Robert F.Mullen, PhD
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This is a draft of Chapter Thirteen – “Strategizing Our Recovery” in ReChanneling’s upcoming book on moderating social anxiety disorder and its comorbidities. We present this as an opportunity for readers to share their ideas and constructive criticism – suggestions gratefully considered and evaluated as we 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.
Strategizing Our Recovery
“Success depends upon previous preparation,
and without such preparation, there is sure to be failure.”
We are at war and social anxiety disorder is the enemy. Successfully challenging our fears and anxieties requires a strategy. A military strategist is someone skilled in planning the best way to gain an advantage against the enemy to achieve success. As strategists, we identify the vulnerabilities of the enemy and our wherewithal to exploit them. We build the case and create the blueprint for successful engagement. We develop the weapons, propagandize our neural network, and define the territory. Our strategy, skills, and abilities are our weapons. We lead the forces of recovery; no one else can do that for us. Strategist Sun Tzu wrote extensively about enemy terrain and accessibility – entangling ground. narrow passes, and precipitous heights. The hostile terrain is our life-consistent negative thoughts and behaviors. To successfully negotiate it we utilize our strengths, virtues, and achievements.
Before presenting the Nine-Stops for Rational Response, we have additional key definitions to assimilate.
Once again, a Situation is a set of circumstances – the facts, conditions, and incidents affecting us at a particular time in a particular place. A Feared-Situation is one that provokes fears and anxieties that negatively impact our emotional well-being and quality of life. Examples range from restaurants and the classroom to job interviews and social events.
There are two types of situations. Anticipated and recurring situations are those that we know, in advance, provoke our fears and anxieties. Unexpected situations are those we do not anticipate.
Automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) are anxiety-provoking thoughts, emotions, and images that occur in anticipation of or reaction to a situation. We touched upon them in Chapter 5. They are the unpleasant expressions of our negative self-beliefs that define who we are and how we relate to others, the world, and the future. (“I’m incompetent.” “No one will talk to me.” “I’ll do something stupid.” “I’m a loser.”)
Identifying situations and unpacking associated fears and ANTs are crucial to recovery.
Space is Limited
As individuals living with social anxiety disorder and its comorbidities, we are challenged by a series of symptoms. Individually, we are not impacted by all of them or by the same ones as others living with SAD. Our issues are as distinctive as our experiences and personalities. The approaches to recovery are targeted to meet these individual needs. Notwithstanding our differences, the Nine-Stop Process for Rational Response works for all anticipated and recurring situations and provides a fluid template for unexpected ones. Moderating our associated fears and corresponding ANTs demands an integrated and targeted approach supported by personal revelation, evaluation, and implementation. Through the following steps, we learn to:
Identify our Feared Situation(s). Where are we when we feel anxious or fearful and what activities are involved (what are we thinking, what might we be doing)? Who and what do we avoid because of these insecure feelings?
Identify our Associated Fear(s). One way to identify our anxiety is to ask ourselves the following: What is problematic for me in the situation? How do I feel (physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually)? What is my specific concern or worry? What is the worst thing that could happen to me? What do I imagine might happen to me?
Unmask our Corresponding ANT(s). We determine how we express our anxiety. What are our involuntary emotional expressions or images? It helps to visualize the situation and our associated feared reactions. What do we tell ourselves? “No one will talk to me.” I’ll say something stupid.” “I’m a loser.”
Examine and Analyze Our Fear(s) and Corresponding ANTs. What are the causes and trajectory of the negative self-beliefs that precipitate our fears and anxieties? Discovery approaches include cognitive-behavioral modification, cognitive comprehension, introspection, and the vertical arrow technique. Psychoanalysis can help us discover the origins, but recovery is a here-and-now solution
Generate Rational Responses. Through recovery approaches, we learn to identify and accept the irrationality of our fears and ANTs. We discover and analyze the cognitive distortions that we employ to validate or misrepresent our fears. Then we devise rational responses to counter our false assumptions. The character motivations of psychobiography and positive psychology are useful here.
Reconstruct Our Thought Patterns. Through proactive neuroplasticity and cognitive approaches, we convert our thought patterns by replacing or overwhelming our toxic thoughts and behaviors with healthy productive ones. The process is facilitated by the rapid, concentrated, neurological stimulation of DRNI (the deliberate, repetitive neural input of information).
Devise a Structured Plan for Our Feared Situations(s). Utilizing our learned tools and techniques, we develop a plan to challenge our situational fears and anxieties by incorporating predetermined and targeted, coping mechanisms and skills. Together, we will create a structured blueprint in Chapter Twenty-Two.
Practice the Plan in Non-Threatening Simulated Situations. We strengthen our rational responses by repeatedly implementing the Plan in practiced exercises including role play and other workshop interactivities. Affirmative Visualization is a valuable scientific tool.
Expose Ourselves to the Feared Situation. We challenge our anxieties and corresponding ANTs on-site in real life. This transpires after a suitable period of graded exposure to facilitate the reconstruction of our neural network and a familiarity with the prescribed tools and techniques.
Workshop participants are asked to list their top five anxiety-provoking situations. First on George’s list was speaking in front of a group or audience. His corresponding fears were that he would not be taken seriously and be overwhelmed as the center of attention. His automatic negative thoughts were “I will be criticized” and “They will sneer at my anxiety.” Rational responses to these fears and ANTs are multiple. George chose “I deserve to be here,” “This is a formable presentation,” and “I am as worthy as everyone else.” That fulfilled the first steps in George’s Nine-Stop Process for Rational Response
Our regimen of positive personal affirmations that we assembled in Chapter Ten is expediting our neural energy conversion. (Three PPAs repeated five times, three times daily generate forty-five cellular chain reactions.) As we progress in our recovery, we will utilize our information in incorporating coping mechanisms including projected positive income, intention, and focus into our Structured Plan for Feared Situations.
