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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.

Happiness Dependent Upon Wife

EVENT: My wife won't get help for her problems

EMOTIONS: sad, helpless, hopeless

DISTRESS RATING: 9--Feeling desperate

THOUGHTS: “My wife is always angry and never happy. She is always criticizing and blaming me and others. I always try to do what she wants to make her happy. No matter what I do I can't make her happy. I've suggested therapy. She won't get help even though she agrees she is angry and unhappy. I'll never be happy. I need to find a solution.”

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 sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness?

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) Catastrophizing. Catastrophic thinking is assuming the worst case scenario and letting those beliefs control your emotions. This man believes that as long as his wife doesn't change he will never be happy. "Never" is a long time--a lot of things can change in that time. Unfortunately, in this case, if he continues to believe this, he may create a self-fulfilling prophecy which is to cause what you predict by acting in certain ways that are likely to bring it about. As long as he believes his happiness is dependent upon his wife, he won't look for other solutions. He will continue to try to change her. As a result, he will continue to be unhappy.

2) Blaming. In a way, he is doing the same thing as his wife and blaming someone else for his unhappiness. Happiness is not based upon having a perfect life but is an internal state and approach to life. No matter what decision his wife makes, he always has the choice to focus on making himself happy. However, instead, he is choosing, similar to her, to blame his unhappiness on someone else or life circumstances. Who knows, perhaps if he focuses on taking responsibility for his own happiness, he might model that approach for her. At the very least, it removes the focus from her and takes away her control over him.

3) Internal Locus of Control. This man is a problem-solver. Which is a fine enough approach to life as long as he is confronted with a problem that can be solved. However, for a person to solve a problem, they must have control over the situation. Without control, no amount of problem-solving can change the situation. In this case, his wife is the one with the control and she chooses to remain angry and unhappy rather than to seek solutions.

An internal locus of control is when a person believes that outcomes are based upon effort. This focus works well in many circumstances. However, it becomes a problem when a person continues to put effort into a situation that has shown to be out of their control. At this point, however, a controllable problem does present: his problem. He needs to stop hitting his head against the proverbial brick wall expecting it to come tumbling down. Instead, he needs to focus on himself and the solution to his own happiness. His happiness is based within him and not dependent upon his wife's choices.

Some people might think at this point the solution is for him to find his happiness by leaving her. The problem with that solution is that he is still dependent upon external circumstances to be happy. People do this all the time: "I'll be happy when I leave." "I'll be happy when I lose weight." "I'll be happy when I get a better job." It's not that there is anything wrong with these choices but the problem is believing that happiness will follow because the outside circumstances have changed. I usually recommend that people find the solution to their own happiness first and then make life choices. In this way, the decisions they make are more likely to be successful ones. For instance, if this man leaves to find happiness with someone else, he is likely to find a similar situation because he is continuing to put control of his happiness in another's hands. If he first finds his happiness, then he may or may not leave, but if he does leave he is not likely to allow his happiness to be controlled by someone else.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
"I need to stop blaming my wife for my unhappiness. I can feel sad for her, but my happiness is not dependent upon her. Instead, I will focus on what I need to do to bring more opportunities for happiness into my life."

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