Monthly Archives: January 2022

Constructing Our Neural Information

Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble.Yehuda Berg

Proactive neuroplasticity is expedited by DRNI—the deliberate, repetitive, neural input of informationThe most constructive information is calculated and specific to our intention. Are we challenging the core and intermediate negative beliefs that condition our behavior and motivation? Are we focused on a specific challenge? Are we embracing our character strengths and virtues that support recovery and transformation? What is our end goal – the personal milestone we seek to achieve? Context, intention, and content determine the integrity of information and its correlation to the durability and learning efficacy of the neural response.

Context is the circumstances that form the setting for a situation and our relationship to it that generate our automatic negative thought(s). In terms of social anxiety disorder, what specifically about a situation generates our fear of criticism, ridicule, rejection, etc. Understanding the context of a situation is important to effectively challenge our ANTs. Context in the pursuit of a goal and objective are the motivations and impediments to achieving that goal.

Intention: How are we expediting our objective? What is our constructive plan of attack? If our goal is to become better educated, what are we going to study, what sources of information do we utilize? How are we going to challenge misinformation? If we are challenging our ANTs, which character strength do we emphasize, which deficits do we challenge?

Content: What are the actual words that construct our neural information—the statement that addresses the context and intention of our goal? What is the best mode of delivery that will cause the receptor neuron to spark and engage the full range of positive neural responses? 

Examples:

Context: Fear of an upcoming speaking engagement.  Intention: Emphasize our assets; challenge our deficits. ContentI am trustworthyI am regaining my confidence.

Context: My smoking is going to cause cancer. Intention. To stop smoking. Content: I have the disciplineI will stop smoking

Let’s focus on one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated techniques utilized for the context and intention-driven content of the information at the core of DRNI. 

Positive Personal Affirmations (PPAs)

Most of us drastically underestimate the significance and effectiveness of positive personal affirmations because we don’t comprehend or value the science behind them. PPAs are an astoundingly effective means of positive self-modification. PPAs are sensible reflections of our aspirations—brief, subjective statements that challenge our defeatist self-beliefs by emphasizing our character strengths, abilities, and accomplishments. Productive PPAs are rational, reasonable, possible, unconditional, goal-focused, brief, and first-person present time. 

Rational: Our objective is to subvert the irrationality of our negative self-beliefs. It is illogical to cause ourselves harm. Irrationality is self-destructive because it subverts the truth.

Reasonable: Of sound judgment; sensible. I will publish my first novel is an unreasonable expectation if we choose to remain illiterate.

Possible: If our goals are impossible, our efforts are counter-productive and futile. I will win a Grammy is not a viable option to the tone-deaf.

Unconditional: Placing limitations on our commitment by using words like maybe, might, and perhaps is our unconscious avoidance of accountability. Saying I might do something essentially means we may or may not do something depending upon our mood, circumstance, ability, and so on. How confident are we when someone says, I might consider paying you for your work?

Goal-focused: If we don’t know our destination, our path will be unfocused and meandering.

First-person, present time: The past is immutable, the future indeterminate. Our actions can only happen in the present. 

Brevity: PPAs should be simple, unconditional, forthright statements that are readily memorized. An effective DRNI program recommends verbalizing three consecutive PPA’s, repeated throughout the day. These are modified as we progress in our quest.

Diligently repeating positive personal affirmations accelerates and consolidates learning and unlearning. It increases activity in the self-processing systems of the cortex, which counteracts years of negative neural input. It decreases the fear and anxiety hormones of cortisol and adrenaline while transmitting pleasurable chemicals and hormones that generate the incentive to endure the tedious, repetitive input of information.  

The reciprocating energy from repetitive PPAs is abundant due to the amplified neural response. Positive energy in, positive energy multiplied millions of times, positive energy reciprocated in abundance. Each neural input of information can impact millions of neurons as they restructure our neural network to a form conducive to a positive self-image. 

Many psychologists recommend delivering PPAs in front of a mirror. Our reflection is a distraction, however, which devalues the integrity of the process. PPAs can be executed while showering, cooking, or walking. Inputting our PPAs before sleep is an excellent option.

