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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 CBT Tools for Healthy Living app. Read: Understanding and Using the Cognitive Diary.

Fiance Spends Valentine's Day with Son

EVENT: Valentine's Day fell on weekend fiance had son and he decided to celebrate on a different day.

EMOTIONS: rejected, hurt, angry

DISTRESS RATING: 8--High level of distress

THOUGHTS: “Valentine's is a special day and he could get a babysitter for his son this one time. Doesn't he even care about hurting my feelings? He is so inconsiderate! It is so unfair that he puts his son before me. I think I'm pretty understanding usually but this is Valentine's Day and he should spend it with 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 rejection, hurt, and anger?

The CBT Tools for Healthy Living 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. This woman has beliefs about how her relationship should be and doesn't want reality to interfere with these romantic notions. However, her fiance must balance the needs of his son with his relationship with her. Most likely, he believes that since she is an adult she can handle the disappointment of not celebrating Valentine's on the exact day and can understand the meaning of the day can be conveyed on any day. Whereas his young son may not be able to understand why his father can't spend time with him when they only have certain days together.

Her beliefs are demands about how others should behave. She believes that her fiance has to show her love in the way she expects and no other way is satisfactory. Such a demand is unreasonable because people show love in many ways. If she maintains this position in her relationship, she is likely to be disappointed over and over even though her fiance appears to be a thoughtful person.

2) Labeling Others. She labeled her fiance as inconsiderate and uncaring. Yet, we can see that is probably not an accurate description of him because he was showing concern for his son as well as for his fiancee. He just wasn't caring in the way that she felt he should. Labeling her fiance negatively is blaming him because he made a decision she doesn't like. He did not do anything to hurt her and was trying to take her needs into consideration as well but she still saw his behavior as negative because it wasn't what she wanted.

3) Mind-reading Expectations. When she asks "Doesn't he even care about hurting my feelings?" she is expecting him to know how she feels. There is an implied "he should know this is important to me" in her statement. If we look at his behavior, however, he may be aware that Valentine's Day is important to her because he suggested that they celebrate on a different day. He was not ignoring her but he was caught between the needs of his child and her needs. As a loving parent, he likely believed that since he only saw his son at certain times while he could see his fiancee any time, it was important to spend the time with his son.

Overall, these irrational beliefs cause this woman to feel the hurt and anger of being rejected when she wasn't actually rejected. Because her fiance's behavior did not match her expectations, she perceived his decisions as rejection of her. However, as with many situations, her fiance was trying to balance the needs of two important people in his life. Instead of being "inconsiderate" he was actually trying to consider her needs and his son's needs and probably felt he had a reasonable compromise.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
"My fiance is not trying to hurt me. He is just being a loving father which is something to admire about him. I need to recognize that he is still showing his love for me and that it is really not important which day he does that."

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