All posts by Robert F. Mullen, Ph.D.

About Robert F. Mullen, Ph.D.

Dr. Robert F. Mullen is the director of ReChanneling Inc, dedicated to the alleviation of physiological dysfunction and discomfort and the pursuit of personal goals and objectives. Its paradigmatic approach to historically and clinically practical approaches targets the personality through empathy, collaboration, and program integration. He is the pioneer of proactive neuroplasticity utilizing DRNI―deliberate, repetitive, neural information. A published worldwide academic author, Mullen's dissertation focused on advanced human potential―the capacity to harness the intrinsic aptitude for extraordinary living and the potential to lift the human spirit. His academic disciplines include contemporary behavior, modified psychobiography, and method psychology.

Words that Impede Recovery

Robert F.Mullen, PhD
Director/ReChanneling

Subscriber numbers generate contributions that support scholarships for workshops.

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Words that Impede Recovery

“I believe that a negative statement is poison.
I’m convinced that the negative has power. It lives.
And if you allow it to perch in your house,
in your mind, in your life, it can take you over.”
— Maya Angelou

Words have enormous power; they influence, encourage, and destroy. They are a source of compassion, creativity, and courage. They evoke desire, emotion, fear, and despair. They lift our spirits, inspire our imagination, and plunge us into the depths of despair. 

We have three primary recovery objectives: To (1) replace or overwhelm our life-consistent negative thoughts and behaviors with healthy ones, (2) produce rapid, concentrated, neurological stimulation to change the polarity of our neural network, and (3) regenerate our self-esteem by regaining mindfulness of our attributes. Positivity is the catalyst for each.

Childhood disturbance prompts our negative core beliefs; our intermediate beliefs, influenced by SAD, establish the attitudes, rules, and assumptions that produce maladaptive understandings of the self and the world. Once again, 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 true or real. The common element is their toxic energy which we convey in the words we use.

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These core and intermediate beliefs generate a cognitive bias that compels us to misinterpret information and make irrational decisions. Since humans are hard-wired with a negative bias, we respond more favorably to adversity. Add our SAD symptomatology to this mix and our neural network is replete with toxic information.

We are consumed and conditioned by negative words. By the age of sixteen, we have heard the word no from our parents, roughly, 135,000 times. Some of us use the same unfortunate words over and over again. The more we hear, read, or speak a word or phrase, the more power it has over us. Our brain learns through repetition.

It is not just the words we say out loud in criticism and conversations. The self-annihilating words we silently call ourselves convince us we are helpless, hopeless, undesirable, and worthless. They cause our neural network to transmit chemical hormones that impair our logic, reasoning, and communication, impacting the parts of our brain that regulate our memory, concentration, and emotions. The illusory truth effect defines how, when we hear the same false information repeated again and again, we come to believe in its veracity. Telling ourselves, repeatedly, we are incompetent and unlikeable, and other forms of negative self-labeling has the same effect – even when we intellectually know that the misinformation is false.

Before recovery, our neural circuits are structured around emotionally hostile information. While positive words boost our self-esteem and self-image, contradictory words support our irrational attitudes, rules, and assumptions. Negative absolutes like no one, nobody, nothing, and nowhere substantiate our isolation and avoidance of relationships. Qualifiers such as barely, maybe, and perhaps invalidate our commitment, while self-beliefs expressed by can’t, shouldn’t, and won’t support our sense of incompetence.

There are three categories of words to be mindful of and eliminate from our thoughts and vocabulary: 

Pressure Words like should and would equivocate our commitment. “I should start my diet” essentially means, maybe I will and maybe I won’t. Pressure words give us permission to change our minds, procrastinate, and fail. (We are either on a diet or will be on a diet.) The pressure comes from the guilt of potentially doing nothing (I should’ve done that). Compare “I shouldn’t drink at the office party” to “I will not drink at the office party.” 

Negative Absolute Words. The impact of won’t and can’t is obvious. Our objective in recovery is to replace or overwhelm toxic with healthy neural information – positive over negative. 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…”

Conditional Words like possibly, maybe, might weaken our commitment. “Maybe I will start my diet” is not a firm commitment. Conditional words originate in doubt and manifest in avoidance and procrastination. Other examples include ought, must, and have to. Qualifying or conditional words or statements give us an excuse to opt out. “I will not drink at the office party” is a more robust commitment than “I will not drink at the party unless I get nervous.” Qualifying or conditional words or statements are also pre-justifications for our failures. (I might have won if only … )  

A quick note about the word, hate. Hate is an extremely destructive sentiment to describe something we dislike. “I hate doing the dishes.” Do we really, or do we just dislike doing the dishes? Hate is an emotion; dislike is a feeling. Feelings quickly dissipate while emotions can metastasize. Psychologists argue hate has value in healing. I am less certain because it correlates to rage, resentment, and fear, feelings we seek to moderate. For those of us experiencing SAD, the word is detrimental to recovery.

It is important to recognize the harmful nature of these words and eliminate them from our self-referencing thoughts and vocabulary. They adversely impact the integrity and efficacy of our neural information which impedes recovery. 

Proactive Neuroplasticity YouTube Series

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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 regenerate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.  

Reduced to a Label

Robert F. Mullen, PhD
Director/ReChanneling

Subscriber numbers generate contributions that support scholarships for workshops.

Cognitive Distortion #8: Labeling

When we label an individual or group, we reduce them to a single, usually negative, characteristic or descriptor based on a single event or behavior. As a result, we view them (or ourselves) through the label and filter out information that contradicts the stereotype. Labeling others leads to false assumptions, prejudice, and ostracizing. “Because he talked about his neighbor, he is a gossip.” 

Our SAD symptoms compel us to label others to support our preconceived notions about how others perceive us. Our conversational inadequacy might make us label the group as rude and dismissive. If we expect rejection, they are cold and untrustworthy. Because we feel like we are the center of attention, our social failure could lead us to label the entire room as mean or arrogant.

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Labeling is common to SAD persons because we resent our symptomatic fears and anxieties, causing us to project our frustrations on those close to us. Labeling a friend or significant other can destroy relationships, especially when the label is for unintentional behavior. If we feel unsupported at a social event, we might label our companion cold or indifferent. In a similar vein, if a parent criticizes us at the dinner table, identifying them as cruel or hateful would not be inconceivable. Polarized Thinking, Filtering, Emotional Reasoning, Jumping to Conclusions, and Overgeneralization lend themselves to Labeling. 