Examples of Positive Personal Affirmations:

  • I am successful
  • I am confident
  • I deserve to be loved
  • I am powerful
  • I am a good person
  • I am motivated
  • I am unique
  • All I need is within me
  • I am strong
  • I am focused and determined
  • I am not defined by my past
  • I am in charge of my life
  • I have the power to change
  • I determine my future

Affirmative Visualization

There are multiple psychological approaches to Visualization. Covert Conditioning focuses on eliminating a bad habit by imaginary repetition of the behavior, i.e., smoking, shoplifting. Covert Sensitization and Covert Extinction encourage repeated confrontation of our fears and apprehensions. In Covert Modeling, we choose a positive role model to visually emulate (like what we might incorporate into our Persona).

The most effective PPA is visualized as we verbalize it. When we intone the statement, I am powerful, it is helpful to imagine the situation (context) where this is applicable. PPAs can be silent in situations that prevent verbalization such as the classroom or silent retreat. The distinction between verbalization and visualization is the power of sound. However, each method impacts our neural receptors, initiating the positive chain reaction.

Both PPAs and visualization are supported by the Laws of Learning, which explain what conditions must be present for learning (or unlearning) to occur and how to accelerate and consolidate the process through proactive neuroplasticity.  

The brain is in a constant mode of learning; it never stops realigning to new information. It forms a million new connections for each input. Information includes experience, muscle movement, a decision, a memory, emotion, reaction, noise, tactile impressions, a twitch. With each input, connections strengthen and weaken, neurons atrophy/others are born, learning replaces unlearning, energy dissipates and expands, chemicals and hormones are transmitted, functions shift from one region to another. Proactively stimulating our brain with deliberate, repetitive neural information via PPAs and Affirmative Visualization accelerates and consolidates learning (and unlearning), producing a correlated change in thought, behavior, and perspective. These changes become habitual and spontaneous over time.  

Our brain creates the same neural restructuring when we visualize doing something or when we verbalize it; the same regions of the brain are stimulated. Just as our neural network doesn’t distinguish between rational and toxic information, it also doesn’t distinguish whether we are physically experiencing something or imagining it. 

The thalamus is the small structure within the brain located just above the brain stem between the cerebral cortex and the midbrain and has extensive nerve connections to both. All information passes through the thalamus as it is relayed to other parts of the brain. By visualizing an idea or performance repeatedly for an extended period, we increase activity in the thalamus and our brain begins to respond as though the idea was a real object or actual happening.

The thalamus makes no distinction between inner and outer realities. It does not distinguish whether we are imagining something or experiencing it. Thus, any idea, if contemplated long enough, will take on a semblance of reality. If we visualize a possible solution to a problem, the problem is more easily resolved because it specifically activates cognitive circuits involved with working memory.

We can visualize mitigating our anxiety and performing better, or we can envision being a more empathetic person. In either case, our neural repatterning will help us achieve those goals. The more we visualize with a clear intent the more focused we become and the higher the probability of achieving our goal. Our dopaminergic-reward system is activated, decreasing the anxiety and fear-provoking hormones that relax us, and providing those that make learning more accessible. In addition, when we visualize, our brain generates alpha waves which, neuroscientists have discovered, also reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Mindfulness (comprehension and acceptance)

Accepting scientific validity to the enormous benefits of PPAs makes it easier to endure the tedious, calculated regimen of deliberate, repetitive, neural information. The process is simple in theory but challenging due to the commitment and endurance required for the long-term process. We do not put on tennis shorts and advance to Wimbledon without decades of practice with racket and balls; philharmonics cater to pianists who have spent some time at the keyboard. We can possess all the required tools, but they need to come out of the shed. Not only is DRNI repetitious and tedious, but it also fails to deliver immediate tangible results, causing us to readily concede defeat and abandon hope in this era of instant gratification. PPAs are one of the most effective means of replacing or overcoming the years of negative self-beliefs expressed in our ANTs. They dramatically accelerate and consolidate learning (and unlearning). If the science isn’t clear or we doubt the evidence, we must resolve these concerns; proactive neuroplasticity is the foundation of our recovery and our pursuit of goals and objectives. 

Recommendation. Create three viable PPAs following the guidelines (rational, reasonable, possible, unconditional, goal-focused, brief, and first-person present time). Repeat them out loud five times, a minimum of three times daily (or any variation that achieves the same results). This process consumes less than three minutes of our time; the positive impact on our neural network is immeasurable. As we deliver each PPA, we visualize sparking the fuse that propels the fireworks shell into the sky where it explodes in a dazzling and powerful array of colors and lights, enhanced by the whistles, bangs, and staccato pops of joy and celebration. Thus our neural receptor sparks the electrical transmission through its neural pathway, engaging millions upon millions of participating neurons in a positive cellular chain reaction.

