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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.

Saying "I'm Fine" When I'm Not

EVENT: When I'm upset I say "I'm fine" instead of talking about the problem

EMOTIONS: hurt, fearful, angry

DISTRESS RATING: 8--High level of distress

THOUGHTS: "I don't want anyone to be angry with me so I avoid conflict by saying "I'm fine." Besides, shouldn't people who care about me know when something bothers me? I'm always attentive to their moods and try not to hurt them--they should do the same thing unless they really don't care about me. I say it in a way that clearly shows I'm not fine.”

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 hurt, fear, and anger?

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.


This situation illustrates how passive-aggressive behavior may be unintentional due to avoidance of another problem.

Irrational Beliefs:
1) Emotional Reasoning. The fear of others' anger is often due to giving their anger validity: "If someone is angry with me, I must have done something wrong." Emotional reasoning is believing that an emotion is reality without evaluating the evidence. This person believes that others' anger must be avoided because she doesn't want to feel bad or guilty. However, instead of automatically assuming guilt if someone is angry, it is necessary to determine whether the anger is reasonable.

Also, it is important to distinguish blame from frustration, irritation, and confusion. Just because someone may seem angry doesn't mean they are blaming. Sometimes they may be frustrated by the situation or irritated by their own handling of the situation or misunderstanding something about the situation. In these common scenarios it doesn't mean that the person did anything wrong. As a result, it is irrational to jump to the conclusion of "I must have done something wrong" just because someone is angry.

2) Mind-reading Expectations. When this person expects others to know what she wants, she is crossing the line from a passive response to a passive-aggressive response (an indirect expression of anger). Mind-reading expectations are a demand that is often associated with anger when that demand is not fulfilled. So, she is angry that others do not know she's upset when she says "I'm fine."

Instead, because she tends to try and read other people's minds, she expects the same from them. However, mind-reading often leads to misunderstandings because there can be many reasons why an assumption about what someone is thinking can be wrong. This means that when a person believes her statement, "I'm fine," they are acting in a rational way because they are not reading more into it. It is irrational of her to expect them to do so.

3) Negative Evaluation of Others. Not only does she expect others to read her mind but she evaluates them negatively if they don't. She views them as not caring about her if they don't recognize she is upset when she says "I'm fine." This situation is a perfect passive-aggressive set-up for blaming others when the real issue is that she doesn't want to deal with conflict and anger. She would be better off if she could at least admit to herself she has a problem with avoiding anger. By acknowledging that she has unreasonable expectations of others, it is not that they don't care, she can begin to deal more directly with her avoidance of anger. By doing so, she can address the real issue rather than engaging in passive-aggressive behavior.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
"Saying 'I'm fine' only avoids problems. I can't expect others to know what I want unless I communicate clearly--not everyone can read a tone of voice and know that something is bothering me. Just because I'm attentive to others' moods doesn't mean they have the same ability. Not being able to read my mind does not mean they don't care. I need to say what is bothering me or be able to let it go. If someone gets angry with me for saying what I feel, it does not mean I've done anything wrong."

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