Overview of the Cognitive Therapy

The Logic Style of fighting against anxious thoughts is to engage them by using logic and reason. This technique is based on the idea that logic and reason can manage all of your emotions.

Although the Logic Style is often not quite strong enough for intense anxiety in a social situation, it is almost always helpful for anticipatory and debriefing anxiety (which will indirectly decrease your anxiety in the moment as well).

My favorite analogy for the Logic Style is a legal one. When you are anxious or depressed it’s like you’re on the witness stand and there is a lawyer tearing into you. The lawyer is saying “You Honor, this client is boring, will never make any friends, can’t date, has nothing to say etc.”. The worst part of it is, when you are depressed or anxious, not only do you have this guy bagging on us, but you usually also agree with him. You respond with, “Yeah, your honor. I suck. And here’s ten other things that are bad about me too”.

In the Logic Style of fighting what we are basically saying is “Yes, bad things are allowed to be said about me, but I'm supposed to have someone in my corner presenting my side of the case so that we can get to the truth.” It’s only when both sides are presented forcefully that the truth can be obtained.

We all do some form of Logic Style in our heads already. Cognitive Therapy gives a more structured and powerful way to do it (initially on paper and then eventually in your head).

Dysfunctional Thought Records

The best way to do the Logic Style is by creating what is known as a Dysfunctional Thought Record (or DTR).

Grab a notebook, draw three columns on a blank page, and label each column like this:

In the distressing thought column, write down any complete sentence that makes you feel anxious or sad. Anxious thoughts might include: “I’m going to mess up / fail”, “I won’t know what to say”, or “They won’t like me”. Anxious thoughts are usually in the future. Depressing thoughts might include: “I’m boring” “Nobody loves me” “I’m worthless”. Depressing thoughts are usually more in the present.

There are three rules for distressing thoughts. The first is that you must write a complete sentence. For example, “party” and “date” are not complete sentences. Instead you would need to write, “I am going to be anxious at the party” or “I’m going to be awkward on my date.” The second rule is that you are not allowed to write a question. Instead, answer the question in a negative way. For example, instead of writing “Will she call me back?” you would write “She won’t call me back.” The final rule is that you are not allowed to just write down an emotion. For example, if you just wrote down “I’m anxious” or “I’m depressed”, that’s not enough. Instead you’d have to write down why you’re anxious or why you're depressed.

In the distortions column, for each distressing thought, identify two or three distortions that apply to that thought. Here is the list cognitive distortions:

Cognitive Distortions

ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black-and-white categories. All-or-nothing statements include: “I am a totally worthless parent/spouse/employee/ friend”, “I’m a loser.” If a friend doesn't call you back, they "hate" you. If you have a bad date, it means you will be alone "forever".

DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject a compliment, or a positive aspect of your life, by insisting that it doesn’t count. For example, you might say to yourself: “I just got lucky”, “If they knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me”, or “Yeah, I’m improving, but I still more anxious than so-and-so.”

JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make assumptions based on limited information: “I’ve been shy for too long, so I can never get better”, “They didn’t text me back yet, so they must not like me,” or “She didn’t laugh at my joke, so I must have no sense of humor.”

MIND READING: You assume that you know what other people are thinking: “He didn’t say hello to me today, so he must think I’m nerdy”, “They looked uncomfortable, so they must think I'm worthless”, or “I was really quiet, so she thinks I'm boring”

FORTUNETELLING: You anticipate that things will turn out badly: “No one will ever love me” or “I have a bad time at dinner” or “I will never feel better.”

CATASTROPHIZING: You exaggerate the importance of a negative event or a personal flaw: “If I lose this job/ marriage /relationship, my life will be over - I can’t possibly be happy again”, “If I’m in pain/sick/anxious/sad, then I can’t accomplish anything”, or “If this date goes badly, my life is over.”

EMOTIONAL REASONING: You give too much credence to your feelings and intuitions, rather than acknowledging that they are fallible: “I feel deep down inside like I will never get better, so it must be true,” “I get a bad feeling about this presentation, so it’s going to be horrible.”

SHOULD STATEMENTS: You tell yourself you should or must do something and hold yourself to inflexible and impossibly high standards: “I must always be charming” or “I should never do something embarrassing,” or “I must be the perfect parent/spouse/employee/friend.”

PERSONALIZATION: You blame yourself entirely for something. This most typically happens when a relationship ends, a group endeavor fails, or you have a bad date: “It’s all my fault.”

There is a lot of overlap between the distortions, but the general idea is that the more sad or anxious we are, the more distorted our thinking tends to be.

Do any of these distortions apply to you? If you are like most people, they all do at one time or another.

Going back to the legal analogy, the list of distortions are like the “objections” your lawyer is allowed to raise to the judge. He can say “Objection your honor. That was fortunetelling.” or “Objection. That was all-or-nothing thinking.”

For each sentence, identify the 2-3 distortions that stand out to you the most. Don’t use all of the distortions or else the judge will get irritated.

For example, here’s how I would filled out the distortions column for my distressing thoughts:

Rational Response

In the rational response column, you write down something that addresses the distressing thought but also tries to remove some of the distortions. This is like what the judge is going to say at the end of the trial.