The Power of the Word

We all carry an abundance of justifiable reasons for our anxiety to commit, among them physiological aversion, negative self-image, and the prejudice of our peers. We express this reticence in our automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). There are categories of words that impede recovery and the pursuit of goals and objectives. Pressure, conditional, and negative absolute words are unconscious evidence of our resistance to commitment and accountability.

Pressure words like should and would equivocate our commitment. I should start my diet essentially means, maybe I will and maybe I won’t. It allows us to change our minds, procrastinate, and fail. It unbinds us to action. We are either on a diet or will be on a diet. The pressure comes from the guilt of having done nothing (I should’ve done that). 

I shouldn’t drink at the office party. I will not drink at the office party. 

Negative Absolute Words. The adverse impact of won’t, can’t, never, etc. is obvious. Our objective in recovery or self-development is to replace our ingrained ANTs with positive, affirming, productive ones. Hate is an extremely destructive sentiment. (I hate doing the dishes.) Do we really, or do we just dislike doing the dishes? Hate is an emotion; dislike is a feeling. Feelings quickly dissipate while emotions metastasize within us.

I won’t enjoy that lecture. I will learn from that lecture. (Which one offers the probability we will attend?)

Conditional words such as possibly, maybe, might add ambiguity to our commitment. We either did it, are doing it, or will do it. Qualifying or conditional words are pre-justifications for our failures. (I might have won if only … )

I might begin my diet tomorrow. I will start my diet tomorrow.

Pressure Words

  • should, should’ve
  • would, would’ve
  • must
  • have to, got to
  • ought to

Negative Absolutes

  • won’t
  • can’t
  • never
  • impossible
  • every time

Conditional Words

  • possiby
  • maybe
  • could, might
  • perhaps
  • sometime

These words are self-fulfilling prophecies of our inaction. It is important to become mindful of our dependency on these self-destructive words and eliminate them from our thoughts and vocabulary. 

Why is your support essential? ReChanneling is dedicated to researching methods to (1) alleviate symptoms of dysfunction (disorder) and discomfort (neurosis) that impact an individual’s emotional wellbeing and quality of life, (2) pursue personal goals and objectives—eliminating a bad habit, self-transformation—harnessing our intrinsic aptitude for extraordinary living. Its paradigmatic approach targets the personality through empathy, collaboration, and program integration utilizing scientific and historically, clinically practical methods including proactive neuroplasticity, cognitive-behavioral therapy, positive psychology, and techniques designed to compel the recovery and reinvigoration of self-esteem disrupted by the adolescent onset of dysfunction. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.

Updates and Happenings at ReChanneling

by Matty Savenkow.

This is a reposting from my personal website MattySaven.

As I continue to work on the last three hours of the recovery workshop I’m reviewing, I want to update you on what’s been happening with me and ReChanneling in the last couple of months. Academia.edu is currently offering two ReChanneling courses: Neuroscience and Happiness: A Guide to Neuroplasticity and Positive Behavioral Change and Social Anxiety in the LGBTQ+ Community. I designed the multiple slides for each 90-minute, four-installment course.

You must be a member of Academia.edu to attend these courses, but the organization provides a 50% membership discount when you enroll.

A Canadian mental health website published Proactive Neuroplasticity and Positive Behavioral Change, which we have reposted to the ReChanneling website and there are several new posts as well: 

… and, of course, everything on the ReChanneling website is constantly updated as the program continues to evolve and flourish.

Currently, I am working on the graphics for a series of upcoming YouTube tutorials on the science and utilization of Proactive Neuroplasticity and DRNI – the deliberate, repetitive neural input of information. The tutorials will be uploaded, weekly, beginning the latter part of this month. 

Meanwhile, ReChanneling has created two new discussion groups: ReChanneling: Recovery and Empowerment and Social Anxiety and Proactive Neuroplasticity.

Finally, Palgrave MacMillan published Dr. Mullen’s latest work, Broadening the Parameters of the Psychobiography. The Extraordinariness of the ‘Ordinary’ Extraordinary (pp. 285-301) in C.-E. Mayer, P. Fouche, R. van Niekerk (eds.) Psychobiographical Illustrations on Meaning and Identity in Sociocultural Contexts. 

