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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.

Co-worker Doesn't Like Me

EVENT: My co-worker acts like she doesn't like me.

EMOTIONS: rejected, insulted, apprehensive

DISTRESS RATING: 6--Feeling bad

THOUGHTS: “She looks at me funny when I pass her desk and the other day she turned and walked the other way when she saw me. She's probably talking behind my back like happened at my last job. I know she's a good friend of the boss. What if she says something to him that makes me look bad?”

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 rejection, feeling insulted, and apprehension?

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 Others.. Most importantly, this person is assuming she knows what her co-worker is thinking based upon some non-verbal behavior. She does not say that she's had words with this co-worker or that the co-worker has done anything directly to harm her. Instead, based on facial expressions and other behavior, that could have other interpretations, she concludes that her co-worker doesn't like her. Non-verbal behavior can easily be misinterpreted. This especially occurs because most untrained people interpret expressions and behavior from their own perspective. But non-verbals need to be interpreted from knowledge of the other person. For instance, maybe the co-worker is engaged in thought and didn't even see this woman. Have you ever been thinking about something and didn't notice someone right in front of you? Maybe the co-worker turned around because she had just remembered something she forgot.

These are just a couple of possibilities for the co-worker's behavior. If we brainstormed what her non-verbals meant, we could probably list a good deal more. Usually, it is best that if there is even one other possibility to recognize that it is mind-reading. Without more substantial evidence, this woman can't assume the co-worker doesn't like her. It's possible, but she doesn't KNOW. If she acts based on this assumption she may create an uncomfortable situation.

2) Catastrophizing. Again, without evidence, she is jumping to the catastrophic conclusion that the co-worker will say something to her boss and make her look bad. The implication being that the co-worker's dislike of her will affect her job. She is worrying about the worst case scenario without having any concrete information that would indicate such a situation. First, she doesn't know that the co-worker dislikes her. Second, even if the co-worker dislikes her, she doesn't know that the co-worker would say anything. Finally, even if the co-worker said anything, she doesn't know that the boss will take it seriously. So, the conclusion is that she doesn't have any evidence that makes her worry likely to occur.

3) Generalizing. The only evidence she has is that a previous co-worker at another job disliked her and caused problems for her. As a result, she is hyper-sensitive to someone not liking her and creating problems for her. However, she is generalizing from a previous experience where the only commonality is that it involved a co-worker and her job. This sensitivity may potentially cause a self-fulfilling prophecy: if she believes the co-worker doesn't like her, she may avoid the co-worker or treat the co-worker in ways that can create dislike.

The purpose of generalizing is to help anticipate problems based upon past experiences. However, this process is meant to be used as a warning to be evaluated for further corroborating information. However, when someone is hyper-sensitive, they often view their generalization as completely accurate without evaluating it. Therefore, it is important to examine these assumptions and make sure they are based on current evidence.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
"I don't KNOW that she dislikes me. There could be other reasons for her behavior. I also don't know that she would tell the boss if she did dislike me. I am mind-reading because of a bad experience in the past. I can't assume that this situation is the same. In fact, I'm going to act as if it is not and I will make an extra effort to be pleasant with her."

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