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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 Gives the Silent Treatment

EVENT: When I try to talk to my husband about problems in our relationship he won't respond

EMOTIONS: rejected, agitation, hurt

DISTRESS RATING: 8--High level of distress

THOUGHTS: "My husband doesn't respond to me when I tell him he's not attentive enough. He must not really love me. I'm just asking for a simple thing and he doesn't even try. I told him that if he doesn't care about me then he can just do whatever he wants and we'll just be roommates--he's probably having an affair anyway. But he just acts as if nothing is wrong.”

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, agitation, and hurt?

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 Expectations. A common issue in relationships that is illustrated here is that the wife expects her husband to know what she wants. She believes she is being assertive when she is actually unclear when she tells him he is not attentive. Assertion requires specifics but "attentive" is a very vague term. What may be attentive to one person may not be what the other person thinks or expects. For instance, he may believe that listening to her without interruption is attentive. Yet, she expects some sort of response but doesn't tell him specifically what it is that she wants from him. I once saw a husband who said that he didn't know what to do when his wife started talking and crying because if he said anything his wife would get angrier. So then he would just sit there and listen. But when he did that she just got angrier.

2) Mind-reading Others. Not only does she expect him to read her mind, but she believes she knows what he thinks and feels. Based on his behavior (which we have already shown that her interpretation could be wrong), she assumes he doesn't love her. Then she makes a passive-aggressive (PA) bluff telling him he can have other relationships but we all know that is not what she really wants. This is considered PA because saying something directly that is not true in an attempt to get a response from the person is an indirect aggression. In this case, if the husband responds in almost any way it is likely to escalate the situation. Once the situation has heated up, even if he tried to hug her and let her know he doesn't want that, she is likely to respond with "Leave me alone! You don't really love me!" She is trapping him in an impossible situation with her mind-reading and PA behavior. Is it any wonder he remains silent?

3) Blaming. In a classic co-dependent manner, she needs her husband to be a scapegoat so that she can avoid looking at her own behavior--that is the crux of blaming. Although the husband may have a role in this situation, by focusing the blame on him the wife is unable to change the situation. If she looks at it from a different viewpoint and examines her own behavior instead, she may be able to determine other approaches. Presently, however, she expects him to change but she does not have control over his behavior. Frequently, when people are in therapy they ask me, "Why am I the one that has to change?" And I tell them, "Because you are the one that is here. If your spouse was here, then I would focus on the changes your spouse needs to make." We only have control over overselves which means we can only change ourselves. However, changing ourselves can impact those around us. A concept I like from systems theory is that if any part of a system changes, the rest of the system has to change in response. A relationship or a family can be considered a system. Therefore, if this woman changes her irrational thinking and PA behavior, her husband may change his response. It still may not be the response she wants but it can be a start. If nothing else, the self-improvement can lead to greater satisfaction in other areas of life by eliminating co-dependency from her relationships.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
"I need to quit making assumptions about what my husband feels and expecting him to know what I want. Instead, I need to more clearly and assertively state my needs and concerns."

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