We know how distressing it can be when someone labels us. When we-self label, we sustain our negative self-beliefs. “I didn’t meet anyone at the party; I am unlikeable.” Negatively labeling ourselves invariably results in thoughts that support our self-image. “I gave the wrong answer in class; I am stupid.” Self-labeling like inadequate and incompetent supports our sense of hopelessness and undesirability, and we often find our subsequent behaviors support those labels. 

Labels are irrational and myopic because they emerge from a single characteristic, behavior, or event and ignore the whole person or situation. Arbitrarily evaluating someone based on one isolated incident or behavior is almost always inaccurate. One negative behavior or incident does not define someone’s entire character. Rather than focusing on the specific element that generated the label, it is important to value the positive contributions of the person or group. We can observe ourselves and others with compassionate insight, recognizing the diversity of human thought and experience.

Proactive Neuroplasticity YouTube Series

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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 regenerate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.  

Defense Mechanisms

Robert F. Mullen, PhD
Director/ReChanneling

Subscriber numbers generate contributions that support scholarships for workshops.

“Dr. Mullen is doing impressive work helping the world. He is the
pioneer of proactive neuroplasticity utilizing DRNI—deliberate,
repetitive, neural information.” WeVoice (Madrid)          
          

This is a draft of Chapter Twenty-Eight – “Defense Mechanisms” 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.

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Defense Mechanisms

“Unable to cope with fear and uncertainty,
a person resorts to denial, repression, compromise,
and hides behind the mask of a false self.”
― Kilroy J. Oldster, Dead Toad Scrolls

Unhealthy or negative coping mechanisms are called defense mechanisms – temporary safeguards against situations difficult for our conscious minds to manage. Defense mechanisms are mostly unconscious psychological responses that protect us from our fears and anxieties. At one time or another, we will likely use a defense mechanism of some kind to protect ourselves from threats to our emotional well-being and sense of self. 

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.

There are extensive lists of defense mechanisms. Cognitive distortions are considered defense mechanisms. Any mental process that protects us from our fears, anxieties, and threats to our emotional well-being is a defense mechanism. Some, like Avoidance, Humor, Isolation, and Intellectualization need no explanation. Compensation, Dissociation, and Ritual and Undoing have their positive value as well and are utilized in our recovery process. The following nine coping mechanisms are commonly exploited by persons living with social anxiety disorder and its comorbidities.

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RITUAL AND UNDOING

Substance abuse is the uncontrolled use of alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescribed medications that affect our performance. It is a huge element in Ritual and Undoing – the process of trying to counter (undo) our SAD-induced negative self-beliefs and image by performing rituals or behaviors designed to offset them. Using drugs, pharmaceuticals, and alcohol to calm our fears and anxieties in a situation (1) can be physically harmful, (2) requires increased dosage to maintain the same effect, and (3) is a temporary solution to a long-term problem. Exercising Ritual and Undoing for positive gain is a valuable coping mechanism. It supports negative to positive neural restructuring, and the replacement (undoing) of our negative thoughts and behaviors with positive ones.

COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS 

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. We have willowed down the expansive (and redundant) number of cognitive distortions to thirteen that are most associated with social anxiety disorder. 

Always Being Right. Our need to always be right protects our fragile self-image sustained by our fears of criticism, ridicule, and rejection. Being right is more important to us than the truth or the feelings of others. We aren’t comfortable with thoughts or opinions that contradict our own. In our formative years, many of us were undervalued – subject to the circumstances of our childhood disturbance. Our parents may have been controlling or dismissive, and our siblings abusive. Some of us never experienced positive feedback or appreciation. This drives the impulse to disregard thoughts and viewpoints that conflict with our own.

Blaming. Blaming is when we wrongly assign responsibility for things and happenings. One focus of our accusations is external blaming – holding outside forces accountable for things that are our responsibility. Blaming someone or something for our personal choices and decisions seems illogical, but remember, SAD sustains itself on our irrationality. Internal blaming is assuming personal responsibility for the problems of other people and the things that go wrong which do not involve us. Internal or self-blaming can be expressed as power or weakness (Control Fallacies.). When we blame ourselves for our symptoms, we feed into our perceptions of incompetence and ineptitude. Believing we have power and influence over other people’s thoughts and behaviors can be seen as grandiosity. Both correspond to our low self-esteem and sense of inferiority.

Catastrophizing drives us to conclude the worst-case scenario when things happen, rather than considering more obvious and plausible explanations. It is the irrational assumption that something is far worse than it is. We validate this by Filtering out the alternatives. We anticipate and prophesize disaster and twist reality to support our projection. If our significant other complains of a headache, we assume our relationship is doomed. If this happens again, our belief is confirmed.

Control Fallacies. 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. When we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as weak and powerless, blaming outside forces for our adversities. Conversely, the fallacy of internal control is when we believe we have power and influence over other people’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. We blame ourselves for their mishaps and misfortunes. 

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. Emotional Reasoning is an oxymoron. Resolving this opposition is a crucial element of recovery. 

The Fallacy of Fairness is the unrealistic assumption that life should be fair. It is human nature to equate fairness with how well our personal preferences are met. We know how we want to be treated and anything that conflicts with that seems unreasonable and emotionally unacceptable. Fairness is subjective, however. Two people seldom agree on what is fair. The fact that those of us living with SAD are predisposed to emotional reasoning or personalization does validate the irrationality that life is fair.

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. 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. We view ourselves, the world, and our future through an unforgiving lens.

Heaven’s Reward Fallacy is when we put other people’s needs ahead of our own with an expectation of reciprocation. Contrary to others who share this cognitive distortion, SAD persons are not seeking heavenly reward, but acknowledgment in this one. We continually say yes to others while denying ourselves, We tell ourselves our motives are selfless, but we accommodate out of neediness and loneliness. Consummate enablers, we ingratiate ourselves and allow others to take advantage to compensate for our feelings of undesirability and worthlessness. 

Jumping To Conclusions is judging or deciding something without having all the facts to substantiate our beliefs or opinions. We become fortune tellers and mind-readers, assuming we know what another person is feeling or why they act the way they do. When we form our automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) we usually jump to conclusions because the only evidence we rely on is our fears and anxieties which are abstractions based on perception rather than reality. When we overgeneralize or filter information we usually jump to conclusions. 