A coping strategy is our plan of action, and coping mechanisms are the tools or weapons we bring into play to implement our strategies. Coping skills refer to our adeptness at executing coping mechanisms. Since coping skills are developed through interactivity, role-playing, and practice, our concern here is designing the coping strategy and supporting mechanisms.
Coping Strategies, Mechanisms, and Skills.
To paraphrase the strategic offensive principle of war, “The best defense against social anxiety is a good offense” There are many moving parts to a counteroffensive requiring different levels of responsibility and expertise. At the top, we have our military strategists like Napoleon, Hannibal, and Eisenhower whose roles are to develop structured plans of action to outmaneuver the opponent. In recovery, this is our coping strategy designed to outmaneuver our social anxiety disorder – to take back control. In essence, that is our overriding goal.
The strategist then identifies the actions or measurable steps needed to achieve the goal. In military jargon, those are the tactics generally implemented by field officers on the ground. In recovery, these are our coping mechanisms – the tools and techniques we utilize to support our strategy. A definitive strategy also identifies what resources are needed to implement the tactics. On the battlefield, the resources are the infantry, its training, and equipment.
This process of strategizing is not linear or trickle-down, but complementary to its accessible assets. A smart military strategist plots the counteroffensive around the available weaponry, the expertise of the field officers, and the numbers and capabilities of the ground troops. In recovery, our coping strategy is fashioned around our ability to execute it. Until we identify our coping mechanisms, we cannot produce a feasible strategy. We will get to that; there is a method to my madness. This lacuna will be resolved in Chapters Eighteen and Twenty where we explore some of the tools and techniques that support our efforts.
In recovery, we do not have strategists to plan our counteroffensive nor officers on the ground to tactically implement it. We are the generals, the field officers, and the foot soldiers. The onus of recovery is on us. We are in an enviable position; recovery through proactive neuroplasticity empowers us to take control of our emotional well-being and quality of life. Master orator, William Jennings Bryan never became president but was the youngest person in U.S. History to be nominated – three times. He wrote, “Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”
There are maladaptive and adaptive coping strategies. Since maladaptive is particular to social anxiety disorder, we focus on adaptive coping strategies to counter our negative thoughts and behaviors. Experts tout problem-focused strategies, emotional-focused strategies, and a plethora of others. For recovery, strategies are primarily response-focused, but all options should be considered and incorporated into the overall strategy for the situation. That will then identify the coping mechanisms to support it. In Chapter Eighteen we will examine the most effective coping mechanisms for unexpected situations, and those that support anticipated and recurring situations in Chapter Twenty.
Unhealthy or negative coping mechanisms are called defense mechanisms – unhealthy safeguards against the thoughts and emotions that are difficult for our conscious minds to manage. Defense mechanisms are mostly unconscious psychological responses that protect us from our fears and anxieties. They are methods of avoidance – unhealthy responses to SAD-induced conflicts – that offer temporary respite but do little to moderate our anxieties in the long term. Substance abuse, denial, projection, regression, sublimation, and cognitive distortions are common defense mechanisms.
A word of advice. Don’t be fooled by its negative implications. Defense mechanisms, when used appropriately, can have a beneficial effect on behavior and health decisions. While they are often portrayed in a negative light, some defense mechanisms can be useful tools in our recovery. We will break these down for you in Chapter 17. Without coping mechanisms, healthy or otherwise, we can experience decompensation – the inability or unwillingness to generate effective psychological coping mechanisms in response to stress – resulting in personality disturbance or disintegration.
We use our coping mechanisms and skills in anticipated and recurring situations as well as unexpected ones. For the latter, we cultivate generic skills useful in any stressful occasion. For predetermined situations, we devise a structured plan incorporating predetermined coping mechanisms.
Those of us living with SAD are preoccupied with the future, predicting how things will go wrong. We avoid situations because we anticipate making a fool of ourselves. We dread exposing ourselves to criticism and ridicule. We have beat ourselves up for so long, and the future always looks bleak. Not only are we consumed with anxiety during situations, but we confront it days in advance. We create self-fulfilling prophecies of miserable and lonely solutions. Before recovery, I recall repeatedly circling the block before a social situation to bolster my courage. More often than not, I ended up in the bar rather than the event. Not only did I fear letting myself down, but I guaranteed it through my avoidance.
Strategizing how to combat our feared-situations is a crucial element of recovery. Knowing what to anticipate and how to effectively respond is challenging enough. Devising fluid strategies to help us moderate unexpected or guerrilla situations is another. Each supports the other as we become more comfortable with practice and implementation. Knowing how SAD impacts us drives us to devise strategies that challenge the situations that seriously impact our emotional well-being.
There are literally hundreds of coping mechanisms that can make those stressful moments in life easier to handle, including yoga, dancing, meditation, eating, painting, writing, and streaming a movie. Anything that takes us out of the stress of the moment and reduces the flow of those pesky chemical hormones. The mechanisms detailed in these chapters are designed specifically to moderate the symptoms of our social anxiety in feared-situations. Once we have achieved that, the rest of our recovery falls into place. With all due respect to Emily Dickenson, we reverse her sequence of events. We take care of the big things and the little things take care of themselves.
Knowing how SAD impacts us allows us to devise strategies that complement our wherewithal to engage coping skills that support our coping mechanisms. Going into a problematic situation without a strategy and functional coping mechanisms is jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. In the words of the pioneer of moderation, Benjamin Franklin: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
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Comments. Suggestions. Constructive Criticism
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