You can access his other publications in the Value of Psychobiography.

The Value of Psychobiography

Abstractions of Intent: How a Psychobiography Grapples with the Fluidity of Truth
Broadening the Parameters of the Psychobiography: The Character Motivations of the ‘Ordinary’ Extraordinary

Robert F. Mullen, Ph.D.

Just published: “Broadening the Parameters of the Psychobiography: The Character Motivations of the ‘Ordinary’ Extraordinary”  in C-H Mayer, P. J. P. Fouché, R. Van Niekerk (eds.) Psychobiographical Illustrations on Meaning and Identity in Sociocultural Contexts from Palgrave MacMillan.

The Psychobiography

A psychobiography is a biographical study focusing on psychological factors, such as childhood disturbances and unconscious motives. It studies the character strengths, virtues, and attributes that generate the motivation, persistence, and perseverance to pursue our goals and objectives and attain optimum functioning. The psychobiography utilizes an integration of psychodynamic or psychoanalytic approaches including individual history, case study, data collection, hermeneutics, and narrative. Originally directed towards historically significant individuals, it is now used to research methods to (1) alleviate symptoms of dysfunction (disorder) and discomfort (neurosis) that impact an individual’s emotional wellbeing and quality of life, (2) pursue personal goals and objectives—eliminating a bad habit, self-transformation—harnessing our intrinsic aptitude for extraordinary living. 

Other Publications

Enlisting Positive Psychologies to Challenge Love within SAD’s Culture of Maladaptive Self-Beliefs in C.-E. Mayer, E. Vanderheiden (eds.) International Handbook of Love: Transcultural and Transdisciplinary Perspectives. Insight into the relationship deficits experienced by people with SAD. Their innate need-for-intimacy is no less dynamic than that of any individual, but their impairment disrupts the ability (means-of-acquisition) to establish affectional bonds in almost any capacity. Now available from Amazon and other fine booksellers. The prepublication draft can be accessed here.

The Art of Authenticity: Constantin Stanislavski and Merleau-PontyJournal of Literature and Art Studies, 6 (7):790-803 (2016). doi:10.17265/2159-5836/2016.07.010. 

Utilizing Stanislavski’s method for authentic stage acting to address our volatile emotions to deconstruct and better understand and control them. 

Establishing a Wellness Model for LGBTQ+ Persons with Anxiety and Depression. Academia.edu, Researchgate.com. doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.17550.38728

The wellness model’s emphasis on character strengths, virtues, and attributes not only positively impacts the self-beliefs and image of a mentally ill person but resonates in sexual and gender-based identities and portends well, the recovery-remission of an LGBTQ+ person.

Holy Stigmata, Anorexia, and Self-Mutilation: Parallels in Pain and Imagining. Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, 9:25, 2010.   

Addresses the types of personalities that engage in self-mutilation and how some manipulate their self-inflicted pain for healing and empowerment.

Additional Publications

(2020) A Wellness Model of Recovery-Remission from Mental Illness in the 21st Century. Academia.edu, Researchgate.com. doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.13413.22244

(2018) Debunking the Origins of Morality; the Individual’s Commitment to Humanity, Academia.edu.

(2018) Aurobindo’s Supermind, Teilhard’s Omega Point & Plato’s Doctrine of Recollection, Academia.edu.

(2014) Evolutionary Panentheism and Metanormal Human Capacity.  California Institute of Integral Studies, 2014, 355; 3680241. https://www.scribd.com/document/348881976/..

(2012) Aristotle and the Natural Slave: The Athenian Relationship with India, Mithras Reader Vol III: An Academic and Religious Journal of Greek, Roman and Persian Studies.

Why is your support essential? ReChanneling is dedicated to researching methods to (1) alleviate symptoms of dysfunction (disorder) and discomfort (neurosis) that impact an individual’s emotional wellbeing and quality of life, (2) pursue personal goals and objectives—eliminating a bad habit, self-transformation—harnessing our intrinsic aptitude for extraordinary living. Its paradigmatic approach targets the personality through empathy, collaboration, and program integration utilizing scientific and historically, clinically practical methods including proactive neuroplasticity, cognitive-behavioral therapy, positive psychology, and techniques designed to compel the recovery and reinvigoration of self-esteem disrupted by the adolescent onset of dysfunction. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.

