Could Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Have Helped Kurt Cobain Overcome Social Anxiety Disorder?

Yesterday I watched the biopic ‘About a Son’ in which Kurt Cobain discusses his childhood, music career and views on life. An edited version of 25 hours of interview tapes recorded a year before he committed suicide, the film offers some insight into the negative thought patterns that seemed to be driving Kurt towards taking his own life.

From the film  I got the impression that Kurt exhibited many of the characteristics and symptoms of someone who suffers from social anxiety disorder.

Unhappy childhood

His childhood was blighted by an unaffectionate parent and problems at school from feeling isolated and bullied by the other kids. He comments how he used to feel constantly paranoid and threatened by other people, and even had thoughts of violence because of it.

If you suffer from a lack of affection, a difficulty to connect with other people and social awkwardness then this can lead to an irrational fear, distrust or hatred of other people in adult life. And it’s believed by psychotherapists that the underlying thought processes which lead to social anxiety disorder are formed by unhappy childhood experiences.

Kurt was known to be a recluse, withdrawn and rarely engaged with other people if he could avoid it, typical symptoms of someone who suffered from social phobia.

Kurt’s answer to his troubling thoughts and his chronic stomach pains was to self medicate with opiates and heroin, which would have offered temporary escape but exasperated his problems in the long run.

A life without hope?

Nobody really knows what drove someone who was wealthy, successful and had a baby girl to feel that life was so futile that suicide was the only escape from their misery. But it’s likely that it was his inability to overcome his troubling thought patterns that made his life seem so intolerable.

Now I’m not an expert on Kurt Cobain and haven’t read any of the books on his life, but from my perspective it seems that he could have benefited from cognitive behavioural therapy.

Social phobia and other social anxiety disorders are driven by irrational, negative thought patterns. If Kurt could have been helped to understand how it was the unhelpful childhood experiences driving his subconscious hatred of people and gloomy outlook on life then maybe he could have been directed onto another path.

You feel the way that you think

The way our brains respond to the world around us is a complex puzzle which psychologists and therapists are still making sense of.

But if the brain has been programmed to think in an unhelpful way because of a troubling childhood then, with practice and patience, it can be reprogrammed to think in a more, realistic and helpful manner.

Perhaps if Kurt had learned to challenge his negative thoughts and to replace them with more objective ways of thinking then he might still be with us today, and writing more optimistic songs filled with life and hope because of it.

Image courtesy of Buzzworthy
About Matt 37 Articles
Matt suffered from social phobia throughout his teenage years right up to his mid twenties. It wasn't until visiting a doctor for help to treat his anxiety that he finally discovered he suffered from the condition. He then set about learning everything he could about it and how to overcome it. This led to him creating this website to share the strategies that helped him in the hope they would help other people.


  1. Dude……………..he didnt kill himself he was killed by a hired hand and plus where was this information o i dont know about 18 years ago man when he was still alive man

  2. Hi Charlie,

    I’ve only recently heard about the conspiracy theory on Kurt’s death, but I don’t really know enough about it to comment. I also saw a documentary recently on the death of rock stars which suggested that Kurt had repeatedly tried to overdose on purpose but his body had developed such a resistance to crack (or whatever he was taking) that he bought the shotgun as a last resort.

    Maybe if the internet had been around back then, and awareness on social anxiety was more widespread, he might have found out about CBT and worked on improving the way he thinks rather than self medicating.


  3. I know a fair bit about Kurt Cobain/Nirvana, and there is probably a lot of truth in what has been said in the article above about the possibility of him suffering some form of social anxiety disorder. However, shortly before he died, it seemed he was becoming on top of things as his stomach condition was diagnosed as pinched nerves that had caused him pain for years…resulting from childhood curvature of the spine.
    He was in the process of rebuilding his life, divorcing his wife and apparently leaving Nirvana.
    Also…his songs weren’t all that suicidal…self destructive sometimes maybe but lyrics didn’t make the music, it was mostly about melody…
    “It’s so warm and calm inside
    I no longer have to hide”
    “Things have never been so swell
    I have never felt so real”

    I think that shows at least some improvement in the thinking? I’m no expert in psychology, IF he killed himself, it could well have been that he was happy with the decision he had made…but more likely…as the song seems to state…it was just that he was happy he made the decision to leave his wife…

    “Nothing really bothers her
    She just wants to love herself”


    “No thought was put in to this
    I always knew it would come to this”

    Sorta shows that maybe it was more about his wife…and a bit self destructive…but not overly suicidal either

    Anyway, I will stop rambling now, but just felt I wanted to have some say as his music isn’t as suicidal as many think it is….and the very real feeling in it gave many people an outlet and showed them it was ok to feel the way they did…

  4. I think if Kurt Cobain had received advice about CBT and been privileged to have access to the daily articles I and others receive from Matt daily on Social Anxiety and the many ways of starting new habits to help educate ourselves as sufferers to feel better. He may have enabled himself to recognise that his thinking was irrational, self destructive and flawed. Although he was clearly a truly a gifted and yet tormented (my view) creative soul.

    Once having done so, he may then have soug ht help from true friends, relatives who loved him, aspiritual guide, self help groups or a self chosen support network to aid and guide him into beginning the healing of his openly habitual self destructive, and unchecked self medicating with drugs.

  5. Thanks Rhonda, I’m very pleased to hear you find my articles helpful. I have to say that when I watched the film on Kurt it did seem like classic symptoms of social anxiety disorder, even if at the more extreme end. luckily we know a lot more about in this day and age and Kurt didntLhave the internet to help him learn about it and what he can do to treat his uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.

  6. Get your story straight. kurt cobain had bipolar and add and had a stomch illness called chromes diease .he was also killed by a hitman that kourtney love payedwho killed him.

  7. I also think Kurt had social anxiety disorder. He had everything: talent, respect from critics and fans, fame, wealth, a baby. He was also very handsome. It was almost as if he didn’t believe like the deserved success or happiness.

    A few years back, his bandmate Krist said that Kurt believed he was ugly. He carried a photo of himself in his wallet; apparently it was the only photo in which Kurt thought he didn’t look ugly. However, it’s clear that he wasn’t ugly at all; in fact he was handsome. He had chiseled features that were symmetric and in normal proportion to each other. It was like he looked at himself with dark colored glasses that shaded his perception of himself.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Panic Attacks From Ptsd | Panic Attacks Natural Remedies

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.