Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

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 apply to most emotional malfunctions, including depression, substance abuse, ADHD, PTSD, generalized anxiety, and self-esteem and motivation issues. 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 #13

Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

Heaven’s Reward Fallacy is the unreasonable assumption that we will be justly rewarded for our hard work and sacrifice. Aaron Beck, the father of cognitive-behavioral therapy, describes it as “expecting all sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were someone keeping score, and feeling disappointed and even bitter when the reward does not come.”

Unmet Expectations

This irrational belief drives us to do things for others with the expectation of reward or reciprocation. While a return on our investment is possible to some degree, it is unreasonable to presume it will happen. When our expectations are unmet, the associated disappointment aggravates our social anxiety and leads to depression, frustration, and resentment.

The symptomatic fear of human connectivity and avoidance of social situations underscores the SAD person’s craving for recognition and appreciation. Our apprehensions of criticism, ridicule, and rejection induce loneliness and isolation. Subsequently, we reach out, hoping to alleviate our condition.

Fallacy of Fairness

The fallacy of fairness is the unrealistic assumption that life should be subjectively fair. Couples with heaven’s reward fallacy, we find ourselves caught up in an endless cycle of disappointment and self-destructive behavior. We know how we want to be treated, and anything that displaces that is emotionally untenable – even if our expectations are immoderate and implausible.

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Unhealthy Motivations

Fixing the expectation of reward in our minds for services rendered makes it real and visceral, driving us to repeat our behavior. We overcompensate or become codependent, continually saying yes to others – often sacrificing our needs. Sacrifice carries the expectation of reward. 

We seek perfectionism in our drive to be appreciated and loved by others. We become consummate enablers, compensating for our feelings of undesirability and worthlessness. Rather than setting boundaries, we allow ourselves to be bullied and taken advantage of, seeking affirmation and appreciation. Setting boundaries is challenging for persons experiencing social anxiety. Compensation, codependency, and perfectionism are prevalent traits.

We undervalue our worth and significance by engaging in heaven’s reward fallacy. We tell ourselves our actions are selfless, but they are motivated by our neediness and loneliness.

Set Reasonable Expectations 

It is human nature to expect reciprocation for our efforts. Life, however, is not fair. Setting rational, reasonable, possible, positive, and unconditional expectations is crucial to avoid disappointment.

Set Expectations Early On

Setting expectations carefully in advance allows us to determine what is reasonable and doable. We can preplan strategies and coping mechanisms to help meet them. We can only reasonably set expectations of ourselves, however. We have no control over the responses and reactions of others, so setting expectations of their behavior is pointless and will only lead to frustration and disappointment. It is called self-esteem, not other-esteem. 


Persons experiencing SAD are subject to significantly lower implicit and explicit self-esteem than healthy controls. Latent self-qualities, however, can be regenerated through specific tools and techniques. Healthy self-esteem accelerates and consolidates the structure and effectiveness of reasonable expectations. Rebuilding our self-esteem is a primary objective in recovery and self-empowerment.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

No matter how reasonably we set them, our expectations will often be partially or wholly unmet. We may need to modify them to accommodate the situation. We may require more practice or need to extend our planned timeframe. Reasonable expectations require flexibility. 

Be Mindful of Distorted Thinking

Persons experiencing social anxiety are highly susceptible to cognitive distortions. Recognizing, comprehending, and accepting the self-destructive nature of these and other defense mechanisms is essential to recovery. 

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