Labeling. When we label, we reduce an individual or group to a single, usually negative, characteristic or descriptor based on a single event or behavior. As a result, we view them (or ourselves) through the label and filter out information that contradicts the stereotype. Our SAD symptoms encourage labeling because of our preconceived notions about how others perceive us. Our fears of criticism and ridicule label our projected antagonists as rude and dismissive. If we anticipate rejection, we label them cold and untrustworthy. Negative self-labeling like inadequate and incompetent supports our sense of hopelessness and undesirability.  

Overgeneralization. When we engage In this cognitive distortion, we draw broad conclusions or make statements about something or someone unsupported by the available evidence. We make blanket claims that can’t be proven or disproven. Everyone knows Suzie is a liar. To imply that everyone thinks Suzie is a liar is an exaggeration without consensus. A few colleagues may share our opinion, but not the whole world. We overgeneralize when we base our conclusions on one or two pieces of evidence while ignoring anything to the contrary. 

Personalization. If someone says to us, “don’t take it personally,“ we are likely engaging in personalization. When we engage in this type of thinking, we assume we are the cause of things unrelated to us. We believe that what others do or say is a reaction to us – that random comments are personally relevant. For those of us living with social anxiety disorder, personalization is symptomatic of our belief we are the center of attention and the subject of criticism or ridicule. 

Polarized Thinking. 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 faultless, we must be broken and inept. There is no middle ground. 

COMPENSATION 

Compensation is when we direct our attention and energy to complimentary aspects of our personality to avoid dealing with perceived inadequacies. In other words, we overachieve in one area of our life to compensate for failures or deficits in another. A teenager might compensate for his learning difficulties by excelling in sports. While she or he may accrue social and physical benefits, it can cause long-term problems unless educational issues are properly addressed. In recovery compensating for our fears and anxieties through certain defense mechanisms can be beneficial as long as we address them honestly and rationally. Replacing our negative thoughts and behaviors with healthy and productive ones is positive compensation, as is recognizing and emphasizing our character strengths, virtues, and achievements to compensate for our low self-esteem and perceptions of inadequacy. 

Like any approach, moderation is the key. It is easy, especially for those of us living with SAD, to overcompensate by setting unreasonable expectations or undercompensate by minimizing or dismissing our character flaws. 

DENIAL

Denial is one of the best-known defense mechanisms that we use to protect ourselves from thoughts and behaviors we cannot manage. Our inability or refusal to recognize trauma or personality defects is detrimental to recovery. People experiencing drug or alcohol addiction often deny that they have a problem, while victims of traumatic events may deny that the event ever occurred. SAD persons are disproportionately resistant to recovery because they deny its personal impact or its destructive capabilities as if, by ignoring them, they don’t exist or will somehow disappear. Our core sense of hopelessness and worthlessness does not encourage a willingness to accept our diagnosis, which is the primary criterion for recovery.

Even with overwhelming evidence, we deny feelings and experiences that need to be addressed by rejecting them or minimizing their importance. Denial allows us to lie to ourselves; it does not eliminate the situation.

DISPLACEMENT 

Displacement involves taking out our fears and frustrations on people or objects that are less threatening. An example would be the worker, reprimanded by his superiors, who goes home and kicks the dog. This defense mechanism is prevalent in SAD persons due to our symptoms. We feel incompetent, inferior, or unlikeable. We are unduly concerned we will say something that will reveal our shortcomings. We walk on eggshells, convinced we are the center of 

everyone’s attention. We anguish over things for weeks before they happen and negatively predict the outcomes. Our overriding sense of helplessness convinces us that nothing can alleviate the distress of our negative self-beliefs. When the pressure threatens to overwhelm our emotional well-being, we often take out our frustrations on persons or things that pose a limited threat such as a roommate, sibling, or total stranger.

DISSOCIATION 

Dissociation is a disconnect from reality to shield us from distress and traumatic experiences. In theory, our mind unconsciously shuts down or compartmentalizes distressful thoughts, memories, or experiences. Daydreaming or streaming television to avoid conflict is a harmless form of dissociation. Conversely, morphing into multiple personalities (dissociative identity disorder) is defined as psychosis.

In recovery, we deliberately dissociate ourselves from SAD as a mental exercise that helps us regenerate our self-esteem. We redefine ourselves by our character assets rather than our social anxiety disorder. To repeat the analogy I use regularly when we break our leg, we do not become the injured limb. We are someone experiencing a broken leg. 

PROJECTION

Projection is when we subconsciously deny our character defects yet recognize them in another. Rather than accepting them as a natural component of our symptoms, we project our negative thoughts, experiences, and behaviors onto someone else. Often when we instinctively dislike or avoid someone, it is because we have projected our disagreeable tendencies onto them. Oblivious to our own awkwardness, we ridicule a friend’s clumsy attempt at socializing. Or rather than deal with our unhappiness, we project it onto someone else. 

RATIONALIZATION 

Rationalization is when we justify our irrational thoughts and behaviors by creating a variety of logical explanations for them. We may be doing this intentionally, or unconsciously when we rationalize unmanageable feelings or experiences. Rationalizations are used to defend against anything that threatens our emotional well-being. Attributing our headache and dry mouth to the flu, rather than the massive consumption of alcohol the evening before is an example of trying to justify our behavior by creating an alternate explanation.

The defense mechanism of rationalization is not to be confused with rational response, which we construct by identifying and analyzing our situational fears and anxieties. 

REPRESSION

We often conflate regression with repression. Regression is when we revert to an earlier or less mature stage of psychological development where we feel safe from emotional conflict. Repression is the exclusion of painful impulses, desires, or fears from the conscious mind. Repression is a psychological attempt to unconsciously forget or block distressing memories, thoughts, or desires from conscious awareness. Often involving aggressive childhood disturbance but applicable to any untenable trauma, we direct these unwanted mental constructs into areas of our subconscious mind that are not easily accessible. In recovery, personal introspection and interrogation can expose regressed memories as part of the discovery process. 

Proactive Neuroplasticity YouTube Series

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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 regenerate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.  

I’m Right, You’re Not.

Robert F. Mullen, PhD
Director/ReChanneling

Subscriber numbers generate contributions that support scholarships for workshops.

“Dr. Mullen is doing impressive work helping the world. He is the
pioneer of proactive neuroplasticity utilizing DRNI—deliberate,
repetitive, neural information.” WeVoice (Madrid)  

Cognitive Distortion #13: Always Being Right      

Our need to be right protects the fragile self-image sustained by our fears of criticism, ridicule, and rejection. To someone who engages in this cognitive distortion, being ‘right’ is more important than the truth or the feelings of others. Thoughts or opinions that contradict are harmful to our emotional structure. 