The Trajectory of Self-Defeat

ANTs, ARTs, and Dysfunctional Assumptions

Robert F. Mullen, Ph.D.

Automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) are anxiety-provoking, involuntary thoughts that occur in anticipation of and response to specific situations. They are manifestations of irrational self-beliefs about who we are and how we relate to others, the world, and the future. Often amplified by anxiety and depression, ANTs not only impact our emotional wellbeing and quality of life but impede our pursuit of goals and objectives, due to the negative core and intermediate self-beliefs that cultivate them. ANT’s generally lead to irrational or maladaptive behaviors. Proactive Neuroplasticity overcomes or replaces our ANTs with ARTs (automatic rational thoughts.

The trajectory of our ANT’s begins at the evolution of our core beliefs.

Origins of Our Core Beliefs

Our core beliefs are determined by childhood physiological and experiential factors–our sex, health, and hereditary constitutions coupled with our information input: experience, environment, learning, familial, and so on. In rare instances, core beliefs can develop later in life during stressful or traumatic periods.

Negative core beliefs are generated by childhood neglect or exploitation–generic terms used to describe a broad spectrum of offenses that interfere with the optimal physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development of the child. In his seminal hierarchy of needs, Abraham Maslow defines factors that correlate to our core beliefs. The earliest are the physiological needs of food, water, warmth, and rest, followed by personal security and health, and the opportunity to experience love and a sense of belonging.

The cumulative evidence this lacuna of developmental needs is the primary causal factor in lifetime emotional instability has been well-established. A sense of detachment, exploitation, and or abandonment fosters negative core beliefs that impact our self-esteem which harbors our positive self-properties: self -esteem, -compassion, -love, -regard, -respect, -value.

Core Beliefs

Core beliefs remain as our belief system throughout life unless they are challenged and replaced with new and compelling information. Modifying or evolving core beliefs is challenging; new ideas and concepts are often contrary to our core beliefs which are engrained in the way we interpret reality. We consider them to be ultimate truths and tend to refute information that disputes them.

Any number of things can generate a negative core belief. Perhaps parents are controlling or do not provide emotional validation. Maybe we are subjected to bullying or a broken home. It is tenable no one is intentionally responsible. A child whose parental quality time is disrupted by a phone call can sense abandonment which can generate a core belief of unworthiness or insignificance. Even if a core belief is irrational or inaccurate, it still defines how we see the world. Harmful core beliefs can easily lead to self-destructive thoughts and behaviors.

Core beliefs are more rigid and exclusive in individuals onset with dysfunction because we tend to store information consistent with negative beliefs and ignore evidence that contradicts them. Most dysfunctions generate a cognitive bias—a subconscious error in thinking that leads us to misinterpret information, impacting the rationality and accuracy of our perspectives and decisions. Simply put, core beliefs are the unquestioned underlying themes that govern our perceptions. Because we decline to question our core beliefs, we act upon them as though they are real and true.

Positive core beliefs are healthy, rational appraisals of self, others, and the world at large. Negative core beliefs fall into two primary categories: self-oriented (I am unlovable) or other-oriented  (you are untrustworthy ).

Negative Core Beliefs: Self-Oriented.

Interpersonal: In pioneering methods widely used to address depression and anxiety, Aaron Beck identified three categories of negative interpersonal core beliefs: helplessness, unlovability (undesirability), and worthlessness. The helplessness category includes beliefs associated with personal incompetence, vulnerability, and inferiority  I am weak). The main thrust of undesirability is the belief or fear that we are incapable of obtaining desired intimacy and attention (No one will ever love me). The worthlessness category is a self-devaluing that causes us to feel useless and insignificant (I don’t deserve to be happy). These negative self-beliefs can result in an inability to trust, and fears of intimacy and commitment. Also, debilitating anxiety, codependence, aggression, feelings of insecurity, isolation, the lack of control over life, and a resistance to new experiences. 

Achievement: A negative achievement core belief challenges our pursuit of personal goals and objectives. A core belief we are incompetent or stupid (I’m a loser) poses a severe emotional hurdle that can dramatically impede accepting new ideas and concepts necessary for modification and achievement. When we experience automatic negative thoughts like I’m stupid or I’ll make a fool of myself when about to give a presentation or enter a conversation, anxiety and fear can overwhelm us, dominating how we respond to the situation.

