These days there is a lot of concern about our physical wellbeing, and it would be good to give attention to our emotional wellbeing too. How do we know how we are doing concerning our emotional wellbeing? Here is one way to self-assess with the parameters of A,B,C,S.
A stands for AFFECT, another word for emotions and their physical expression, but here we only name emotions. Simple emotions that we commonly experience are happiness, sadness, anger, fear, shame, guilt etc.
B is for BEHAVIOUR. Comprises actions (usually visible to another) such as talking, sleeping, eating, punching, withdrawing etc.
C is COGNITION, another word for beliefs and thoughts. Beliefs can be about oneself or about the world, for example, ‘I am not good enough’, ‘The world is not kind’. This is not fact, it is a belief. In general, cognitions about oneself could be of three types: (a) I am defective (b) I am helpless (c) I am vulnerable.
S is for SOMATIC, anything happening in the soma (body) including sensations, pain, heaviness, numbness, or anything related to any organs or other parts of the body.
These ABCS give us the basics to indicate what is going on in our emotional world.
Let’s look at examples:
Sitting here, thinking of a future event of having to give a presentation to a group of colleagues. The data that should have come from team-mates have not come as per schedule.
Various internal/ external responses (ABCS):
1. A: anxiety
B: getting up and beginning to pace up and down
C: ‘I am not good enough’ could be a belief beneath, and thoughts that are more on the surface could be ‘Everyone will judge me and think I haven’t done a good job’ S: heart beating faster.
2. A: anger
B: sending an email to team-mates blaming them for not sending data
C: ‘I am not in control’ S: lot of energy in the limbs
3. A: sadness
B: sitting and staring at the screen
C: ‘I am not likeable’ S: low energy in the body
Even when the situation is the same, our responses (internal and external) could vary based on what the previous experiences have been (even from much earlier times) and what the beliefs held are, about oneself.
This is just one framework to make sense of what is going on within or to do self-assessment.
You and your family members are in lockdown as per government guidelines. You read a piece of news one morning, about the virus spreading (TRIGGERING EVENT).
Various (negative) cognitions could get activated as soon as the triggering event occurs:
1. I am going to die
2. I am vulnerable.
3. I am not safe.
4. I am powerless/ helpless.
5. I can’t control anything.
6. I am a bad person because I can’t protect my loved ones.
If the ABCS one is experiencing are giving one discomfort, that may be a good indication to look at ways to get to better wellness.
Even though most of us hold many difficult cognitions about oneself, it would be a good idea to work towards better wellness, since these cognitions get more activated during stressful situations.
Let’s look at what (positive) cognitions we could hold, as we get to more emotional wellbeing:
1. I might die, and that is ok, OR I am alive now, OR I might get infected, and I may recover.
2. I am learning to keep safe.
3. I can learn to keep myself safe.
4. I can do my bit.
5. I can control what I can and let the rest be.
6. I am an okay person.
It may not be an easy, simple ‘substitution’ of one cognition with another that healing is, and can involve many steps. Identifying what cognition we would like to hold could be one step closer to wellness.
Note: This article includes some concepts from EMDR Psychotherapy.
(Adithy is a counselling psychologist and trauma therapist. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org)