The core and intermediate beliefs of a person with social anxiety are rigid; we dismiss new ideas and concepts. Even when our belief system is inaccurate, it defines how we see ourselves in the world. If the facts don’t comport with our beliefs, we dispute or disregard them. When we decline to question our beliefs, we act upon them as though they are accurate and reasonable, ignoring evidence that contradicts – even if we doubt the veracity of our claims. Our insecurity is so severe, our maladjusted attitudes, rules, and assumptions run roughshod over the truth and the feelings of others.

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We store information consistent with these beliefs, which generates a cognitive bias – a subconscious error in thinking that leads us to misinterpret information, impacting the accuracy of our perspectives and decisions. Our low implicit and explicit self-esteem keeps us on the defensive and compels the need to compensate for our perceptual lack of positive self-qualities. We ignore or contest anything that poses a threat, especially information inconsistent with what we assert to be true. The need to always be right can also reflect the narcissism evident in the irrational belief that we are the center of attention in any situation.

Because of our compulsion to always be right, we tend to ignore what others are saying. We avoid recognizing anything that might lead us to conclude we are mistaken. Even when we know we are wrong, we find it hard to admit it because it exacerbates our fears of ridicule and criticism. 

In situations where we are ill-advised to dispute our superiors or other authority figures, we subvert our need to be right. We bow to pressure and imply that we accept their truth, covertly convinced we are right, and they are not. This subservience forces us to give away our power, generating anger and resentment. We smile and agree with those who hold sway over us. but secretly envy their power, becoming irritated and bitter.

In our formative years, many of us were undervalued – subject to the circumstances of our childhood disturbance. Our parents may have been controlling or dismissive, our siblings overbearing. Some of us rarely experienced positive feedback or appreciation. As adults, we are driven to disregard thoughts and viewpoints that conflict with our own.

Always Being Right does not bode well for healthy relationships because we do not reciprocate shared issues or experiences. Counterfeit, ignoring, selective, and hostile listening devalue the concerns and opinions of others and inhibits the prospect of healthy connectivity. Being right is more important than establishing and maintaining friendships and intimacy. 

Recovery promotes considered and attentive listening skills – active communication where we value what is being said by the other. In empathic listening, we seek first to understand and then to be understood.

Proactive Neuroplasticity YouTube Series

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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 regenerate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.  

Chapter 25: Affirmative Visualization

Robert F. Mulllen, PhD
Director/ReChanneling

Subscriber numbers generate contributions that support scholarships for workshops.

This is a draft of Chapter Twenty-Five – “Affirmative Visualization” 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.

<Twenty-Five>
Affirmative Visualization

You are more productive by doing fifteen minutes of visualization
than from sixteen hours of hard labor.” — Abraham Hicks

There are multiple psychological approaches to visualization. Covert Conditioning focuses on eliminating a bad habit by imaginary repetition of the behavior, e.g., smoking cigarettes ad nauseam. In Covert Modeling, we choose a positive role model to visually emulate. Affirmative Visualization is graded exposure ― systematic desensitization that reduces stress and anxiety in a structured, less threatening environment. The process is another powerful tool in recovery from social anxiety and its common comorbidities, especially depression and substance abuse.

We label the process as Affirmative to emphasize the positivity of the visualizations to counteract our natural negative bias and the predisposition of the emotionally dysfunctional to set negative outcome scenarios due to life-consistent negative self-beliefs and images.

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Affirmative Visualization is scientifically supported through studies and the neuroscientific understanding of our neural network. Positive personal affirmations (PPAs) are concise, predetermined, positive statements. Affirmative Visualizations are positive outcome scenarios that we mentally recreate by imagining or visualizing them. Both are underscored by the Laws of Learning, which explain what conditions must be present for learning (or unlearning) to occur and how to accelerate and consolidate the process through proactive neuroplasticity. 

Through Affirmative Visualization, we envision behaving a certain way in a realistic scenario and, through deliberate repetition, attain an authentic shift in our behavior and perspective. It is a form of proactive neuroplasticity, and all the neural benefits of that science are accrued by visualization.

Our brain is in a constant mode of learning; it never stops realigning to information. It forms a million new connections for every input. Information includes experience, muscle movement, a decision, a memory, emotion, reaction, noise, or tactile impression. With each input, connections strengthen and weaken, neurons atrophy and others are born, learning replaces unlearning, energy dissipates and expands, beneficial hormones are neurally transmitted, and functions shift from one region to another. Proactively stimulating our brain with deliberate, repetitive neural information utilizing Affirmative Visualization accelerates and consolidates learning (and unlearning), producing a correlated change in thought, behavior, and perspective. These changes become habitual and spontaneous over time.

Our brain provides the same neural restructuring when we visualize doing something or when we physically do it; the same regions of our brain are stimulated. Just as our neural network cannot distinguish between toxic and productive information, it also does not distinguish whether we are experiencing something or imagining it. Thinking about picking up our left hand is, to our brain, the same thing as literally picking up our left hand.

The thalamus is the small structure within our brain located just above the stem between the cerebral cortex and the midbrain. It has extensive nerve connections to both. All information passes through the thalamus and onto the millions of participating neurons. By visualizing an idea or performance repeatedly for an extended period, we increase activity in the thalamus and our brain responds as though the idea is a real object or actually happening.

Our thalamus makes no distinction between inner and outer realities. It does not distinguish whether we are imagining something or experiencing it. Thus, any idea, if contemplated long enough, will take on a semblance of reality. If we visualize a solution to a problem, the problem is systemically resolved because visualizing activates the cognitive circuits involved with our working memory.

That correlates to our subconscious which cannot differentiate an imagined situation from a real one. Whatever we visualize or imagine, our subconscious believes it is actually happening.

Research shows that visualizing an event in advance improves our mental and physical performance. When we visualize what we want to achieve, we consciously source information that will improve our performance outcomes, dramatically improving the likelihood of success in the real situation.

Like our positive personal affirmations, Affirmative Visualization is a mental exercise that is most effective through repetition. Let us imagine a hypothetical feared-situation: You have to make a presentation to your classmates. You’ve never given a successful public speech before, but you have identified the reasons for your fears. Now recreate the scenario in your mind, just as you have planned it. Close your eyes and use your imagination to experience the entirety of the situation. Use all your senses as you walk yourself through the steps you have created in your strategy plan.