There are three ways to talk back to any thought:

Rational Response #1: “This thought is not true” or “This thought is not totally true.”

For example, you could respond to the distressing thought “No one will ever go out with me” with the rational response “That’s not true, I’ve been on dates before and I can always sign up for on-line dating and send out more e-mails.”

Rational Response #2: “Who cares!” or “It’s not a big deal.”

For example, you could respond to the distressing thought, “I was too quiet at the dinner” with the rational response “It's okay, my friends still seem to like me even though I’m sometimes very quiet.”

Rational Response #3: “There’s something I can do about it.”

For example, you can respond to the distressing thought, “I won’t be able to hold a conversation” with the rational response, “I can practice the social skills techniques, do exposures, and keep practicing until this comes more naturally.”

As you can see from my examples, you’re not actually supposed to use the Rational Responses word for word. Instead, they’re meant to give you a “way” of talking back to Distressing Thoughts.

Continuing the legal analogy, when someone accuses you of something, there are three ways to defend yourself. You can say “The accusation’s not true. It never happened.” Or you can say “OK, the accusation is true, but they are exaggerating the damages.” Or you can say “The accusation is true, and there are damages, but I am already doing things to fix it.”

Many people make the mistake of using just one type of rational response all the time. For example, some people habitually respond “It’s not true. It’s not true. It’s not true.” But, what if it is true? Sometimes you have to say, “Wait a minute. It’s not a big deal” or “Hold on. There’s something I can do about it.” For example, let's that that I am feeling sad and I write down the thought “Nobody loves me”. Then let’s say as a response I write “Screw them. I don’t care if anybody loves me!” Well, that’s not true. I do care if somebody loves me. Instead I should be saying, “My friends love me, my sister loves me, and my mom loves me.” or “There’s something I can do about this. I can go on more dates and I can make amends with the friend I had a falling out with.” If you are having trouble coming up with a rational response or if you write a response and it sounds hollow, try a different type of response or a different combination of responses instead.

Here are the counterpunches I wrote for my three distressing thoughts:


Some people find that when they write a rational response, it doesn’t work very well because a new distressing thought immediately gets triggered. For example, in response to the distressing thought “Nobody loves me” you might write, “That’s not true. My mom loves me.” But then you start thinking, “Yeah, but my mom is the only one who loves me!” In that case, write this new distressing thought in the left hand column and start the process over again. It would look something like this:

You might now respond, “Well, in addition to my mom, my sister loves me, and my friends love me,” but now you think, “Yeah, but no one loves me romantically.” So Chain this thought into the left hand column and keep on going. Here’s what an entire chain might look like:

This process is called "chaining" and it's a good process, because you want as many distressing thoughts to come up as possible while you are there in front of a piece of paper (because doing it on paper is stronger than when you do it in your head).

Try doing dysfunctional thoughts records three times a week. Once you’ve memorized the distortions, try doing it in your head and reserve the paper version for the thoughts you’re having trouble with.

If you really enjoy dysfunctional thought records and want to learn more about them, I recommend reading Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond by Judith Beck and Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns.

Thought-Emotion Feedback

Thought-Emotion Feedback is often incorporated into Dysfunctional Thought Records (as additional columns), but I prefer to use it as a separate technique. Thought-Emotion Feedback means silently telling yourself the way your thoughts make you feel. For example, “When I think about my boss yelling at me, it makes me angry” or “When I go over past mistakes, it makes me sad.” This technique makes you more aware of your internal dialogue. It automatically up-regulates and down-regulates your thoughts due to the feedback you give yourself about your emotions.

I use Thought-Emotion Feedback whenever I am internally “snarky”, have a negative fantasy, produce a fake argument in my head, or start debriefing. By internally snarky I mean putting down people I see on the street, every commercial on TV, and certain actors (all silently in my head). It’s an annoying habit because it makes the world look worse to me. I’ve been able to decrease it by saying things like “Lindsay, when you are snarky is makes you feel gross”, whenever I catch myself doing it. Negative fantasies are the ugly version of day dreams. It’s when I imagine what would happen if I got kidnapped, went broke, or got attacked. When I catch myself doing it I say to myself, “Lindsay, when you have a negative fantasy is makes you anxious”. I used to have fake argument in my head with the people in my life that were irritating me. Nowadays, it happens more commonly when a police officer passes my car. I’ll start imagining the argument that might happen if he had pulled me over. I find myself getting angry and agitated even though the argument is all in my head. I’ve been able to decrease this by saying, “Lindsay, when you have fake arguments in your head it just makes you feel agitated.” Finally, whenever I start debriefing (i.e. reviewing a social event in my head), I tell myself, “Lindsay, when you debrief, you eventually just start feeling bad.”

I will sometimes need to apply Thought-Emotion Feedback several times in a row for it to kick in but it has gradually improved the emotional quality of my spontaneous thinking.

Try Thought-Emotion Feedback at least once a day for the next week.  When you are having negative thoughts, make an internal comment on how those thoughts are making you feel.