How to break the cycle with CBT?

In this blog, we will learn about different ways on “How to break the cycle with ‘CBT'” and also understand the process. 

How to break the cycle with CBT?

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) focuses on human cognition and its impact on human behavior and emotions. CBT works on distorted conditions to break the cycle.

What is CBT?

CBT is the perfect combination of cognitive and behavioral therapy. This new age theory was developed relatively recently when compared to some of the other theories. It is a 4th generation behavioral therapy that aims to achieve behavioral modification by altering negative thought processes and replacing them with positive thought processes.

Because of its effectiveness, CBT is one of the leading therapies for treating various mental health disorders with behavioral issues. 

Disorders that are greatly helped due to CBT.


Anxiety disorder

Substance abuse

Anger issues

Borderline Personality disorder

Eating disorders (Anorexia, Bulimia Nervosa)


Sleep disorders 

Phobias etc.

CBT requires active participation from the client as it is activity-based therapy. Many techniques, strategies, and treatment methods used in CBT require the client to engage in activities that can make them feel uncomfortable. Though initially, that might be true as the therapy progresses, those unpleasant emotions are countered. 

CBT believes that behaviors are influenced due to our thoughts as well emotions, and feelings. It proposes that there is an order to how things progress. It is a cycle of thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and behavior. Some therapists even call this a vicious cycle because it becomes very difficult to break or come out of it when negative thoughts are at the core of this cycle.

How does the Vicious Cycle Originate?

When a negative situation occurs, for instance, failing an exam, it hurts our minds. The person going through a difficult situation often has negative, depressing thoughts. The thoughts could be that I will never pass this exam, or I failed because I’m not smart enough. 

These negative thoughts would then have an impact on our feelings or emotions as well. 

The person could feel, “I don’t want to study anymore.” “I am dumb.” These negative feelings could go on to hurt the behavior. The behavior could be refusing to study, isolating oneself in the room or throwing tantrums, etc. 

Negative bodily sensations or physical symptoms would accompany this behavior. The person could feel exhausted or sick.

This behavior would not aid in improving the situation in the slightest. This type of behavior can make it worse. Again when the situation worsens, the whole process would be repeated. This makes it hard to break out of this vicious cycle. The person keeps going from one point in the cycle to the other without breaking free from it and ultimately suffers due to it.

It is important to note that the cycle can occur in any order. That is, the situation can affect any of the four components in the cycle, and that component can further influence the rest and so on. 

So the main components in the cycle are:

  • Thoughts
  • Emotions
  • Symptoms 
  • Behavior

Breaking the Cycle

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) works on modifying, alerting, or challenging the four components to break the cycle. CBT is based on challenging our distorted cognitions or negative thoughts and replacing them with altered cognition and thoughts. So by that principle, all these distorted thoughts, feelings, symptoms, and behaviors are modified and replaced with altered thoughts, feelings, symptoms, and behaviors. 

This can be explained with the help of a case.

Suppose the situation is that a girl is socially awkward and cannot attend parties due to social anxiety. Following is the distorted version of the cycle. 


I cannot attend this party because what if I made a mistake? Everybody stares at me. 

I am too ugly to let others see me

Others are going to judge me

I don’t know how to behave and socialize at parties


  • I am worthless
  • I am ugly
  • I am not good enough
  • Everyone hates me
  • Everyone judges me.


  • Stomach ache 
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Shivering
  • Stuttering 


  • She ends up not showing up to the party.
  • She attends the party but doesn’t interact at all and leaves too soon.
  • She makes a mistake caused by her physical symptoms and feels embarrassed. 

In the above instance, due to her distorted reasoning, all the other components got distorted as well. And at last, when her behavior matches with her initial thoughts, it will only reinforce her thoughts of not being good enough or others judging her. Thus the cycle will repeat itself. 

Now, let’s take a look at the altered version of the cycle


I might not know what to do at the party, but I can try to learn it

Everyone won’t stare at me even if I make a mistake.

I am good enough

I am not ugly 


I feel positive about attending this part

I am excited to try something new

I am hoping to meet interesting people and make friends.


High energy level

No nausea or body aches.


She enjoyed her time at the party because she wasn’t feeling sick or tired.

She makes a mistake but decides to ignore it and move on. 

Meets new people and makes friends with them.

In the altered version of the cycle, we saw that positive reasoning led to positive behavior and the absence of negative bodily sensations. Also, an important fact to remember is that positive thinking does not necessarily mean that it will change the situation for the better. Sometimes the problem does not change and remains the same. But our goal is not to change the situation but our approach to the situation. By changing our thoughts into positive thoughts and altering our dysfunctional behaviors into functional behaviors, we are well equipped to deal with any problematic situation.

