CBT Part 2: Practice
Updated: Apr 8
A tenet of CBT is that events are often neutral, but our reaction to them determines their emotional impact on us. For example, let’s imagine our partner or roommate coming home late from work as an event we can examine. Their tardiness is not inherently a bad thing, but if we decide they must have been in a car accident, we feel sad or anxious. Or, if we decide they are buying us milk after running out this morning, we feel glad or grateful. Finally, if we decide they have gone out to a pub with a colleague and left us behind, we feel disappointed or angry. Thus, how we interpret the event leads to different emotional reactions.
One thing we often do is imagine the worst case scenario, and the more depressed or anxious we are, the more we believe the worst could be possible. If we do so, we end up putting a lot of emotional energy into something improbable. We might even start calling emergency rooms due to stress and worry. In this case, if we don’t challenge ourselves to consider alternative explanations or the likelihood of there having been an accident, we may create an emotional crisis. There may have only been a particularly bad traffic jam or a thoughtful bouquet of flowers waiting for us in the passenger seat.
This is just one example of using CBT, but it applies to many settings: believing other people are judging us when our eyes cross paths, deciding there’s no point in trying anything new because we never succeed at things, or referring to a driver who cut you off as a “jerk”. CBT calls on us to examine “evidence” for and against these beliefs, like in a court of law, before deciding how we feel about something that is bothering us.