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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.

"Snippy" Email from Friend

EVENT: I contacted my friend to remind her about lunch and she sent back a "snippy" email saying she had already told me she would be there.

EMOTIONS: hurt, embarrassed

DISTRESS RATING: 6—feeling bad

THOUGHTS: “She sounded like she was mad at me. I don't know why she has to be so rude. I don't understand what I did wrong. But I'm sure it is me. I'm always so awkward socially. Maybe I should have checked my emails before contacting 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 hurt and embarrassed?

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 of Others. She is making an assumption that her friend was angry at her which indicates that she was engaging in the irrational thinking style of mind-reading. This is a common misunderstanding when communicating by email or text. Her friend didn't indicate she was mad or tell her she was wrong, she just said she had already responded. Too often, when people read emails they read a tone of voice in the email that may not be there. I have frequently had clients show me an email that they were distressed about but when I read it out loud to them without a sarcastic or angry tone they acknowledged that it may not have meant what they thought.

To challenge mind-reading, it is important to acknowledge that there are other reasons for the person's words, emotions, or behavior. If there is still concern about the other person's behavior, it can be checked out with them. For instance, "Your email sounded like you were upset." Under no circumstance, however, should you respond without being certain of the other person's intentions. Doing so is a common cause of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and conflict.

2) Blaming. She is tending to focus on blaming either her friend or herself. This indicates discomfort with mistakes because even if her friend was upset with her, this is a fairly minor problem that could be resolved with direct communication. However, when a person gets angry and starts blaming, even small problems can lead to major conflict or resentment. In this situation, if instead, she were to consider that there may be some other reason for her friend's response or that everyone has a bad day once in a while, she is less likely to be hurt by her friend.

In addition, by accepting her own personal flaws instead of demanding that she shouldn't make mistakes, she is less likely to look for blame in herself. As a result, she is more likely to shrug off the situation as a minor misunderstanding that doesn't deserve further attention.

3) Shoulds. As stated above, she has demands of herself. Most likely, she believes, "I shouldn't make mistakes that would cause others to get mad at me." This is an unreasonable expectation as illustrated by this example. If her friend was angry with her, it wasn't because she did anything terribly wrong. At the most, she just reminded her too many times about lunch. As far as mistakes go, that is pretty minor.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
"I don't know she was angry--I'm making an assumption. It might be just the way she came across in the email. She is my friend and probably isn't thinking any further about her response so there is no reason for me to dwell on it either. If I did do something wrong, it is minor and I don't need to worry about it. If she is upset with me, it is up to her to let me know and then I can do something about it. But unless that occurs, I'm just going to go to lunch and enjoy myself."

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