Helplessness

  • I am fragile.
  • I am a loser
  • I am incompetent.

Undesirability

  • No one liikes me.
  • I will always be alone.
  • I am unattractive.

Worthlessness

  • I am insignificant.
  • I am useless.
  • I can’t do anything right.

Negative Core Beliefs: Other-Oriented

People with negative core beliefs about others often view people as demeaning, dismissive, malicious, and manipulative. We tend to blame others for our condition, avoiding personal responsibility (I can’t trust anyone). This can generate serious anxiety towards situations we perceive as potentially dangerous and cause us to avoid others in anticipation of harm (common symptoms of social anxiety).

Intermediate Beliefs 

Core beliefs generate our intermediate beliefs, which are related to our attitudes, rules, and assumptions. Considering the overlapping and ambiguous definitions of the three, we find that attitude refers to our emotions, beliefs, and behaviors toward a particular situation. Rules are the current principles or regulations we adhere to or adopt to guide our thoughts and subsequently influence our behaviors. Combining them, we create the assumption that something is factual or actual. 

An intermediate belief is more specific than a core belief; it is confirmation of it and or a hypothesis of resolution. A corresponding intermediate confirmation of the core belief, I am undesirable might be, I am unattractive and fat. A corresponding intermediate resolution might be, If I diet and have my nose fixed, I will be desirable.

Dysfunctional assumptions caused by our negative intermediate beliefs, and consequential to our negative core beliefs, generate our ANTs (automatic negative thoughts).

ANTs

Automatic thoughts are images or emotional reactions that occur in response to a particular situation. They are involuntary rather than the result of deliberation. Usually, we are unaware they are happening because we’ve become accustomed to them. Automatic thoughts are constant and effortless, directly impacting our mood, emotions, and behaviors. 

Automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) are the expressions of our dysfunctional assumptions and distorted beliefs about a situation that we accept as true. For example, the situational automatic negative thought (I am ugly and fat and no one will like me) is a consequence of our core belief (I am undesirable), and our intermediate belief (I am unattractive and fat). This negative self-appraisal can elicit an endless feedback loop of hopelessness, worthlessness, and undesirability, leading to substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem. 

Maladaptive Self-Beliefs.

Defined as peculiar to social anxiety, maladaptive self-beliefs are essentially synonymous with ANTs and cognitive distortions. We find ourselves in a supportive and approving environment, but our social anxiety tells us we are the subject of ridicule, dislike, and disparagement. Our dysfunction distorts our perception and we ‘adapt’ negatively (maladapt) to a positive situation. To analogize, if the room is sunny and welcoming, our maladaptive self-belief informs us it is dark and unapproving. Even when we know our fears and apprehensions are irrational, their emotional impact is so great, our dysfunctional assumptions run roughshod over any healthy, rational response. 

Cognitive Distortions see list

Cognitive distortions define the ANT. I am ugly and fat and no one will like me is a distorted and irrational statement. It is Jumping to Conclusionsassuming you know what another person is feeling and thinking, and exactly why they act the way they do. There is also some Emotional Reasoning, Labeling/Mislabeling, and Personalization supporting the statement. Cognitive distortions tend to blend and overlap much like the symptoms and characteristics of most dysfunctions.

Cognitive distortions are psychologically defined as exaggerated or irrational thought patterns involved in the onset or perpetuation of psychopathological states. We all engage in cognitive distortions and are generally unaware of doing so. Cognitive distortions are thoughts that cause us to perceive or present reality inaccurately. They reinforce or justify our negative thinking and behaviors. We convince ourselves these false and inaccurate thoughts and reactions are the truth of a situation. Often defined synonymously with ANTs, not all ANTs are cognitive distortions.

  1. Origin of Core Belief: A sense of abandonment.
  2. Core Belief: I am undesirable.
  3. Intermediate Belief (Confirmation): I am unattractive and fat.
  4. Intermediate Belief (Resolution): If I diet and have my nose fixed, I will be desirable.
  5. ANT (automatic negative thought): I am ugly and fat and no one will like me.
  6. Cognitive Distortion: Jumping to Conclusions.

Let’s look at some of the ways our dysfunctional assumptions compel us to cognitively distort our response to a situation.

