Monthly Archives: November 2022

Selective Perspective

Robert F. Mullen, PhD
Director/ReChanneling

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Cognitive Distortions #3 and #4: Filtering and Polarized Thinking

Our negative core and intermediate beliefs form in response to childhood disturbance and the onset of our emotional dysfunction. Core beliefs are more rigid in those of us living with social anxiety because we tend to store information consistent with negative beliefs. Our intermediate beliefs establish our attitudes, rules, and assumptions. These beliefs govern our perceptions and, ostensibly, remain as our belief system throughout life. Even if irrational or inaccurate, our beliefs define how we see ourselves in the world. When we decline to question these beliefs, we act upon them as though they are real and reasonable, ignoring evidence that contradicts them. This produces a cognitive bias – a subconscious error in thinking that causes us to misinterpret information and make irrational decisions. 

To compound this, humans have an inherent negativity bias. We are genetically predisposed to respond more strongly to adversity, which aggravates our SAD symptoms. We anticipate the worst-case scenario. We expect criticism, ridicule, and rejection. We worry about embarrassing or humiliating ourselves. We project unpleasant outcomes that become self-fulfilling prophecies. It is not surprising that we readily turn to Filtering and Polarized Thinking to justify these irrational thought patterns. 

Filtering. When we engage in Filtering, we selectively choose our perspective. Our tunnel vision gravitates toward the negative aspects of a situation and excludes the positive. This applies to our memories as well. We dwell on the unfortunate aspects of what happened rather than the whole picture. 

A person who consistently filters out negative information is someone with an excessively cheerful or optimistic personality. Conversely, a person who emphasizes gloom and doom is unhappy or defeatist. Those of us living with SAD tend to mirror the latter. We filter out positive aspects of our life, choosing to dwell on situations and memories that support our negative self-image. This creates an emotional imbalance due to the exclusion of healthy thoughts and behaviors. We view ourselves, the world, and our future through an unforgiving lens.

Negative filtering is one of the most common cognitive distortions in anxiety because it sustains our toxic core and intermediate beliefs. Our pessimistic outlook exacerbates our feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. We accentuate the negative. A dozen people in our office celebrate our promotion; one ignores us. We obsess over the lone individual and disregard the goodwill of the rest. By dwelling on the unpleasantness, we reinforce our feelings of undesirability and alienation. 

To effectively challenge our tendency to filter information, we need to identify the situation(s) that provokes our anxiety and the corresponding ANTs (automatic negative thoughts). From there, we analyze the unsoundness of our reaction and devise a rational response. Initially, the conversion process is exacting, but with time and practice, it becomes reflexive and spontaneous. Cognitive behaviorists call it ARTs – automatic rational thoughts. 

The term maladaptive behavior was coined by Aaron Beck, the pioneer of cognitive-behavioral therapy. It is prevalent in social anxiety disorder. Maladaptive means we tend to adapt wrongly (negatively) to situations. We must remain mindful that our symptoms encourage a negative perspective and adjust accordingly.

Polarized Thinking. One of the symptoms of SAD is our compulsion to overanalyze our performance in a situation, tormented by our mistakes, our inept interaction, or our poor conversation skills. We preoccupy ourselves – often for days on end – with everything we think we did wrong, obsessing over what we should have done better. We tell ourselves unless a thing is done to perfection, it is not worth doing at all.

Perfectionism is not just the desire to do well; it is the need to be infallible. If we can’t be perfect, there is little point in bothering. Perfectionism exacerbates our social anxiety. We worry about appearing vacuous or inadequate, fearing exposure of our imperfections. 

In Polarized Thinking, we see things as absolute – black or white. There is no middle ground, no compromise. We are either brilliant or abject failures. Our friends are for us or against us. We do not allow room for balanced perspectives or outcomes. We refuse to give people the benefit of the doubt. Worse than our anxiety about criticism is our self-judgment. If we are not flawless and masterful, we must be broken and inept. There is no room for mistakes or mediocrity, “I failed my last exam; I fail at everything I try. I’m a loser.”

Perfection is a futile pursuit because it is impossible to attain. In the last chapter, we talked about the criteria for healthy and effective neural information – that it be rational, possible, and reasonable. Perfectionism fulfills none of these.

Like Filtering, Polarized Thinking is selective. To remedy our dichotomous perspective, we identify the anxiety-provoking situation and examine our corresponding fears and automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). From there, we analyze their inaccuracy and initiate rational responses

It is important to consider the holism and multiple perspectives of life’s events and replace the myopia of Filtering and the rigidity of Polarized Thinking with the kaleidoscope of viewpoints, interpretations, and possibilities.

