the impact REBT has on their mental health, it was found that simply educating the students about the ABC model and the interaction of the three components on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors were found to reduce psychological distress. 

Educating people about these components of the ABC model helps people see the world and events around them need not have so much power over their lives- behavior, thoughts, and feelings. 

Once you have been educated about the process of the ABC flow, the therapist will then move on to the next phase of disputing and challenging these beliefs with you. 

Disputing irrational Beliefs

This particular step in the process of therapy is not an original part of the ABC model and rather it is the action taking aspect of this model where the client and the therapist work together to challenge the client’s beliefs. 

This step is often challenging for the client as it requires them to unlearn much of  what they have learned over time and years. The client and the therapist often tend to circle around this particular aspect for multiple sessions, while building a new more effective philosophy. 

They will guide you in exploring the evidence behind these beliefs and whether these evidences are actually avid or not. They will also help you explore whether these beliefs are helpful and how they disrupt their loves.

During this process of disputing beliefs, the therapist might employ various techniques such as socratic questioning, humor, self disclosure, psychoeducation, and also creativity.

Effective Philosophy

The therapist will also invite you to explore more positive and self hanching beliefs that you can replace the dysfunctional or irrational beliefs with. This particular part of therapy involves the process of developing new effective beliefs and philosophy. 

Oftentimes these beliefs and new philosophy are more optimistic, more healthy, and more self-enhancing and compassionate towards one’s self. 

New Feeling

After this the therapist will help you explore the new feelings that you have as a result of the new philosophy. In this phase, attention is given to help the client focus on and be mindful of more positive and optimistic feelings about their own lives, others, and the world. 


This blog post will explore what is the theory of personality according to the ABC model. 

We will also explore the history and development of the ABC model and what it actually is and how it is applied in therapy.

FAQ related to ABC theory of personality

What does the ABC theory say?

According to this model, an individual’s psychological disturbances are a result of one’s patterns of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that are a direct result of the irrational beliefs held and not the experiences itself. 

What are the 3 stages of the ABC model?

The ABC model is an mnemonic that represents the three stages that determine our patterns of behaving, feeling, and thinking that make up our personality:

  • Activating events: an event or situation that is often negative occurs
  • Beliefs: the explanation we create for why the situation happened and beliefs we develop as a result of internalizing our perceptions. 
  • Consequences: our feelings and behaviors in response to the event and the beliefs that are developed out of the event

What is the ABC method in personal development?

In terms of personal development, the ABC model of the REBT form of psychotherapy, it is the process by which we develop a healthier understanding of ourselves and develop healthier and more effective philosophies to live by that can help us achieve our goals.

Is the ABC model an intervention?

The ABC model is an intervention model that is used in therapy to help a client understand the consequences of their problems that often cause dysfunction in their lives.


Nunez. K. What Is the ABC Model in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? Healthline. 17th April, 2021. Retired on 13th Dec 2021.

Sharf, R. S. (1996). Theories of psychotherapy and counseling: Concepts and cases. Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole Pub. Co.

Selva.J. Albert Ellis’ ABC Model in the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Spotlight. Positive Psychology. 17th February. 2021. 13th Dec. 2021.

Saelid, G.A., Nordahl, H.M. (2017). Rational emotive behavior therapy in high schools to educate in mental health and empower youth health. A randomized controlled study of a brief intervention. Cognitive Behavior Therapy, 46(3), 196-210.

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