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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.

Sister Marrying the Wrong Man

EVENT: Sister won't listen to me about the mistake she is making

EMOTIONS: frantic, frustrated, worried

DISTRESS RATING: 8--High level of distress

THOUGHTS: “My sister has always been so impulsive and now she's deciding to get married without thinking it through. She hasn't really known him that long. I think this will be disastrous and I'll have to pick up the pieces like I always do. How can I get her to listen to 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 feelings of being frantic, frustrated, and worried?

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) Shoulds. Even though this person doesn't use the word "should" the demand is implied in her thoughts. She believes that she is right and knows what is best for her sister. It is understandable that she cares about her sister and wants her to make decisions that will lead to happiness. However, she can't know the outcome of her sister's decision at this point. She doesn't even have good evidence other than the fact that they haven't known each other that long. But she believes that her sister should listen to her rather than acting impulsively.

2) Catastrophizing. Saying that she knows that the outcome will be "disastrous" is extreme thinking. She is making an assumption about the unknown future, and again, believing that she is right. Maybe her sister has made disastrous mistakes in the past, but that doesn't mean this one will be. Also, it could just be her definition of the outcome of her sister's decisions. In other words, she sounds like a perfectionist who might believe that any kind of a mistake is a disaster. Sometimes mistakes are just mistakes and can be opportunities to learn. If she wasn't always thinking for her sister, her sister may have to think for herself and not be as impulsive in her decision-making. Or, maybe her sister is okay with accepting the consequences of her decisions and doesn't view them as disasters.

3) Internal Control. She tends to take responsibility for other people's lives. This is an aspect of internal locus of control in which she believes that the outcome of situations is based upon her effort. In other words, her sister's life and happiness is her responsibility and she must make her sister see that she is right. The problem with this type of thinking is that her sister is an adult and responsible for her own decisions. However, this sister is believing that she will have to "pick up the pieces." When people are overly responsible others often let them have the responsibility and become less self-reliant. Then the responsible person often becomes resentful because they have to take care of everyone. That is her choice. She can also choose to support her sister but let her sister manage the consequences of her decision, good or bad.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed? "I don't have control over my sister's life. Her decisions are her responsibility, not mine. All I can do is love her and support her. Trying to tell her what to do will only hurt our relationship. I want to be there if she should need me. But I also want to be happy for her and hope that it will work out. I'm not going to make assumptions about her future because I can't know the future."

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