So far we have covered a lot of information about how our thoughts, feelings and behaviours interact. We know that it is not the situation itself that influences our reaction, but the way we think about and interpret it. This idea is demonstrated in the ABC model introduced above. Let’s take what we have learnt and put it all together in relation to perfectionism.
Below, we cover a few examples to demonstrate the ABC model in action.
Example 1: Lisa
Lisa comes from a relatively accepting family. Without meaning to though, her family has reinforced the idea that Lisa is only accepted when she performs well. Throughout her school years, Lisa has learned that she receives praise and recognition when she performs well academically. Lisa does not have a large group of friends, therefore she obtains her sense of self-worth through her achievements. Lisa’s core belief is that she is unlovable. She therefore lives by the rule “If I achieve highly, then I’ll be accepted”.
A. Activating event/situation: Lisa came second in her school spelling competition.
B. Beliefs/automatic thoughts: “I’m so stupid”, “I should have studied harder”, “I’ll never get anywhere in life”
→ Labelling, should statements, predictive thinking, catastrophic thinking.
C. Consequences/reaction: Lisa feels down, angry and ashamed of herself. She avoided telling her parents about the result out of fear that they would reject her. She vowed to study even harder and planned an intense study schedule to prepare for the next competition.
Example 2: Andy
Andy is self-critical and has struggled with perfectionism for many years. Andy grew up in a high achieving family and his parents were harsh and critical towards him during childhood. Andy’s parents often pointed out his weaknesses and compared him to his high performing brother. They focussed very little attention on Andy. Instead, his brother got all the praise. As a result, Andy developed a core belief that he is inadequate and that he must never make mistakes or let others see his ‘weaknesses’.
A. Activating event/situation: Andy was not selected to play in his football grand final.
B. Beliefs/automatic thoughts: “My coach thinks I’m useless”, “I’m a failure and a loser”, “I’m not as good as the other players”
→ Mind reading, labelling, all or nothing thinking, mental filter, personalisation.
C. Consequences/reaction: Andy feels sad and depressed. He feels fatigued and tense in his body. Andy takes a few days off work and withdraws from social activity completely. Andy avoids going to the grand final to support his team. He gives up on trying out for the team next season.
For both Lisa and Andy, their early life experiences shaped their core beliefs. Their core beliefs shaped how they thought about the activating events. Lisa and Andy’s automatic thoughts were biased by several unhelpful thinking styles, which led them to experience negative consequences. Both felt bad about themselves and engaged in perfectionistic behaviours to compensate for this (excessive work and avoidance).