You have a choice about what goes on inside your head. You get to choose what you think, what you believe and what you expect to happen. You get to decide if an event or a person has control over your life or if you do. Part 1 in this series of articles gave you the opportunity to identify some of the beliefs and expectations you may have that promote feelings of helplessness. Part 2 in the series talked about the importance of developing an optimistic attitude. This, the third part, is dedicated to "disputing" -- a potent technique to deal with beliefs and expectations that keep you trapped in the victim role.

Robust research has shown that disputing is a very effective technique in your quest to control your inner world. Disputing is arguing with beliefs, thoughts and expectations that render you powerless in one or more areas of your life; it's about challenging your interpretation of the information that is available to you. In his book, Learned Optimism (1990, 1998), Martin Seligman, Ph.D., discusses the technique of "Disputing" in an "ABCDE" model:

A = Adversity: The adversity is the trigger or antecedent that elicits the belief that you are a victim, that you have been treated unfairly or that you have little or no control over some aspect of your life. An Example: You were laid off from your last job and have been unable to find employment for quite a while. You may feel like a victim each time you interview and are not hired. You may feel like you were let go unfairly.

B = Belief: The belief is the automatic interpretation of what the adversity means to you. You decide who or what has the power over some part of your life. You decide if you believe you have been treated fairly or unfairly and how relevant that is to you. An Example: You may tell yourself that you are not going to get a job because you have bad luck because you're too fat or because you are a loser.

C = Consequences: The consequences are those feelings and behaviors that usually result from this belief. An Example: You feel angry, disappointed, ashamed, and scared. You may stop looking for a job because you're not optimistic about your prospects and because you become depressed after each job interview in which you're not hired.

D = Disputation: Disputing is the argument contesting the erroneous or deflating belief. There are four major ways you can do this:

1. Find evidence to counter the harmful belief; show factually how the belief is incorrect. An Example: Find the evidence that you have many qualities and experiences that make you a valuable asset for an employer such as you are reliable, professional, and creative, etc. Cite specific examples from previous places of employment.

2. Find alternative explanations for the errant belief. Most events have many causes. People who feel like victims often focus on the most personal and insidious explanation. Scan for all possible causes for the adversity, then focus on what is changeable, specific, non personal. An Example: Many companies are downsizing. My company was forced to lay off many valuable employees. In the current job market, it is difficult for many people to find employment. I'm going to focus on more creative ways to approach job hunting. I'm going to get some help from someone who has ideas about how to go about this in more successful ways.

3. Explore implications of the problematic belief; when the facts aren't on your side, one technique to use is "decatastrophizing", that is, even if your belief is correct, what are its implications? Instead of imagining worst case scenarios, think about potential positive outcomes. An Example: I'm having difficulty getting hired because some of my skills need updating. This could be an opportunity to think about what would really excite me and to develop greater expertise.

4. Examine the usefulness of these beliefs. An Example: Holding the belief that employers should always be fair may cause more grief than it's worth. Ask yourself what's the point of dwelling on that? Your expectations about fairness may not be in line with how the world works. Remember: "Expectation minus reality = frustration."

E = Energy: The energy that occurs when one disputes successfully. An Example: You feel much better. You are optimistic that you can work somewhere that will be a great step in your career. You renew your search for other possibilities.

You can find more information on disputing in my book, It's Your Little Red Wagon... Six Core Strengths for Navigating Your Path to the Good Life (Embrace the Power of Positive Psychology and Live Your Dreams), available on

Copyright 2009. Sharon S. Esonis, Ph.D.

Author's Bio: 

Sharon S. Esonis, Ph.D., has spent close to three decades helping individuals thrive and improve their lives through her work as a licensed psychologist, author and life coach. An expert in human behavior and motivation, Dr. Esonis specializes in the burgeoning field of Positive Psychology, the scientific study of optimal human functioning and the core strengths that can lead to the achievement of one's personally-defined goals.

Her most recent book, "It's Your Little Red Wagon... 6 Core Strengths for Navigating Your Path to the Good Life (Embrace the Power of Positive Psychology and Live Your Dreams!)," is Dr. Esonis's contribution to the field of Positive Psychology, presenting proven success factors and strength-building techniques that can lead individuals to a life of purpose, motivation and happiness. It is available on

Dr. Esonis earned her doctoral degree at Boston College and currently maintains a life coaching practice in the San Diego area. She also teaches Positive Psychology in the Extended Learning Program at California State University San Marcos. To learn more about the power of Positive Psychology and to order her latest book, visit her website at