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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.

Husband's Unreasonable Expectations of ADD Wife

EVENT: Husband doesn't understand my ADD and gets angry.

EMOTIONS: frustration, agitation, exasperation

DISTRESS RATING: 6--Feeling bad

THOUGHTS: "My husband knows that I suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD} which means sometimes I'm not really in the moment when I am doing something. The way he pushes my buttons is to put something somewhere and leave it there knowing that I am working or cleaning in that particular area of the house and he does not say "I need you not to move or touch this thing right here." Then he becomes loud and aggressive when I move it and do not realize where I moved it to.”

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 frustration, agitation, and exasperation?

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.


In responding to this situation, I will make an assumption: this husband is not a bad guy but becomes frustrated when his things are misplaced. As with many people, he does not express his frustration appropriately. However, in general, he does not intend to hurt his wife.

Irrational Beliefs:
1) Blaming. This is a situation that involves both the husband's and the wife's behavior. It is a recurring problem, but instead of solving it, they both focus on blaming the other. Trying to determine blame is not an effective problem-solving technique. All it does is create defensiveness and an argument which actually distracts from the problem to be solved. If they want to solve the problem, they need to quit pointing to the other's behavior and discuss the problem calmly with the idea of creating possible solutions. Saying "Well, if you would only..." is not a solution. Instead, they may need to be creative and develop ways of handling the problem (see Passive-Aggressive Example response).

2) Labeling Others. Not only is the wife blaming her husband, but she is labeling him passive-aggressive (question was submitted to passive-aggressive forum). By using the descriptor "pushes my buttons" she is indicating that he is deliberately setting things down for her to misplace so that he can accuse her and take his anger out on her. By focusing on the problem in this way, she doesn't have to take any responsibility for the solution because she doesn't see herself as having control (see next irrational belief) as this is a deliberate behavior on his part.

It is not a good idea to label a life partner in such a negative way. Most of the time we choose someone out of love and most conflicts in relationships are not due to deliberate attempts to harm the other but are due to a conflict of needs (read article: When Needs Come Into Conflict). In this case, the husband's need is to not lose his stuff and the wife's need is to have understanding regarding ADD and how it affects focus and memory. By recognizing and respecting one another's needs, they are more likely to come to a mutually agreeable solution. "I understand you don't want me to misplace your stuff, but I'm just thinking about cleaning up and don't realize that I moved something you don't want me to. Let's think of some ways to solve this that can work for both of us."

3) External Control. Implied in the wife's thoughts is the idea "I can't help it, I have ADD." Such a thought indicates that she doesn't have control over the situation. In which case, since she has ADD, it is up to her husband to change his behavior. However, as I've already shown in the PA Example and in describing how they can communicate about this problem, there are things that she can do to help solve the problem. Therefore, the responsibility for this problem is with both of them, not just the husband.

In addition, the wife describes "I'm not really in the moment" and blames her ADD. Research shows, however, that practicing mindfulness can improve the symptoms associated with ADD (see my Psychnote: Mindfulness Training Shows Promise for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Therefore, not only could the wife approach problem resolution in a different way with her husband but she could take more responsibility for not being "in the moment." She may not eliminate her ADD symptoms but she could learn to be more mindful while cleaning--in other words, recognizing that being "in the moment" is a skill to be learned and is not impossible just because she has ADD.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
"My husband is understandably frustrated when I misplace his things. He is probably not trying to deliberately hurt me. Instead of blaming him, I need to recognize this as "our" problem and have a discussion with him to brainstorm ways to solve it. Also, I need to work on my ADD and not just accept there is nothing I can do about my focus and memory."

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