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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 CBT Tools for Healthy Living app. Read: Understanding and Using the Cognitive Diary.

Jealous of Wife Talking to Another Man

EVENT: My wife was talking to another man and touched him on the arm. I questioned her after about her behavior and liking him.

EMOTIONS: jealous, angry, hostile

DISTRESS RATING: 8—high level of distress

THOUGHTS: “She likes him. What if she wants him and leaves me? I can't compete with him. Other women have cheated on me. I can't trust her.”

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 being jealous, angry, and hostile?

The CBT Tools for Healthy Living 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) Generalizing. This man believes that because he has been cheated on before by someone else that he can't trust his wife. Generalizing from past relationships is a common mistake people make when in relationships. However, the lack of awareness about the thought being a generalization from past experiences can cause serious harm to a current relationship.

In this situation, this man needs to base his trust of his wife on the evidence about his wife and her behavior. He shouldn't be judging her based upon someone else's behavior. He may try to convince himself that it is based on her behavior--that his wife touched the man's arm. But this can be an innocent behavior and needs to be interpreted in the full context of her personality and behavior. For instance, does she normally touch people when talking?

Otherwise, this judgment can lead to behavior that can cause his wife to be unhappy with the relationship. He stated that he questioned her afterward. Such questioning can be quite distressing for an innocent person. At first his wife may see it as insecurity and give him reassurance. But repeated episodes can become tiresome and even abusive which can lead to a deterioration of the relationship.

2) Emotional Reasoning. Emotional reasoning is the belief that if you feel something, it must be true. However, feelings need to be processed to determine accuracy, not just acted upon. This man FEELS that he can't trust his wife and believes that to be true. However, if he processed what that emotion was based upon (as discussed above), then he may see that it is not accurate.

Emotional reasoning of trust is common. Too often, people believe that they should be able to rely on their "gut instinct" when it comes to trust. However, as in this case, that instinct may be corrupted due to previous experiences. Therefore, it is important to process why the feeling of distrust is occurring and if it is based on current evidence.

3) Catastrophic Thinking. Because of his insecurities and fears, this man creates a catastrophic scenario in his mind of his wife leaving him just because she touched another man while talking to him! This type of extreme thinking, especially when combined with his "hostile" feelings can lead to disastrous consequences. In fact, over time he may even create a self-fulfilling prophecy of his wife leaving him. However, she is likely to leave him because of the jealous behavior and hostility. Not because of another man.

Yet, if this man doesn't recognize how his irrational thinking and the resulting behavior created the feared outcome of his wife leaving, he will add this experience to his distrust of women: "Another failed relationship because women can't be trusted."

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
“This is emotional reasoning. Just because I am fearful of her cheating does not mean it is true. In fact, I don't believe it is true because she has never done anything to show she can't be trusted. Emotions aren't always accurate especially when they are based on past experiences. I am catastrophizing about something that is not likely. There aren't any real indicators that she is unhappy in our marriage. However, I need to change my thinking and feelings without involving her or I might make her unhappy. Questioning of behavior that is innocent can damage our relationship."

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