Robert F. Mullen, PhD
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The distinction between social anxiety disorder and social anxiety is a matter of severity; reference to one includes the other. The recovery tools and techniques provided are applicable to most emotional malfunctions including depression, substance abuse, ADHD, PTSD, generalized anxiety, and issues of self-esteem and motivation. These malfunctions originate homogeneously, their trajectories differentiated by environment, experience, and the diversity of human thought and behavior.
“Dr. Mullen is doing impressive work helping the world. He is the
pioneer of proactive neuroplasticity utilizing DRNI—deliberate,
repetitive, neural information.” — WeVoice (Madrid, Málaga)
Cognitive Distortion #2
It is important to reframe the myopia of filtering and the rigidity of polarized thinking with rational responses offered by a kaleidoscope of viewpoints, interpretations, and possibilities.
Our negative core and intermediate beliefs form in response to childhood disturbance and the onset of our emotional malfunction. Core beliefs are more rigid in those of us living with social anxiety because we tend to store information compatible 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 the cognitive bias that compels 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.
Space is Limited
When we engage in filtering, we selectively choose our perspective. Because of our social anxiety coupled with our inherent negative bias, we often gravitate toward the negative aspects of a situation, ignoring 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 might be someone with an excessively cheerful or optimistic personality. Conversely, a person who emphasizes gloom and doom can be considered unhappy or defeatist. Those of us living with SAD tend to mirror the latter. We filter out the 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.
Negative filtering is one of anxiety’s most common cognitive distortions 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. We reinforce our feelings of undesirability and alienation by dwelling on the perceived critical response.
Cognitive Distortion #3
One of the symptoms of SAD is our compulsion to overanalyze our performance in a situation, mortified by our mistakes, inept interaction, or poor social skills. We preoccupy ourselves – often for days on end – with our perceptual ineptness, obsessing over what we should have done better. We persuade ourselves that unless a thing is done to perfection, it is not worth doing at all.
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 and ridicule is our self-judgment. If we are not flawless and masterful then we must be broken and useless. There is no room for mistakes or mediocrity. (“I failed my last exam. I fail at everything I try. I’m a loser.”)
To effectively challenge our tendency to filter or polarize information, we identify the situation(s) that provoke 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 our rational responses ARTs – automatic rational thoughts.
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