I have often been struck by the fact that no matter when people emigrate from one country to another, their accents often stay with them. No matter how proficient they are in their acquired language, the accent from their home country is still strong even decades later. The accent remains unmistakable no matter how long a person lives in the new country. This demonstrates how strongly influenced we are by our mother tongue, the first language we learn.

I liken that concept to how we learn our basic emotional language maybe through aneffort to help us sort out our feelings from our thoughts and behaviors, and to demonstrate how changing and disputing thoughts can change your feelings and behaviors, psychologist Albert Ellis’s ABC model (sometimes extrapolated to ABCDE) can be a very valuable tool to change our language of emotion, which in turn can boost our self-esteem. First developed in the 1950s, the model has remained a popular technique to challenge esteem-bashing self-talk.

Here is the basic ABC model:

A = Activating Event: This is the situation that causes emotional upset and triggers self-doubt and possible unhealthy behaviors and choices.

B = Beliefs: Beliefs underlie upsetting emotions. Therefore, if your thinking is distorted or unhealthy, then your feelings and behaviors will be unhealthy too. Take the example of a relationship breakup: the breakup itself does not cause you to feel worthless; rather, it is your thoughts about the breakup that determine how you see yourself and how you cope. In essence, no one “makes us devastated” or drives us to drink—our thoughts do!

C = Consequences (Feelings and Behaviors): Now, what are the emotions and resulting behaviors that stem from your beliefs about the activating event? For example, depression, anxiety, sadness, and anger are all examples of upsetting emotions, and sample behaviors reacting to those feelings include using food and alcohol in excess to help you cope or using recreational drugs.

D = Dispute the Irrational Thoughts: After crystallizing the thoughts that lead to self-defeating emotions and behaviors, it is time to challenge those thoughts with questions like, Where is the evidence that the belief is true? Aren’t I just as worthy even if I am alone?

E = Effect of Disputing Irrational Thoughts: Disputing irrational thoughts results in healthier and more positive emotions and behaviors. For example, despite sadness over the loss of the relationship, you will not use the breakup as an opportunity to put yourself down or beat yourself up, and thus the event will not lead to self-sabotaging behaviors such as excessive eating or drinking.

How about you? Are you ready to give up your unhealthy emotional language to really love and accept yourself? Isn’t it time to let go of the emotional barriers that hold you back?

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