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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.

Wife Won't Leave Me Alone When I'm Upset

EVENT: I was angry about a situation at work. When I came home I told my wife I needed to be alone and went to my office. She followed me to my office asking questions. She wouldn't leave me alone and I exploded at her yelling at her to leave me alone.

EMOTIONS: anger, shame

DISTRESS RATING: 7—feeling distressed, less in control

THOUGHTS: “I think she was deliberately trying to aggravate me. She knew I needed to be alone. I didn't want to take it out on her. That's why I went to my office. I'm such a jerk. She didn't deserve to be yelled at. I need to control myself.”

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 anger and shame?

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) Mind-reading Others. This husband assumed that his wife was deliberately following him to cause him more aggravation. More likely, she was like many women who want to talk out emotions and when she saw that her husband was upset she want to find out what was bothering him.

2) Labeling Self. He labeled himself as a “jerk” because he lost control. He didn't give himself credit for trying to avoid conflict with his wife which shows that he is also considerate. Therefore, the label is all or nothing which is inaccurate.

3) Shoulds. Even though he didn't use the word “should” he meant “should” when he said “I need to control myself.” He was placing a demand on himself and feeling bad about himself when he didn't meet the demand.

How Can This Thinking Be Changed?
“I wish I didn't lose control and yell at my wife. Maybe if I had been more clear about why I needed to be alone she wouldn't have bothered me. I'm sure she wasn't deliberately trying to aggravate me. She was probably just concerned. She's different than me and needs to talk about feelings when she's upset so she tends to think it will be good for me, too. She's just trying to be helpful. I will explain to her that I need to be alone to sort out what I'm feeling before I can talk about it. I'm not a 'jerk.' I'm trying to do the best I can but I make mistakes at times.”

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