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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.

Responsible for Others' Feelings

EVENT: Upset with a friend

EMOTIONS: irritation, trepidation, hurt

DISTRESS RATING: 7--Feeling distressed, less in control

THOUGHTS: “My friend didn't ask me to join her when she went out with other friends. I feel hurt. I probably couldn't have gone anyway because I'm busy with the kids, but it would have been nice to be asked. Maybe she doesn't like me as much. I'm probably not very much fun. But I can't tell her what I feel because I don't want to hurt her feelings.”

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 irritation, trepidation, and hurt?

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) Internal Control. The statement "I don't want to hurt her feelings" indicates that this person feels responsible for others' feelings which is an over-responsibility for others. She believes that: 1) negative emotions are bad, and 2) since they are bad, to cause someone to have negative feelings is bad. However, she is wrong on both these counts. First, emotions aren't bad. Emotions are information. If someone feels something, it is providing them with valuable information about themselves or about the situation. Second, we can't CAUSE someone to feel anything. Feelings are based on the individual's reaction to a situation. Other people don't necessarily react in the same way we would. They react based on their own way of thinking whether it is rational or irrational. Because of this, others may not view an emotional reaction in the same way. However, even if they do have the irrational belief that she shouldn't express her feelings because she is causing hurt, then that is their responsibility, not hers. Others are responsible for their own reactions, especially the irrational reactions. She shouldn't have to walk on eggshels due to fear of how someone might react.

To combat this thinking, she needs to recognize the importance of expressing her concerns and desires in a relationship. Only by discussing a problem can it be resolved. Otherwise, her friend may continue to unintentionally hurt her when it may be a problem that can be solved. However, she is unable to do this as long as she feels responsible for her friend's feelings so she needs tell herself that she cannot control other people's feelings and it is not her responsibility to try to do so.

2) Blaming. She is engaging in self-blame when she states that maybe her friend doesn't like her as much because she's not fun. People who tend to take too much responsibility are often highly critical of themselves. The internal control belief discussed above results in thinking that they are responsible for everything that happens, and therefore, if they are not happy with something, they are to blame. Whenever a problem occurs, they tend to think of it as their fault.

3) Mind-reading of Others. The biggest problem with mind-reading others is that it tends to result in an inaccurate interpretation of the situation. A clue here is that she indicates she probably would have been busy, anyway. Since this is a friend of hers, perhaps her friend knew that and didn't invite her for that reason. However, people who are overly responsible for others' feelings often think "That's what I would have done" and then they are hurt when others don't behave the same way. She is interpreting her friends behavior based on how she behaves rather than recognizing that there are other valid reasons for someone's behavior. People who are overly responsible often end up feeling resentful because they are not treated the same way in return.

One way to help challenge mind-reading is that if you (or someone else) can come up with any other valid interpretation of the person's behavior, then you have to recognize the possibility of being wrong in your interpretation. Therefore, it is important to either recognize and accept you are wrong or discuss the situation with the other person to determine their thinking about it.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
"I need to express my feelings to her in an assertive way. If she is hurt by that, then it is her responsibility, not mine. My responsibility is to communicate clearly in a friendship so that we can resolve problems. However, it is likely that this is a simple misunderstanding that I am interpreting wrong and by discussing it I can discover her reasoning. I can also choose to not discuss it if I can truly recognize that she didn't mean anything by it and I'm just inaccurately interpreting her behavior."

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