See the room. You know the students and the instructor and where they are positioned. What are they wearing? Feel the atmosphere of the room. Is it warm, crowded, joyful? What does it smell like? Is the air stale or clean from the open windows? You have already devised your strategy and the actions or measurable steps that will help achieve that goal. You know how you are presenting yourself – your quality of character, your attitude, and how you are dressed for maximum effect. Find three stationary items in the room that you can focus on when you feel stressed or that rush of cortisol and adrenaline. You have created diversions in your presentation – a PowerPoint that you will transfer to a screen, and a laser pointer. Focus on your character and persona. Interact with small talk and slow talk. Imagine utilizing all the tools of recovery.

Allow for the unexpected – that is why you have prepared distractions and diversions. Give your presentation as you have rehearsed it a number of times. Grasp or lean on the podium. Work your PowerPoint and use the laser to emphasize the information on the slides.

Visualize the event and its successful outcome as many times as you can. Imagine each detail, your attitude, and the reaction of the audience. Mentally practice your walk, gestures, and posture. Use your slow talk for added emphasis. Imagine the influx of cortisol and adrenaline dissipating every time you take a deep breath or speak with practiced self-assurance. Set reasonable expectations. Not only will you exceed them just by showing up and speaking in front of the class but because you are well-rehearsed, and have a plan that covers every contingency.  

Through repetition, your subconscious mind has already witnessed a productive and successful presentation. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, you will anticipate, think, speak, and behave in a way that is consistent with your newly formed self-belief that you are more than capable of achieving your goal with energy, enthusiasm, and panache.

We can visualize mitigating anxiety and performing better, or we can envision being a more empathetic or competent individual. Our neural repatterning will help us achieve those goals. The more we visualize with a clear intent the more focused we become and the higher the probability of achieving our goal. It activates our dopaminergic-reward system, decreasing the neurotransmissions of anxiety and fear-provoking hormones, and accelerating and consolidating those that make learning more accessible. In addition, when we visualize, our brain generates alpha waves which, neuroscientists have discovered, can dramatically reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

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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 regenerate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.  

Can’t Buy Me Love

Robert F. Mullen, PhD
Director/ReChanneling

Subscriber numbers generate contributions that support scholarships for workshops.

“Dr. Mullen is doing impressive work helping the world. He is the
pioneer of proactive neuroplasticity utilizing DRNI—deliberate,
repetitive, neural information.” WeVoice (Madrid)     

Cognitive Distortion #12: Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

Heaven’s Reward Fallacy is when we put other people’s needs ahead of our own with an expectation of reciprocation. Contrary to others who share this cognitive distortion, SAD persons are not seeking heavenly reward in the afterlife, but acknowledgement in this one. 

We continually say yes to others while denying ourselves, We tell ourselves our motives are selfless, but we do it out of neediness and loneliness. We are consummate enablers trying to compensate for our feelings of undesirability and worthlessness. Consummate enablers, we ingratiate ourselves and allow others to take advantage to compensate for our feelings of undesirability and worthlessness. 

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You are an exemplary office worker – always on time, and willing to go the extra mile. When your co-workers fall behind, you always offer to pick up the slack even if it means staying late or working on the weekend. Your desk is organized, you dress for success, and complete your assignments with diligence and efficiency. You eagerly anticipate a promotion at the end of the quarter.

The management hires someone from without the organization. Your disappointment turns to anger and resentment. When the company distributes the annual bonuses, yours does not reflect the recognition you think you deserve. Colleagues move on to better employment, but you have spent so much time ingratiating yourselves with management, you have not considered viable alternatives. You mire yourself in The Fallacy of Fairness and your resentment turns to sullenness and hostility.

People who engage in Heaven’s Reward Fallacy typically undervalue their worth and significance and have poor self-awareness. It is easier to take on the needs and responsibilities of others rather than face our fears and anxieties. Our actions are self-serving rather than noble. True altruism does not expect reciprocation.

Recovering our self-esteem is an essential element of recovery and cannot be second-tiered. Due to our disruption in natural human development, we are subject to significantly lower implicit and explicit self-esteem relative to healthy controls. Our negative core and intermediate beliefs stemming from childhood disturbance and onset are directly implicated. Our symptomatic fears and anxieties aggravate this deficit.

We rediscover and regenerate our self-esteem through the integration of historically and clinically practical approaches designed to help us become mindful of our inherent strengths, virtues, and achievements, and their propensity to replace our SAD-induced negative self-beliefs and image.

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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 regenerate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.  

j’accuse

Robert F. Mullen
Director/ReChanneling

Subscriber numbers generate contributions that support scholarships for workshops.

“Dr. Mullen is doing impressive work helping the world. He is the
pioneer of proactive neuroplasticity utilizing DRNI—deliberate,
repetitive, neural information.” WeVoice (Madrid)  

Cognitive Distortion #11: Jumping to Conclusions

Jumping to Conclusions is when we judge or decide something without having all the facts to substantiate our conclusion. It is also fortune-telling and mind-reading. We jump to conclusions when we assume to know what another person is feeling or why they act the way they do. When we form our automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) we usually jump to conclusions because the only evidence we rely on is our fears and anxieties which are abstractions based on perceptions rather than reality. When we overgeneralize or filter our information to conclude no one will like me or they will make fun of me, we usually jump.

While our conclusions may be based on prior experience, assuming it will repeat itself in similar situations, while possible, is an implausible conclusion. Yes, we may say something stupid, or experience physical symptoms, but we don’t know that beforehand; we merely prophesize it will happen because it happened before. This is a common assumption among those of us with social anxiety.

Many of our other cognitive distortions are formed by Jumping to Conclusions. When we overgeneralize, we draw a broad conclusion or make a statement about something or someone that is not backed up by the bulk of the evidence. When we label someone because of a single characteristic or event, we are Jumping to Conclusions. Likewise, when we personalize or take responsibility for something that has nothing to do with us. 

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A primary SAD symptom is the fear of situations in which we believe we will be negatively appraised. We jump to the conclusion we will be criticized, ridiculed, or rejected, usually in advance of the situation. This distorted thinking causes us to react defensively or to avoid the situation entirely. If we assume we are the center of attention, we are not going to let our guard down. Often, we predict a negative outcome to a situation to protect ourselves if it happens. It helps us avoid disappointment.

If our significant other is in a bad mood, we assume we did something wrong. If our manager slams the door to the office, we imagine it’s because we were talking on the phone. If a stranger passes us on the sidewalk, it is because we are unappealing.

