Lesson Five

Lesson 5: Cognitive Restructuring – The A-B-C-D Model and Thought Stopping

Checking In This Week

As you look at your homework you completed for last week, what was the highest level of anger you reached on the anger meter? Be sure you reserved the number 10 for situations where you lost control of your anger and experienced negative consequences.

Be sure you described the anger-provoking event that led to your highest level of anger.

Make sure you included the cues that occurred in response to the anger-provoking event.

Where did the cues fall in the cue catagories (physicial, behavioral, emotional, or cognitive)?

What strategies you did you use to either avoid reaching 10 on the anger meter or recovering after reaching 10?


The A-B-C-D Model*

*Based on the work of Albert Ellis, 1979, and Albert Ellis and R.A. Harper, 1975.

Albert Ellis developed a model that is consistent with the way we conceptualize anger management treatment. He calls his model the A-B-C-D or rational-emotive model. In this model, A stands for an activating event, what we have been calling the red-flag event. B represents the beliefs people have about the activating event. Ellis claims that it is not the events themselves that produce feelings such as anger, but our interpretations of and beliefs about the events. C stands for the emotional consequences of events. In other words, these are the feelings people experience as a result of their interpretations of and beliefs concerning the event.

A = Activating Situation or Event


B = Belief System

What you tell yourself about the event (your self-talk). As well as your beliefs and expectations of others.


C = Consequence

How you feel about the event based on your self-talk.


D = Dispute

Examine your beliefs and expectations. Are they unrealistic or irrational?


According to Ellis and other cognitive behavioral theorists, as people become angry, they engage in an internal dialog, called self-talk. For example, suppose you were waiting for a bus to arrive. As it approaches, several people push in front of you to board. In this situation, you may start to get angry. You may be thinking, How can people be so inconsiderate! They just push me aside to get on the bus. They obviously don’t care about me or other people.? Examples of the irrational self-talk that can produce anger escalation are reflected in statements such as  People should be more considerate of my feelings,  How dare they be so inconsiderate and disrespectful,  and  They obviously don’t care about anyone but themselves.?

Ellis says that people do not have to get angry when they encounter such an event. The event itself does not get them upset and angry; rather, it is people’s interpretations of and beliefs concerning the event that cause the anger. Beliefs underlying anger often take the form of  should  and  must. Most of us may agree, for example, that respecting others is an admirable quality. Our belief might be,  People should always respect others.  In reality, however, people often do not respect each other in everyday encounters. You can choose to view the situation more realistically as an unfortunate defect of human beings, or you can let your anger escalate every time you witness, or are the recipient of, another person’s disrespect. Unfortunately, your perceived disrespect will keep you angry and push you toward the explosion phase. Ironically, it may even lead you to show disrespect to others, which would violate your own fundamental belief about how people should be treated.

Ellis’ approach consists of identifying irrational beliefs and disputing them with more rational or realistic perspectives (in Ellis’ model,  D  stands for dispute). You may get angry, for example, when you start thinking,  I must always be in control. I must control every situation.  It is not possible or appropriate, however, to control every situation. Rather than continue with these beliefs, you can try to dispute them. You might tell yourself,  I have no power over things I cannot control,  or  I have to accept what I cannot change.  These are examples of ways to dispute beliefs that you may have already encountered in 12-Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

What does each of the letters of the A-B-C-D Model stand for?





People may have many other irrational beliefs that may lead to anger. Consider an example where a friend of yours disagrees with you. You may start to think, Everyone must like me and give me approval.  If you hold such a belief, you are likely to get upset and angry when you face rejection. However, if you dispute this irrational belief by saying,  I can’t please everyone; some people are not going to approve of everything I do, you will most likely start to calm down and be able to control your anger more easily.

Another common irrational belief is,  I must be respected and treated fairly by everyone. This also is likely to lead to frustration and anger. Most folks, for example, live in an urban society where they may, at times, not be given the common courtesy they expect. This is unfortunate, but from an anger management perspective, it is better to accept the unfairness and lack of interpersonal connectedness that can result from living in an urban society. Thus, to dispute this belief, it is helpful to tell yourself,  I can’t be expected to be treated fairly by everyone.

Other beliefs that may lead to anger include Everyone should follow the rules, or Life should be fair, or Good should prevail over evil, or People should always do the right thing. These are beliefs that are not always followed by everyone in society, and, usually, there is little you can do to change that. How might you dispute these beliefs. In other words, what thoughts that are more rational and adaptive and will not lead to anger can be substituted for such beliefs

For people with anger control problems, these irrational beliefs can lead to the explosion phase (10 on the anger meter) and to the negative consequences of the postexplosion phase. It is often better to change your outlook by disputing your beliefs and creating an internal dialog or self-talk that is more rational and adaptive.

List some of your irrational beliefs.





How might you dispute these beliefs?






Thought Stopping

A second approach to controlling anger is called thought stopping. It provides an immediate and direct alternative to the A-B-C-D Model. In this approach, you simply tell yourself (through a series of self-commands) to stop thinking the thoughts that are getting you angry. For example, you might tell yourself, I need to stop thinking these thoughts. I will only get into trouble if I keep thinking this way, or Don’t buy into this situation, or Don’t go there. In other words, instead of trying to dispute your thoughts and beliefs as outlined in the A-B C-D Model described above, the goal is to stop your current pattern of angry thoughts before they lead to an escalation of anger and loss of control.

What are some other examples of thought-stopping statements you can use when you become angry?





Weekly Homework

Review the A-B-C-D Model and to record at least two irrational beliefs and how you would dispute these beliefs. In addition, use the thought-stopping technique, preferably once a day during the coming week. Don’t forget to develop your anger control plans.

For the day with the highest number, identify the event that triggered your anger, the cues that were associated with your anger, and the strategies you used to manage your anger in response to the event.

Use the following questions for your weekly review before completing the next lesson:

  1. What was the highest number you reached on the anger meter during the past week?

  2. What was the event that triggered your anger?




  3. What cues were associated with the anger-provoking event?

    Physical cues


    Behavioral cues


    Emotional cues


    Cognitive cues


  4. What strategies did you use to avoid reaching 10 on the anger meter?




For each day of the upcoming week, monitor and record the highest number you reach on the anger meter.

_____ M _____ T _____ W _____ Th _____ F _____ Sat _____ Sun


Review – Four Cue Categories

1. Physical (examples: rapid heartbeat, tightness in chest, feeling hot or flushed)

2. Behavioral (examples: pacing, clenching fists, raising voice, staring)

3. Emotional (examples: fear, hurt, jealousy, guilt)

4. Cognitive/Thoughts (examples: hostile self-talk, images of aggression and revenge)