Our coworker, who has the same responsibilities as we do, is promoted to supervisor. We have been with the firm longer. We become angry and resentful—a common response to this situation. It’s also a cognitive distortion called Fallacy of Fairness (the unrealistic assumption that life should be fair). Things don’t always work in our favor even when they should.

Let’s revise that scenario. We are the employee getting the promotion. Our coworkers stop by our desk to congratulate us except for two. We devalue the good wishes of our associates and obsess on the rebellious, deeming them personae non grata. Notwithstanding the multiple causes of our thought processes, we are practicing Filtering (selectively magnifying the negative details while filtering out the positive aspects of a situation).

We sense our new relationship is going poorly. We feel our partner is overly critical and doesn’t take us seriously enough. We decide to break up the relationship in anticipation of being dumped. There are a number of cognitive distortions compelling our behavior. We might be Jumping to Conclusions (forming an opinion assuming we know what another person is feeling and thinking).  Or, perhaps this situation has occurred before; then our cognitive distortion might be Overgeneralization (if something bad happens once, we anticipate it will happen over and over again). We might be Catastrophizing (blowing the situation out of proportion, imagining the worst).

It is helpful to be aware of these distortions because they drive us to analyze the underlying causes of our behavior. It’s also crucial to know the symptoms of our dysfunction and how they impact us. Multiple characteristics of social anxiety disorder, for example, can cause us to act self-destructively.

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario. As a toddler at the playground, we became aware of the sudden disappearance of our mother, triggering an attack of abandonment. Notwithstanding the fact our mother was briefly hidden from view, talking to a neighbor, our reaction generated core beliefs of unworthiness and a distrust of others which evolved into similar intermediate beliefs. Now we find ourselves projecting an ANT that devalues us and our hopes of intimacy. (I’m not worth anyone’s attention). Imagine that flashing through your mind just as you are about to enter a room.

Sun Tsu’s adage has been repeated ad nauseum, but its underlying message is ever relevant. If you know the enemy (your dysfunctional assumptions and cognitive distortions) and yourself (the underlying cause or motivators of your behaviors), you need not fear the result of a hundred battles).

Converting ANTs to ARTs (Automatic Rational Thoughts)

Replacing or overcoming ANTs with ARTs is a simple process, albeit challenging due to our dysfunctional self-beliefs, our natural aversion to change, and the commitment and endurance required for the long-term, repetitive process of proactive neuroplasticity. The first objective is learning to identify our automatic negative thoughts, their sources, and corresponding cognitive distortion. Social anxiety coerces incredibly strong negative feelings about our competence, worthiness, and desirability. In order to make a change, we need to recognize these irrational beliefs, challenge them, and replace them with our existing strengths, virtues, and attributes.

In groups and workshops, we initiate the process of proactive neuroplasticity through the deliberate, repetitive, neural input of information (DRNI) utilizing cognitive-behavioral modification, positive psychologies, and approaches that facilitate the recovery and reinvigoration of our self-esteem. 

Cognitive Distortions

1.  Filtering. Selectively choosing your facts. A person engaging in filtering takes the negative details and magnifies those details while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their vision of reality becomes darkened or distorted. When a cognitive filter is applied, the person sees only the negative and ignores anything positive.

2.  Polarized Thinking. It’s either this or that; no compromise. In polarized thinking, things are either black-or-white—all or nothing. There’s no middle ground. We have to be perfect or we’re a complete and abject failure. A person with polarized thinking places people or situations in either/or categories, with no shades of gray or allowing for the complexity of most people and most situations. A person with black-and-white thinking sees things only in extremes.

3.  Overgeneralization. This happened; therefore, it happens all the time. In this cognitive distortion, a person comes to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens just once, they expect it to happen over and over again. A person may see a single, unpleasant event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat. For instance, if a student gets a poor grade on one paper in one semester, they conclude they are a horrible student and should quit school. She ignored me; everyone in the room will ignore me.

4.  Control Fallacies. Blaming yourself or another for things over which you have no control. (1) Blaming yourself for things beyond your control; (2) blaming another for things beyond their control. (1) Mary’s car is rear-ended by an inattentive driver, but she blames herself for leaving the house later than planned. (2) John blamed his wife for getting cancer. Both aspects can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and distress. These feelings can cause you to think negative thoughts about yourself, leading to more distress and negative thought patterns.