When we jump to conclusions, we create self-fulfilling prophecies. We avoid interacting with others because we have predicted a negative outcome. We avoid relationships because we tell ourselves it will not succeed. We avoid recovery because we know it will come to naught. We expect the worst possible consequences of a situation because we jumped to the conclusion things will not end well. Over the years, SAD has convinced us we are helpless, hopeless, undesirable, and worthless. It isn’t much of a leap to conclude that we are.

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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 regenerate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.

Chapter 19: Coping Mechanisms for Unexpected Situations

Robert F. Mullen, PhD
Director/ReChanneling

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This is a draft of Chapter Nineteen– “Coping Mechanisms for Unexpected Situations” 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.

<Nineteen>
Coping Mechanisms for Unexpected Situations

“If you do not expect the unexpected,
you will not recognize it when it arrives.”
– Heraclitus

More sage advice from war strategist, Sun Tzu: “Attack is the secret of defense; defense is the planning of an attack.” In recovery, oucoping strategy attacks our fears and anxieties by devising a plan that considers all contingencies. We face two combat scenarios that call for combined and distinct strategies. We engage, knowing the terrain and logistics in advance, and we defend against the surprise attack. Both demand a planned and practiced counteroffensive. Logically, our campaign is more structured when we know what to anticipate. The unexpected requires a more presumptive approach. There are effective coping mechanisms for both situations, and those more adaptable to one or the other. Chapter Twenty-One focuses on coping mechanisms for anticipated and recurring situationsThis chapter focuses on those mechanisms that help us cope with the unanticipated. For that, we assemble what we will call our emergency preparedness kit. 

Since adaptability is not one of our strengths, we start with workshop activities that are easier for us to handle, then work our way up to more challenging responses. This form of recovery is called Graded Exposure or systematic desensitization. We challenge our feared-situations in structured, less threatening environments before moving onto real exposure. This allows us to build up our confidence slowly by familiarizing ourselves with coping mechanisms through practice and repetition. We keep the training wheels on our bike until we have achieved the level of comfort and competence where we can ride safely with two. 

An emergency preparedness kit contains essentials like food and water, first-aid items, and shelter options. It might include prescriptions, utensils, extra clothing, flashlights, a compass, blankets, and tools. We do not know, in advance, the specific nature of the emergency, so we do the best we can by preparing multiple rational options. The same theory applies to our unexpected situation. We fashion our coping mechanisms to cover the multiple contingencies. 

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The bad news is that there are as many feared-situations as there are imaginations. From barbershops and family holidays to social events and the public swimming pool, the situations that arise in workshops are personal and distinctive. Where are we when we feel its impact? What are the specific set of circumstances – the facts, conditions, and incidents? Who or what provokes our stress? None of this is knowable in unexpected situations. The good news is there are a limited number of symptoms to consider. Social anxiety disorder offers less than a dozen. The following list is provided by the Mayo Clinic. Others vary in presentation or description, but the symptoms are the same. I have provided this list before, but there is a lot of information to digest in this book – a subtle reminder of the importance of repetition.

  • Fear of situations in which we may be judged negatively
  • Worry about embarrassing or humiliating ourselves
  • Intense fear of interacting or talking with strangers
  • Fear that others will notice that we look anxious
  • Fear of physical symptoms that may cause us embarrassment, such as blushing, sweating, trembling, or having a shaky voice
  • Avoidance of doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment
  • Avoidance of situations where we might be the center of attention
  • Anxiety in anticipation of a feared activity or event
  • Intense fear or anxiety during social situations
  • Analysis of our performance and identification of flaws in our interactions after a social situation
  • Expectation of the worst possible consequences from a negative experience during a social situation.

This is a short list. Admittedly, the symptoms have broad implications, but when the box only has twelve crayons, there are not a lot of colors to pick from. Recognizing our symptoms is not difficult; distinguishing the triggers is challenging – the who, where, and why? Once we know those, we can associate our fears and corresponding ANTs. Even though we cannot know the specifics of an unexpected situation, we have enough information to determine the coping mechanisms best suited to accommodate and challenge the unexpected. 

Coping mechanisms are designed to fulfill one or all of our three recovery objectives. Cognitive and behavioral mechanisms replace or overwhelm our life-consistent negative thoughts and behaviors with healthy ones. Positive affirmations, rational response, and other positivity techniques produce rapid, concentrated, neurological stimulation to change the polarity of our neural network. Recognizing and emphasizing our strengths, virtues, and accomplishments regenerate our self-esteem. Healthy coping mechanisms are adaptive – positive contributions to our emotional well-being. 

Cortisol and adrenaline. We briefly touched on the significance of our fight-or-flight neurotransmissions.  Scientists have identified over fifty of these chemical hormones in the human body. They are the messengers that control our physiological functions – our metabolism, homeostasis, and reproduction. Their distribution is precise. Even slight changes in levels can cause significant disruption to our health and emotional well-being.

Cortisol and adrenaline trigger our fight-or-flight response – our instinctive reaction to stress. Produced by our brain’s amygdala, cortisol helps to regulate our blood pressure, circadian rhythm, and digestion. Adrenaline, transmitted by our adrenal glands, causes our air passages to dilate, redirecting more oxygen to our muscles. It relieves pain and boosts our body’s immune system. When these hormones are transmitted into the bloodstream, our body experiences a heightened state of physical and mental alertness. Blood vessels contract and send blood to the heart, lungs, and other major muscle groups. Normal amounts of cortisol and adrenaline are necessary to our basic survival, and in most cases, beneficial to our overall health and physiological well-being. Conversely, in stressful situations, the sudden influx of cortisol and adrenaline contributes to the physical and emotional symptoms that aggravate our fears and anxieties.

Chronic stress induced by our SAD symptomatology causes a higher and constant neurotransmission of cortisol and adrenaline into our system. Not only does this increase the risk of health problems like heart disease and stroke, but it contributes significantly to our anxiety and depression, causing problems with memory, cognition, and sleep patterns. Coping mechanisms dramatically reduce the influx of these neurotransmissions.

