alternative thought records, pt II

a continuation from yesterday’s blog regarding alternative thought records:

this is an example of using alternative thought records. in the beginning, it can usually only be done afterwards. with time, one can get practiced enough to try and do it right in the moment.

this is an example of debriefing the next day:

harry received an email from his stepmother, where she hints that harry isn’t spending enough time with her. after all she’s done for him, stopping by her place a few times a week after work is the least thing he can do, she claims.

when did it happen?
last night.

who was involved?
harry, his stepmother, and his partner

where did it happen?
at home

what happened?
having just come home from another exhausting day at work, harry read this email, and what little energy he had left totally went out of him. instead of making dinner as he had promised, he just lay down on the couch for an hour, staring at the wall. trying to be understanding, his partner went ahead and made dinner but it was obvious that he was not pleased, especially since harry didn’t explain what had happened.


at first, in rapid succession: angry, frustrated, guilty and ashamed. then, nothing. numbness.

intensity of feelings: anger: 80%, frustration 50%, guilt and shame: 80%. numbness: felt like 100%.

automatic thoughts:

  • what the %#$& ???
  • can i ever do right by her?
  • she’s right, she has done so much for me
  • i’m such a rotten son. and she hardly ever says anything anymore about me being gay. i should be grateful. i’m such a stinker for getting mad when she sends me these emails.
  • i’m such a loser. i promised harry i’d make dinner and what am i doing? nothing!
  • the numbness has no words, really, it’s just this freaky dull roar, like being caught all alone in a huge grey machine.

cognitive traps or distortions:
some cognitive distortions in these thoughts:

  • overgeneralization: can i ever do right by her?
  • shoulds: i should be grateful
  • labeling: i’m such a stinker

alternative thought:

  • i’m angry at mom right now. that’s the way i feel right now. i can live with that.
  • i feel exhausted right now. and i want to make dinner. i don’t need to feel overwhelmed by this. i’ll just put one foot in front of the other.
  • i notice this feeling of numbness coming on. being numb has never done anything for me. i’ll remember to focus on the feeling in my hands while i make dinner – that usually keeps me from falling into numbness.

feelings now: accepting (80%), clarity (70%)

(if these alternative thoughts would have been applied right at the moment of the situation happening, this is what the feelings might have been:

angry: 40%, exhausted 50%, accepting 90%, hopeful 55%, present 60%, alert 70%

compare this to the previous list: intensity of feelings: anger: 80%, frustration 50%, guilt and shame: 80%. numbness: felt like 100%)

this is an example for someone who is dealing with depression. however, an alternative thought exercise can be helpful in many different situations. as we can see, most moods (such as depression here) are a complex interplay between many different, and sometimes opposite, thoughts, feelings and actions.

this exercise is in some ways similar to the what i discussed in a previous blog entry, anger transformed.

why don’t you try one of them next time you’re facing a difficult situation and let me know how it goes?

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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