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WHY IS YOUR SUPPORT SO IMPORTANT?  ReChanneling develops and implements programs to (1) moderate symptoms of emotional dysfunction and (2) pursue personal goals and objectives – harnessing our intrinsic aptitude for extraordinary living. Our paradigmatic approach targets the personality through empathy, collaboration, and program integration utilizing scientific and clinically practical methods including proactive neuroplasticity, cognitive-behavioral modification, positive psychology, and techniques designed to reinvigorate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.  

Controlled or Controlling: Who’s in Charge?

Robert F. Mullen, PhD
Director/ReChanneling

Numbers generate contributions that support scholarships for workshops.

Cognitive Distortion #2: Control Fallacies

Our anxieties manifest in how we think about ourselves and how we think others think about us. We struggle with our fears of criticism and ridicule. The majority of us also live with depression, which can lead to multiple cognitive distortions like Filtering and PolarizedThinking (Chapter 10), Overgeneralization (Chapter 12), and Personalization (Chapter 14). This chapter focuses on our tendency to engage in ControlFallacies due to our SAD-induced feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. 

A fallacy is a belief based on unreliable evidence and unsound arguments. As we discussed earlier, we cognitively distort to reinforce or justify our self-beliefs and validate our irrational attitudes, rules, and assumptions – how we perceive, think, and behave.

A Control Fallacy is the conviction that (1) something or someone has power and control over things that happen to us, or (2) we hold that type of power over others. We either believe events in our lives are beyond our control, or we assume responsibility for everything.

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When we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as weak and powerless. We blame outside forces (fate, the weather, authority figures) for the adversity in our lives. We accuse our gender, race, sexuality, weight, income, and education rather than assume responsibility for our actions. A health scare becomes an act of god, the philanderer blames his wife for leaving him, and our failing grade is because our instructor has a personal grudge. 

Conversely, the fallacy of internal control is when we assume unrealistic responsibility for everything. We believe we have power and influence over other people’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. We blame ourselves for their mishaps and misfortunes. It is our fault our friend turns to drugs because we weren’t supportive. Our supervisor suffers a heart attack because we continually miss deadlines.

Both external and internal control fallacies correspond to our SAD-induced feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, undesirability, and worthlessness. 

PROACTIVE NEUROPLASTICITY YOUTUBE SERIES

We believe external forces control us because we feel powerless over what happens to us. Our sense of hopelessness tells us any effort towards remedy is futile. “They think I’m incompetent.” “She finds me unattractive.” “I don’t belong here.” We subsequently feel guilty for our inadequacy, and shame for our weakness. We wallow in self-pity, convinced that attempts at happiness are pointless. 

Our tendency to unjustifiably blame ourselves for our social anxiety disorder leads to internal control fallacies. Had we moderated our adolescent behavior, we claim, we could have prevented the onset. This leads us to believe we have control over other things we bear no responsibility for. “It’s my fault she’s unhappy.” “He drinks because I ignored him.” The belief we have let everyone down wreaks havoc on our emotional well-being and our sense of competence. 

These control fallacies inform us we are not assigning blame in the appropriate ways. We need to stop taking responsibility for problems we do not create and assume responsibility for our actions. That is only logical. Unfortunately, SAD subsists on our irrational thoughts and behaviors. Those of us living with social anxiety frequently use cognitive distortions because we feel trapped in its vicious circle, restricted from living a normal life. A fundamental component of recovery is learning how to identify our cognitive distortions and devise rational responses. 

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WHY IS YOUR SUPPORT SO IMPORTANT?  ReChanneling develops and implements programs to (1) moderate symptoms of emotional dysfunction and (2) pursue personal goals and objectives – harnessing our intrinsic aptitude for extraordinary living. Our paradigmatic approach targets the personality through empathy, collaboration, and program integration utilizing scientific and clinically practical methods including proactive neuroplasticity, cognitive-behavioral modification, positive psychology, and techniques designed to reinvigorate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.

Chapter 9: Constructing Our Neural Information

Robert F. Mullen
Director/ReChanneling

Numbers generate contributions that support scholarships for workshops.

This is a draft of Chapter Nine – “Constructing Our Neural Information’’ in ReChanneling’s upcoming book on moderating social anxiety disorder and its comorbidities. I present this as an opportunity for readers to share their ideas and constructive criticism – suggestions that I gratefully consider and evaluate as I work to ensure the most beneficial product to those with emotional dysfunction (which is all of us to some degree). Please forward your comments in the form provided below.

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Constructing Our Neural Information

“The best defense is a good offense.”
– The strategic offensive principle of war.

Proactive neuroplasticity is our ability to govern our emotional well-being through DRNI – the deliberate, repetitive, neural input of information. What is significant is how we can dramatically accelerate and consolidate learning by consciously compelling our brain to repattern its neural circuitry. DRNI empowers us to proactively transform our thoughts and behaviors, creating healthy new mindsets, skills, and abilities. 

Before delving into the construction of our neural information, let’s break DRNI down into its components so we fully understand the purpose and the process.