Coping Mechanisms for Unexpected Situations

Some coping mechanisms are so familiar and simplistic, we tend to reject them offhand. It is important to be mindful that our social anxiety compels us to resist healthy ideas and concepts. Just as there is no one right way to do or experience personal recovery, so also what helps us at one time in our life may not help us at another. It is prudent to consider all coping skills and have them available in all situations, and then utilized the ones that bring you the most relief in a particular circumstance. As the saying goes, if you refuse to sample the items on the menu, do not blame the chef when you go hungry. Anyone successful in their recovery will tell you these coping mechanisms are clinically trusted and highly effective. The following are useful in any type of feared-situation.

Slow Talk

I begin with Slow Talk because it is one of my favorite coping skills. One annoying symptom of our social anxiety is our fear of physical betrayal. We have the tendency, in stressful situations, to reveal our anxiety through excessive blushing, sweating, or trembling, not to mention the very real possibility of disorientation and fainting. When we engage in conversation, especially with strangers, our voice often trembles and stutters. We speak unassertively, lowering our voice to a whisper, and speaking rapidly in a subconscious effort to minimize our presence. Slow Talk alleviates this concern and is effective anywhere or anytime we feel stress in personal interaction. Speaking slowly and calmly slows our physiological responses, alleviates rapid heartbeat, and lowers our blood pressure. As an added advantage, hold back any response for roughly five seconds. That deliberate delay not only reduces the flow of cortisol and adrenaline but also makes us appear thoughtful and confident. 

Small Talk

Small Talk is informal conversation that does not cover any functional or transactional topics. It is succinct, non-confrontational, and mundane communication that connects us with others in a stress-moderate environment. Small talk is practiced in a workshop as a part of graded exposure. This coping mechanism is an important asset to those of us who find it challenging to initiate or join a conversation. 

Controlled Breathing

Nerves are bundles of fibers that use electrical and chemical signals to transmit information from one body part to another. The vagus nerve is the longest in our body. It originates in the base of our brain and extends down our neck and through our diaphragm, heart, lungs, and digestive tract. It controls our heart rate and keeps our nervous system in check. Research shows that just as we proactively reconstruct our neural network, we can also prompt our vagus nerve to decrease the flow of cortisol and adrenaline and release GABA and serotonin for calm and relaxation. Scientists tell us that the simplest way to manipulate our vagus nerve is to practice controlled breathing. This abbreviated controlled breathing exercise takes roughly a minute. We can secretively perform it in a hallway or restroom without revealing our anxiety.  

Place one hand on your abdomen, just above your navel, and the other hand in the center of your chest. If you are worried about being observed, eliminate the hand gestures.

  • Open your mouth and exhale your breath. Allow the muscles in your upper body and shoulders to drop down and relax.
  • Hold your breath for roughly six seconds. 
  • Slowly inhale through your nose for six seconds. Expand your stomach as you pull air in.
  • Pause for a few moments – as long as is comfortable, then open your lips and gently exhale through your mouth while pulling your stomach in.
  • Repeat at least five times.

Distractions and Diversions.

Distractions are stationary physical elements we identify when confronted by an unexpected feared-situation – a picture on the wall, a vase, mirror, or light fixture. Diversions are activities that fulfill the same function, e.g., becoming a greeter, dancing, or doing a survey of the guests’ reasons for attending. We establish items and preplan actions to divert our center of attention from the emotional distress of our anxiety to a physical action or mental reaction. The availability of distractions and diversions is only as limited as your imagination.

Obviously, devising distractions and diversions is easier in anticipated situations where we have some foreknowledge of the logistics. We know the locale, the agenda, and the personnel. We have the time to decide what stationery items to focus on, and what activities will work in our favor. This is not easily accomplished when we suddenly find ourselves thrust into a situation, assaulted by the rush of cortisol and adrenaline. The unanticipated emotions of our anxiety make it difficult to concentrate. It is an acquired mental process we learn through graded exposure. There are concentration exercises designed to achieve this level of spontaneous concentration. It is prudent not to go overboard on our destination and dissertations. Three of each is more than sufficient. With additional recommended coping mechanisms, we will have enough on our plate as it is.

Positive Personal Affirmations. 

If we are working, assiduously, on our recovery, we have three, active PPAs in our repertoire at all times. We are repeating them throughout the day, accelerating and consolidating our neural restructuring. Utilizing them in stressful situations moderates anxiety and its physical components. It is common sense.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). 

Like controlled breathing, PMR takes less than a minute and can be performed surreptitiously in a corner of the room, a hallway, or a restroom. Each component of the exercise is held for roughly 10 seconds.

  • Raise your shoulders toward your ears… tighten the muscles there. Hold. Release.
  • Tighten your hands into fists. Very, very tight… as if you are squeezing a rubber ball very tightly in each hand. Hold. Release.
  • Your forehead – Raise your eyebrows, feeling the tight muscles in your forehead. Hold. Now scrunch your eyes closed. Hold it. Relax.
  • Your jaw – Tightly close your mouth, clamping your jaw shut. Your lips will also be tight. Hold it. Release
  • Breathe in deeply through your nose. Hold it. Release the air through your mouth. Repeat at least three times.

Rational Response

What is the difference between PPAs and Rational Responses? Positive personal affirmations are self-motivating and empowering statements that focus on the general aspects of our condition. A rational response is situationally specific. It is designed to rebut the automatic negative thoughts that correspond to our fears and anxieties in a particular situation. They focus on those stress triggers that impact us at a particular time in a particular place. 

Rational response is a mental response to an emotional challenge. When confronted by our fears and corresponding ANTs, we ask ourselves, “How logical are these fears?” “ What is the worst that can happen?”The answers to those are our rational responses.

Example: Recently promoted, Nancy is required to participate in a company strategy session. She recognizes it is a feared-situation. She is anxious because it will include her more experienced contemporaries (mostly male) who are unfamiliar. She needs to make a good impression in an alpha-male competitive environment. She fears her more knowledgeable counterparts will recognize her shortcomings, criticize her, and reject her as one of their peers. Her corresponding ANT is “I will be judged and criticized.” Her rational responses might include, I belong here as much as anyone, “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t qualified,” and “I am equal to any person here.”

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Do not be fooled by the simplicity and familiarity of these coping mechanisms. Our first reaction is to dismiss them as unproductive because of our resistance to rational concepts and our general sense of futility. Nothing has ever worked before, why should we expect that to change? Of course, the answer is, we have been doing all the wrong things. If something feels right to a SAD person, you can count on it being counterproductive. SAD is clever and manipulative. I tell my clients, “Trust your instincts. After you’ve spent a few weeks in recovery.”

