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Cognitive Diary Example


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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.

Disrespectful Attitude from Adult Child

EVENT: My adult daughter repeatedly speaks to me with sarcastic intonations in spite of my numerous requests for her to "try to talk nice." She rolls her eyes and smirks at me openly, then when I get upset/hurt, she says I'm making a big deal about nothing, and tells me I drive her crazy.

EMOTIONS: frustration, sadness

DISTRESS RATING: 8—high level of distress

THOUGHTS: “I am heart-broken because my daughter doesn't care about my feelings. She treats me disrespectfully and only calls me when she needs my help. I help her because I worry about the grandchildren but she shows no appreciation.”

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 feelings of frustration and sadness?

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.

First, some emotions are rational responses to a situation. So, no matter how this mother changes her thinking she may not be able to eliminate the sadness regarding the problems in her relationship with her daughter because she doesn't fully have control over the situation. If she makes changes that improves the situation then the sadness may dissipate. However, even if she makes changes it doesn't mean that her daughter will change so she may still feel the loss of not having a close relationship with her daughter and how that impacts her relationship with her grandchildren.

However, let's address the thinking and emotions that can be changed in this situation.

Irrational Beliefs:
1) Shoulds. This mother has an expectation of her daughter's behavior. She expects that her daughter "should" be respectful and appreciative. Certainly, it would be nice if her daughter behaved that way but she doesn't. As a result, this mother reprimands her daughter about her behavior in an attempt to get her to behave. This method doesn't work very well with adults and is only likely to cause the daughter to feel defensive and escalate her behavior.

Therefore, the mother needs to remove this expectation of her daughter. The more she can accept that she can't have the relationship she wants with her daughter the more she will be able to find peace herself. Of course, as mentioned earlier, this may mean that she grieves the fact that she can't have the relationship she might desire. On the other hand, it helps to remove her from the "parental" role of telling her daughter how to behave. By doing so she is showing greater respect for her daughter and maybe her daughter might learn from this example.

2) Catastrophizing. Although this mother recognizes that it might be best to set some limits and not always respond to her daughter's desperate pleas for help, she always helps because she worries about the grandchildren. Now, it may be true that some catastrophic event may occur if she doesn't help (I don't know the situation) but she needs to be sure that is the case. Too often, grandparents worry about the grandchildren suffering when it means that they will be disappointed or do without. So this mother needs to distinguish whether the "crisis" is truly catastrophic in which case it may be important to help for the sake of the grandchildren or if it just means that there will be some temporary inconvenience.

If it is inconvenience, disappointment, or doing without something not critical to survival, then this mother may need to focus on setting limits in her help. By recognizing that not only do children suffer but that not learning how to manage suffering will cause problems later in life, she may be able refrain from responding to every crisis. She cannot be responsible for rescuing her daughter's family every time there is a problem or they will not learn how to manage the problems themselves.

3) Negative Labeling of Others. Because her daughter is not behaving the way that she wants, this mother is labeling her daughter negatively. Certainly, her daughter is behaving in a negative way but by seeing the problem as her daughter needs to change her behavior and her daughter needs to be more appreciative, she gives up all control in the situation. Her only hope for change is changing herself. This is true for any of us. We can't change others' behavior. We can only change how we respond to their behavior.

Therefore, this mother needs to recognize that she can't make this situation with her daughter be what she wants it to be, and instead, focus on changing her own behavior. It is possible that her daughter may change in response, but if not, the mother can potentially find more peace of mind.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
“It is sad that I can't have a better relationship with my daughter but it is not completely under my control. I can choose to not engage in this pattern of behavior with her and hope that over time our relationship will improve. If it doesn't, I need to accept her the way she is or I need to limit my contact with her, but I can't demand that she be different. I also need to recognize that I can't protect my grandchildren from her decisions and as long as they are not in danger I need to not respond to every crisis."

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