5.  Fallacy of Fairness. The unrealistic assumption that life should be fair. In the fallacy of fairness, a person feels resentful because they think that they know what is fair, but other people won’t agree with them. Because life isn’t fair, things do not always work in our favor even when they should. There is always a perceived unfairness when something goes someone else’s way and not ours. Fairness, however, is subjective. When something goes against our perceptions of fairness, it can manifest in anger, hopelessness, a sense of rejection, and more. It’s not fair I have social anxiety disorder.

6.  Always Being Right. I’m right and you’re wrong. When a person engages in this distortion, they are continually trying to convince others that their own opinions are the absolute correct ones. To a person engaging in always being right, being wrong is unthinkable — and they will go to great lengths to support their statements, irrational or otherwise. Being right is more important than the truth or the feelings of others. Being right supersedes everything, even logic. This is especially prevalent in social anxiety because, deep down, our dysfunction tells us we’re incompetent or stupid, and we go to irrational lengths to prove otherwise. I don’t care what you say; I know I’m right. I read it on the internet.

7.  Shouldas. Pseudo commitmentsShould statements (I should do this, and I should’ve done that). When self-applied, it appears as guilt; when directed towards another, it’s blaming or shaming, often accompanied by anger, frustration, and resentment. A person employing conditional statements like should, shouldn’t, must, and oughta usually end up feeling guilty when they accomplish nothing. I really should exercise, and I must start my diet are escape substitutes for I am exercising, and I will start my diet. 

8.  Blaming. External blaming is when a person holds other people responsible for their emotional pain. Internal blaming is taking responsibility for problems over which they have no control.  For example, ‘Stop making me feel bad about myself!’  Nobody can make us feel any particular way — only we have control over our emotional reactions.

9.  Jumping to Conclusions. An opinion unsupported by fact. Jumping to Conclusions is forming an opinion without having the facts to substantiate it. A person who jumps to conclusions assumes they know what another person is feeling and thinking — and exactly why they act the way they do. SAD persons, in particular, assume people are judging or ridiculing them, or making negative evaluations as if they can read their minds. 

10.  Catastrophizing. The sky is falling, the sky is fallingWhen a person engages in catastrophizing, they expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also referred to as magnifying, and can also come out in its opposite behavior, minimizing. In this distortion, a person hears about a problem and blows it out of proportion, imagining the worst. For example, a person might exaggerate the gravity of an insignificant event (such as their mistake, or someone else’s achievement). Or they may minimize their noteworthy achievements. 

11.  Personalization. It’s gotta be my fault. Personalization is when a person believes that everything others do or say is some kind of direct, personal reaction to them. They take everything personally, even when something is not meant in that way. A person who experiences this kind of thinking will also compare themselves to others, trying to determine who is smarter, better looking, etc. A person engaging in personalization may take personal responsibility for things over which they have little to no control. ‘My friend is in a bad mood; what did I do wrong?’ 

12.  Emotional Reasoning. My gut tells me that … Relying on gut feelings over objective evidence to judge yourself and the world. Especially harmful to someone with social anxiety disorder because our dysfunction has generated an irrational perspective and negative self-image.  I feel like I don’t know how to be a friend; therefore, I must be a bad friend. 

13.  Labeling/mislabeling. I’m stupid, she’s lazy. We define ourselves and others with negative labels. In assigning labels, you focus on one past behavior or event. Your co-worker is lazy because they came to work late. You’re stupid because you failed the math test.

Dr. Mullen is director of ReChanneling Inc, dedicated to researching methods to (1) alleviate symptoms of dysfunction (disorder) and discomfort (neurosis) that impact an individual’s emotional wellbeing and quality of life, (2) pursue personal goals and objectives—eliminating a bad habit, self-transformation—harnessing our intrinsic aptitude for extraordinary living.

Why is your support essential? ReChanneling is dedicated to researching methods to (1) alleviate symptoms of dysfunction (disorder) and discomfort (neurosis) that impact an individual’s emotional wellbeing and quality of life, (2) pursue personal goals and objectives—eliminating a bad habit, self-transformation—harnessing our intrinsic aptitude for extraordinary living. Its paradigmatic approach targets the personality through empathy, collaboration, and program integration utilizing scientific and historically, clinically practical methods including proactive neuroplasticity, cognitive-behavioral therapy, positive psychology, and techniques designed to compel the recovery and reinvigoration of self-esteem disrupted by the adolescent onset of dysfunction. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.