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Cognitive Diary Example


The following is an example to help learn how to identify and change irrational thinking. It is best to read the articles defining the irrational styles of thinking prior to trying to identifying the styles in the example. It uses the format of the COGNITIVE DIARY CBT SELF-HELP app. Read: Understanding and Using the Cognitive Diary.

Boyfriend Forgot Birthday

EVENT: My boyfriend forgot my birthday even though I went to a lot of effort for his birthday a couple months ago.

EMOTIONS: hurt, resentment, anger

DISTRESS RATING: 8—high level of distress

THOUGHTS: "He must not really care about me if he doesn't remember my birthday. He should know how important my birthday is. After all, I bought him a gift and made him a cake and dinner for his birthday. I do so much for him and he doesn't do anything for me!"

CAN YOU IDENTIFY THE IRRATIONAL THINKING IN THIS EXAMPLE? There are at least 3 irrational beliefs.

HOW CAN YOU CHANGE THE THINKING? What is another way of thinking about the situation that won't cause the anger?

The Cognitive Diary CBT Self-Help app helps you to determine some ways to challenge the irrational thinking. Once you have done that, it is important to read the rational challenges frequently until they automatically come to mind rather than the irrational thinking.


Irrational Beliefs:
1) Mind-reading others. The thought “he must not really care about me” is making an assumption about what someone else is thinking based on behavior. The assumption may not be accurate. For instance, maybe the boyfriend isn't very good with remembering dates. Or, maybe he doesn't know how important a birthday celebration is to his girlfriend. Or, maybe he is stressed and distracted. The point is, if there is one other possible explanation, then the assumption could be inaccurate and needs to be checked out.

2) Shoulds. The statement “he should know” is a demand about someone's thoughts or behavior. He can't necessarily know how important her birthday is unless she has stated very clearly to him “My birthday is very important to me and I expect that you should make it special unless you are dying or in the hospital.” Of course, many women have another “should” thought in response to the prior statement: “I shouldn't have to tell him. He should just be thoughtful.” The problem with this belief is that the definition of thoughtfulness can vary from person to person. Maybe his concept of thoughtfulness is taking care of her needs such as making sure her car is in working order or checking to make sure she made it home safely. We cannot assume that someone is thoughtless just because they do not define thoughtfulness in the same way we do.

3) Negative Evaluation of Others. The statement “he doesn't do anything for me” is an extreme statement. How do we know that? Because if it was true, why is she even with him? She is focusing on the negative rather than considering that this may be just one area of difference.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
"I can't assume that he doesn't care just because he forgot my birthday. I can't expect him to know what I want without telling him. He does many other things for me to show that he cares. Maybe I need to calm down and talk to him about the situation before reacting with anger."



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