In this case, the girl still ended up making a mistake, but instead of dreading it, she chose to move on as she could not do anything to change it. This change in attitude made her capable of dealing with any turbulent situation.

The Steps of CBT

To break the vicious cycle, CBT employs several steps to be followed. They are as follows.

  • Assessing the situation

To tackle any problem, it is first necessary to assess the situation. By assessing the severity of the situation, it can be gauged whether the case is threatening or if we are overthinking. Also by evaluating the problem, we can come up with possible solutions to tackle it. 

  • Understanding your thoughts and feelings 

When we undergo a traumatic experience or even we tend to have automatic negative thoughts and emotions. It is important to understand these thoughts and emotions and try to trace their roots. This could be done by asking ourselves,” What makes me feel this way?”, 

“What compels me to have these thoughts?”

When we can find the cause behind our thoughts and emotions, we have better chances of fighting and overcoming them.

  • Evidence Testing

Once we have found the reasons for our cognitive distortions, we need to put them to the test to check if those reasons have any truth to them. This is called evidence testing. We need to find evidence to support those distorted reasonings. When we do that, we would realize that there is little evidence to support that cognitive reasoning. Instead, we find evidence that counters those thoughts. 

  • Challenging those negative thoughts

By utilizing the evidence we found through our rational analysis we can challenge the negative thoughts. We can ask the question, “What makes me believe in these thoughts when there is little evidence supporting them.” We can then be reminded of the substantial evidence against those thoughts and completely negate those thoughts. 

  • Replacing them with Altered Thoughts 

After challenging the thoughts or is necessary to replace them with modified or altered thoughts that are positive. These thoughts help us get rid of our dysfunctional behavior and modify it into productive and functional behavior. 

  • Facing the fears.

Even though changing the Negative Automatic Thoughts (NAT) leads to modified behavior. It is necessary to test whether it works. Also, sometimes when we are constantly exposed to our fears, the threat slowly loses its edge. So periodic and consistent exposure to situations or things we are afraid of makes us stronger and better equipped to deal with them. So when we have challenged our thoughts and replaced them with altered and positive thoughts, we can test their impact on our behavior by putting ourselves in situations that we avoid and run away from. We can realize that our altered thoughts do help us navigate the situations better now than previously. Additionally, even if the situation remains scary even today, once we have faced it, it becomes apparent that it is not entirely impossible. 

  • Repeating the Process 

Just like the vicious cycle keeps on repeating itself, CBT is also a therapy that can be repeated many times. That is, challenging the thoughts and behavior modification is a continuous process. Whenever we get stuck and need help, we can always follow all the steps of the CBT and break free from the clutches of the cycle. It’s like becoming our therapist.


We learned and understood the process of CBT and answered the question of “How to Break the cycle with CBT.” 

Frequently asked Questions

What is the difference between CBT and Counseling?

Cognitive Behavioral therapists and clients work together to change a client’s attitude, thoughts, and behavior. On the other hand, counseling is less collaborative and directive, involving listening, empathy, encouragement, and challenge. But both counseling and CBT help the client to understand themselves better and find their own solutions to cope with the issues. 

How does CBT improve anxiety and trauma-related disorders?

CBT can be helpful in the treatment of various anxiety disorders.

For PTSD, CBT emphasizes safety, trust, control, esteem, and intimacy. Also, exposure therapy, a CBT technique that constitutes a variety of strategies, such as repeated exposure or recall of the trauma and exposure to feared real-world situations, is one of the best treatment methods to improve anxiety.

Is CBT empirically supported?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an empirically supported approach to psychotherapy. It teaches skills intended to modify maladaptive cognitions, behaviors, and physiological responses. 

Is CBT more effective than medications?

Though antidepressants are commonly the most used treatment for social anxiety disorder, studies suggest that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is more effective and, unlike medication, can have lasting effects long after treatment has stopped.

How effective is CBT compared to other treatments?

In many studies, CBT stands out as the most effective treatment for numerous mental health issues. Furthermore, CBT treatments are usually of shorter duration, and the results are more enduring than those of other treatment methods.


Cognitive behavioural therapy: Breaking the cycle. (2021, February 12). The Pharmaceutical Journal.

Breaking vicious cycle of anxiety with cognitive therapy/ and CBT. (2015, April 28). Greg Dorter Therapy Blog.

How to stop the vicious cycle – CBT and dysfunctional behaviour – Harley Therapy™ blog. (2019, October 11). Harley Therapy™ Blog.

How cognitive behavior therapy works. (2009, March 3). Verywell Mind.

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