Robert F. Mullen, PhD
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Cognitive Distortion #1: Emotional Reasoning
Cognitive distortions are exaggerated or irrational thought patterns that perpetuate our anxiety and depression. In essence, we twist reality to reinforce or justify our toxic behaviors and validate our irrational attitudes, rules, and assumptions. Our attitudes refer to our emotions, convictions, and behaviors. Rules are the principles or regulations that influence our behaviors, and our assumptions are what we believe to be accurate or real. SAD and other emotional dysfunctions paint an inaccurate picture of the self, others, and the world.
Consider this example. The entire office staff congratulates us on our promotion, except for one individual who ignores us. Rather than embracing the support, we obsess over the shunner. That is Filtering – selectively choosing our facts to support our poor self-image by dwelling on the negative while overlooking the positive. While the number of cognitive distortions varies widely, there are thirteen that are primary and especially relevant to social anxiety. Jumping to Conclusions supposes we know what others are thinking. We are mind-readers. Emotional Reasoning is arriving at conclusions based solely on our feelings. When we engage in Personalization, we assume that doings and events are directly related to us and random remarks are personally relevant.
Understanding how we use cognitive distortions as subconscious strategies to avoid facing certain truths is crucial to recovery. SAD drives our illogical thought patterns. Countering them requires mindfulness of our motives and rational response. Our compulsion to twist the truth to validate our negative self-beliefs and image is powerful; we need to understand how these distortions sustain our social anxiety disorder. Cognitive distortions are rarely cut and dried but tend to overlap and share traits and characteristics. That’s what makes them difficult to clearly define. Because of their complexity and similarities, each cognitive distortion has its chapter.
We begin our study with Emotional Reasoning because it is the catalyst for the other cognitive distortions. The irrational thought patterns that underscore them stem from the SAD-provoked convictions we are helpless, hopeless, undesirable, and worthless (the SAD four horsemen). For example, when we engage in Filtering, we selectively ignore the positive aspects of a situation because of our life-consistent negative self-beliefs. This unbalanced perspective leads to Polarized Thinking, where we perceive things only in black or white. Because of our negative self-appraisal, we assume everything bad that happens is our fault, and anything said derogatorily is a reference to us. That’s called Personalization, which is very much like internal blaming. How our cognitive distortions relate to our social anxiety will become evident as we explore them, individually, throughout this book. We can comfortably state that Emotional Reasoning is the progenitor of all our cognitive distortions as they are ruled by our emotions.
Space is Limited
Emotional Reasoning is making judgments and decisions based on instinct or feelings over objective evidence – best expressed by the colloquialism, my gut tells me… This emotional dependency dictates how we relate to things. At the root of this cognitive distortion is the belief that what we feel must be true. If we feel like a loser, then we must be a loser. If we feel incompetent, then we must be incapable. If we make a mistake, we must be stupid. All the negative things we feel about ourselves, others, and the world must be valid because they feel true. Resolving this opposition is a crucial element of recovery.
Emotions are the reactions that we experience in response to situations. The type of emotion we experience is determined by multiple factors including our core and intermediate beliefs, experiences, and the situational fear that triggers the emotion. Emotions by themselves have little relevance to the truth of a situation. They are products of what we think or assume is happening.
We are hard-wired to hearken to our emotions. We consider them first because they are unconscious and automatic. It is more natural to base our conclusions on feelings than on facts. If we have distorted thoughts and beliefs, then our emotions will reflect them. Emotional Reasoning is not only dichotomous but also irrational. When we make judgments and decisions based on our feelings without supporting evidence, we are likely misinterpreting reality.
We are all susceptible to Emotional Reasoning, and not all decisions made are wrong or destructive. It is healthy to stay in touch with our feelings assuming they correspond with reality. A balanced perspective embraces instinct, feelings, and experience as well as evidence. The challenge to us is that our SAD sustains itself on our irrationality, and our negative core and intermediate beliefs lead us to ignore evidence that contradicts them, compelling us to make poor decisions.
Recovery requires a rational response-based strategy for psychological balance. One that considers the simultaneous mutual interaction of our mind, body, spirit, and emotions working in concert. When one component becomes psychologically untenable, we divert to another to moderate the severity.
Through recovery, we replace or overwhelm our toxic self-beliefs with healthy self-appreciation. We discover rational alternatives to our self-annihilating thoughts and behaviors. We become mindful of the value of introspection, examination, and analysis of our attitudes, rules, and assumptions. We learn to rechannel the emotional angst of our situational fears and anxieties into intellectual self-awareness and consider alternative possibilities and multiple perspectives.
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