Deliberate. A deliberate act is a premeditated act. We initiate and control the process. Let’s review the three forms of neuroplasticity. Reactive neuroplasticity is our brain’s natural adaption to externally driven information – sounds, sights, phenomena, and the like – that impacts our neural network. Active neuroplasticity is cognitive pursuits such as dancing, yoga, or assembling a puzzle. It is not a deliberate manipulation of our neural network and is often impulsive. To be proactive is to intentionally cause something to happen rather than respond to it after it has happened. Proactive neuroplasticity is the deliberate act of reconstructing our neural network by the repetitious input of information. Its purpose is to overwhelm or replace negative and toxic neural input with healthy positive information. As psychoanalyst Otto Rank confirms in Art and the Artist, “positively willed control takes the place of negative inhibition,” 

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Repetitive is repeating something that has already been said or written – in this case, the neural information we are constructing. Common synonyms of repetitive include monotonous, tedious, and mind-numbing. The process of repetition is off-putting unless we remain mindful of its purpose, which is the positive realignment of our neural network. Not unlike the Hindu mantra and Abrahamic prayer, information takes the form of short, self-affirming, and self-motivating statements we commit to memory and repeat to expedite learning and unlearning. 

Neural input is the stimuli that impact our brain and compel its circuits to realign and create new neurons. The gateway to information, our receptor neuron, does not react to every stimulus. Our brain receives around two million bits of data per second but is capable of only processing roughly 126 bits, so it is important to provide substantial information. 

Multiple tools assist in our recovery, and we will identify them throughout this book. Coping skills to moderate our situational fears, graded exposure to ease our transition into society, and cognitive comprehension to correct our irrational assumptions. In this chapter, our focus is on the rapid and concentrated neurological stimulation that compels a sensory neuron to spark, initiating a neural chain reaction. The more repetitions, the more durable the circuits. DRNI is the quick and painless method that gets the ball rolling, so to speak.

Neural stimuli are sensory – sights, sounds, tactile impressions; mental in the form of memory, experience, and ideas; and emotional incited by images, words, and music. The neural information in proactive neuroplasticity is distinguished by its purpose – overcoming or replacing toxic with healthy information in the form of positive electrical energy. Our information determines its algorithmic conversion to negative or positive electrical energy. 

PROACTIVE NEUROPLASTICITY YOUTUBE SERIES

We begin by identifying the goal of our information. What is our intention? What do we want to achieve? Are we challenging our anxieties about a social event? Are we asking for a raise? Are we confronting the family conspiracist at Thanksgiving dinner? A firm, specific goal enables the process. 

The next step is to identify the actions or measurable steps needed to achieve the goal. Our goal is the outcome we want to achieve; the objectives are the means necessary to achieve the desired outcome. Goals and objectives work in tandem. If our goal is to challenge a feared-situation, what is our strategy, and what coping skills and other objectives do we utilize to successfully engage? 

Two hypothetical examples. The first addresses recovery from social anxiety disorder; the other empowers our capacity to challenge self-destructive behavior. 

Our recovery goal is to moderate our fears and anxieties associated with an upcoming speaking engagement. To achieve that, we provide three objectives. We will bring a support person with us, create diversionary multimedia, and accentuate a character strength such as our persuasiveness. Our empowerment goal is to quit drinking. Our objectives include joining alcoholics anonymous, finding a sponsor, and taking medication used to treat alcohol addiction. There are multiple objectives to achieve a goal. 

Now we construct our information – the self-empowering statement(s) that support our goal and objectives. To ensure its integrity, the information must be sound in its construction. Meeting the following seven criteria will help establish an effective neural response. Information must be rational, reasonable, possible, goal-focused, unconditional, brief, and in first-person present or future form.

Rational. Our overarching objective in recovery is to subvert our life-consistent negative self-beliefs and image, which stem from our core and intermediate beliefs influenced by childhood disturbance and our emotional dysfunction. We express them in our automatic negative thoughts (AMTs). For the most part, our assumptions are illogical and self-destructive. Countering them requires a rational response. If our ANT corresponds to our SAD-indued fear of ridicule or criticism, a rebuttal might be an affirmation of our significance – that our opinions and contributions are as valuable as anyone else’s.

Reasonable. Unreasonable means without reason, which is a definition of insanity. We are either sensible and of sound judgment or are cognitively impaired. The unreasonable symptoms of our emotional dysfunction are repudiated by rational response. Unreasonable aspirations and expectations impact the integrity of the information. “I will publish my first novel” is unreasonable if we choose to remain illiterate.

Possible. This is a no-brainer. Possible means it is within our power or capacity to achieve it. Because our social anxiety attacks our confidence and self-esteem, we subvert our inherent and achieved strengths and abilities. If nothing seems possible, we tend to set impossible expectations. The simple yet salient reality is, if our goals and objectives are impossible, our efforts are futile.

