What is the ABCDE method for learned helplessness?

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William B. Salt II., MD
Gastroenterology
Overcoming learned helplessness can be achieved by writing out the ABCDEs of the situation. For example: Johnny is having a bad day at work because his irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is acting up. He feels uncomfortable and has less patience than usual. His short fuse causes him to yell at one of his difficult and argumentative customers in public. Johnny has always been a good worker in the past but after his outburst, he goes into a panic and is sure he will lose his job. He apologizes to the customer, but nevertheless, Johnny cannot let go of his anxiety about the situation. It continues to haunt him and deplete his energy and self-esteem.

Johnny can address his anxiety and overcome his learned helplessness by writing out the ABCDEs of the situation.

A. Adversity: Johnny yells at a customer.

B. Beliefs: "I am out of my mind." "I don't know how to get along with people."

C. Consequences: (of his negative beliefs) "I'll never be able to hold a job. I'm a loser."

D. Dispute: "I only lost it this one time. It's never happened before. I don't feel good today -- my IBS is acting up and this is a really difficult customer. I can learn more about dealing with difficult customers so this doesn't happen again. I am generally a respectful and 'in-control' person. I can learn new ways to minimize my symptoms of IBS or do a deep breathing exercise to relax."

E. Energize: Johnny feels better having attacked his irrationally negative beliefs about the situation and he stops taking the problem so personally, realizing it is a temporary setback (not permanent) and that it is limited to this one incident and is not pervasive.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome & the Mind-Body Brain-Gut Connection: 8 Steps for Living a Healthy Life with a Functiona (The Mind-Body Connection Series)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.