Goal-focused. If we do not know our destination, the path will be unfocused and meandering. Our information must focus on achieving our goals and objectives. Any deviation impacts the integrity of the information.

Unconditional. Our commitment to our information must be unequivocal. Any undertaking contingent upon something or someone else weakens our resolution. Placing restrictions on our commitment is our unconscious avoidance of accountability. Saying “I might do something” essentially means “I may or may not do something” depending upon other conditions. How comfortable are we when someone says, “I might consider paying you for your work?” 

First-person present or future. The difference between a mantra or prayer, and our information is that our neural input supports a personal goal and objectives. Our information is a self-affirming and self-motivating commitment. “I have the willpower to do this.” Future time as self-fulfilling prophecy is also fine: “I will succeed,” for example. 

Brief. Our content of information is expressed in brief statements purposed to initiate rapid, concentrated, neurological stimulation that compels the sensory neuron to spark, transmitting electrical energy into a neuron chain reaction. These affirmations also moderate our fears and anxieties about a situation and the influx of the fear and anxiety-provoking chemical hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Their brevity makes it easier to commit them to memory. Information is not static but evolving. 

The Destructive Nature of Negative Words

Words have enormous power; they influence, encourage, and destroy. While positive words boost our self-esteem and self-image, the impact of negative words contributes heavily to our toxic neural input, which is counterproductive to our recovery.

It is not just the words we say out loud in criticism and conversations. The negative words we silently call ourselves are just as damaging. Those self-descriptions that SAD provokes us into believing stupid, incompetent, ugly, and worthless.

We use them often. They are a part of our conditioning. By the age of sixteen, we have heard the word no from our parents, roughly 135,000 times. Statistics are fluid and ambiguous, but you get the drift. As best-selling author, Betty Eadie submits, “If we understood the awesome power of our words, we would prefer silence to almost anything negative.” The neurotransmission of stress-provoking chemical hormones impacts normal neural functioning, affecting our logic, reasoning, and communication. Personalized negative words impair the parts of our brain that regulate our memory, concentration, and emotions. They are psychologically and physiologically destructive. Our brains are structured around an abundance of negative information.

Negative words when used in everyday conversations are not particularly harmful, but when we apply them to our irrational attitudes, rules, and assumptions, they can be emotionally annihilating. Negative pronouns like no one, nobody, nothing, and nowhere substantiate our isolation and avoidance of relationships. Negative verbs like can’t, don’t, shouldn’t, and won’t support our sense of incompetence, while adverbs like barely, hardly, no, not, and never invalidate our commitment.

Negative words that support our negative moral emotions like guilt, embarrassment, and shame, can do even more damage. They impact the series of neural connections responsible for our decision making which causes us to act irrationally, a feature those of us living with social anxiety understand all too well.

These negative words, whether in our thoughts or speech, impede recovery. A primary recovery objective is to deliberately feed positive information into our neural network to compensate for or overwhelm decades of negative information.

Qualifying or conditional words like should, maybe, and could weaken our commitment. We either did it, are doing it, or will do it. “I should start my diet” means, maybe I will and maybe I won’t. Conditional words originate in doubt and manifest in avoidance and procrastination. Other examples include ought, must, and have to.“I will not drink at the office party” is a more robust commitment than “I shouldn’t drink at the party.”

The adverse impact of won’t and can’t is obvious. Our objective in recovery or empowerment is to replace toxic with healthy neural information. Consider the two statements: “I won’t learn much from that lecture”and“I will learn something from that lecture.” Which one offers the probability we will attend? Negative absolute words include never, impossible, and every time. “Every time I try…”

These negative and conditional words impact the integrity and efficacy of our information and must never be used. In general, it is important to recognize the destructive nature of these words and eliminate them from our self-referencing thoughts and vocabulary as much as possible. 

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Now I want you to do something for yourself. I want you to treat yourself well. Congratulate yourself for your courage and resolve. You are taking giant steps toward recovery. You have shaken your resistance to new ideas and experiences. You have been beating yourself up for too long. It’s time to take care of yourself with kindness and compassion. Be grateful for your character strengths, virtues, and achievements because they are formidable. Change how you speak to yourself. Use kind words. Embrace your inherent value and significance. You belong and deserve to be here. Do something nice for yourself.

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Comments. Suggestions. Constructive Criticism.

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WHY IS YOUR SUPPORT SO IMPORTANT?  ReChanneling develops and implements programs to (1) moderate symptoms of emotional dysfunction and (2) pursue personal goals and objectives – harnessing our intrinsic aptitude for extraordinary living. Our paradigmatic approach targets the personality through empathy, collaboration, and program integration utilizing scientific and clinically practical methods including proactive neuroplasticity, cognitive-behavioral modification, positive psychology, and techniques designed to reinvigorate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.