We are not limited to the coping mechanisms outlined, but it is important not to overwhelm ourselves. One of the general principles of war is simplicity. Our strategy should be clear and concise, utilizing mechanisms that are personally productive, well-practiced, and comfortable.

In Chapter Twenty-One we will focus on coping mechanisms that are geared towards moderating our fears and apprehensions of anticipated and recurring situations.

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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 regenerate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.

The Sky is Falling!

Robert F. Mullen, PhD
Director/ReChanneling

Subscriber numbers generate contributions that support scholarships for workshops.

“Dr. Mullen is doing impressive work helping the world. He is the
pioneer of proactive neuroplasticity utilizing DRNI—deliberate,
repetitive, neural information.” WeVoice (Madrid)

Cognitive Distortion #10: Catastrophizing  

One morning, as Chicken Little was plucking worms in the henyard, an acorn dropped from a tree onto her head. She had no idea what hit her and assumed the worst. “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” Catastrophizing drives us to conclude the worst-case scenario when things happen, rather than considering more obvious and plausible explanations. It is the irrational assumption that something is far worse than it is. We validate this by Filtering out the alternatives. We anticipate and prophesize disaster and twist reality to support our projection. If our significant other complains of a headache, we assume our relationship is doomed. If this happens again, our belief is confirmed.

A symptom of SAD is our tendency to expect negative consequences to things that happen during a situation. Because of our life-consistent negative self-appraisal, and inherent negative bias, we tend to assume the worst. Often, we justify our projections based on prior events, believing that catastrophe will ensue because the former event had disastrous consequences. This is similar to Overgeneralization where one bad apple means the entire bushel is rotten. Our four horsemen of social anxiety disorder – helplessness, hopelessness, undesirability, and unworthiness aggravate our negative assumptions. Catastrophizing is often a consequence of our symptomatic fears of criticism, ridicule, and rejection. We take something we believe is inevitable and presuppose its actuality. We will be rejected and therefore, never find love. We will be criticized and, therefore, never be taken seriously. 

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Catastrophizing can be paralyzing. It limits our social engagement because we avoid situations that posit the possibility of disaster. Our fatalistic obsessions prevent us from experiencing and enjoying life. We express it in our SAD-induced automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). “What if no one talks to me?” “What if they criticize my presentation?” “What if they find me unattractive?” Worrying about something that hasn’t happened is an exercise in futility and supports our sense of hopelessness. It can negatively impact our entire outlook in life, causing issues of motivation and self-esteem that lead to self-disappointment and underachievement.

Considering the consequences of what can happen is a regular and rational part of determining our actions and activities. The compulsion to project the worst possible outcome, no matter how improbable, is self-destructive. 

When those of us with social anxiety disorder find ourselves in a situation where we dread being criticized, ridiculed, and or rejected, the smallest incident, like a failed attempt at humor, can trigger the belief that the entire evening is a personal disaster. This projection can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy because we are convinced of its inevitability. 

Catastrophizing is closely linked to anxiety, depression, and self-pity, and is prevalent among individuals who have generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Again, the obvious remedy is to become mindful of our susceptibility to this distortion, rationally assess the situation, and consider plausible explanations for the incident that triggered our catastrophizing.

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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 regenerate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.  

Clio’s Psyche

Robert F. Mullen, PhD
Director/ReChanneling

Subscriber numbers generate contributions that support scholarships for workshops.

Utilizing Psychobiography to Moderate Symptoms of SAD

Abstract: Putting practical application to theory, this paper illustrates how the research techniques of psychobiography are incorporated into a comprehensive recovery program for social anxiety disorder.

Keywords: character-motivation, childhood disturbance, emotional disorders, Maslow, recovery, self-esteem, social anxiety

Psychobiography can be a most helpful treatment method in moderating the impact of social anxiety disorder (SAD), which is one of the most common mental disorders, negatively impacting the emotional and mental well-being of millions of U.S. adults and adolescents who find themselves caught up in a densely interconnected network of fear and avoidance of social situations. SAD is culturally identifiable by the persistent fear of social and performance situations in which we claim to be misunderstood, judged, criticized, and ridiculed. The irony is that we have far more to fear from our distorted perceptions than the opinions of others. Our imagination takes us to dark and lonely places.  

SAD makes us feel helpless and hopeless, trapped in a vicious cycle of fear and anxiety, and restricted from living a “normal” life. We feel alienated and disconnected—loners full of uncertainty, hesitation, and trepidation. Our fear of disapproval and rejection is so severe that we avoid the life experiences that interconnect us with others and the world. Fearing the unknown and unexplored, we obsess about upcoming situations and how we will reveal our shortcomings, experiencing anticipatory anxiety for weeks before an event and expecting the worst. We feel like we are living under a microscope, and everyone is judging us negatively, making us worry about what we say, how we look, and how we express ourselves. We are obsessed with how others perceive us; we feel undesirable and worthless.  

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As a SAD survivor, researcher, and workshop facilitator, I have found that the investigative methods utilized in psychobiography offer a unique understanding of how our motivation to succeed is seriously impaired by the symptoms of SAD. Until my psychology graduate study, I was convinced my emotional dysfunctions were the consequence of poor behavior rather than SAD-symptomatic. It was then I realized the immeasurable value of the in-depth case study that forms the crux of psychobiography. Recovery can be encapsulated by the phrase: “We are not defined by our social anxiety; we are defined by our character strengths, virtues, and achievements.”

SAD is a product of our negative core and intermediate beliefs induced by childhood disturbance. Cumulative evidence that a toxic childhood is a primary causal factor in lifetime emotional instability has been well-established. Emotional disorders sense the child’s vulnerability and onset during adolescence. (In the later-life onset of narcissistic personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], the susceptibility originates in childhood.) The disruption of emotional development subverts the child’s natural physiological and emotional evolution, denying the satisfaction of self-esteem. This does not signify a deficit, but both latency and dormancy are expressed by our undervaluation or regression of our positive self-qualities.

In a recent article, I stated the case that the psychobiographic emphasis on the eminent extraordinary limits its potential to understand the character motivations of the “ordinary” extraordinary who has achieved a significant personal milestone. To the average individual living with SAD, a noteworthy milestone is recovery-remission from emotional dysfunction. Putting practical application to theory, I have incorporated research methods of psychobiography into our comprehensive recovery programs. 

The role of psychobiography is to generate a more in-depth understanding of the qualities and characteristics that motivate us to achieve and overcome adversity. A primary function of recovery is to galvanize the SAD person to reclaim mindfulness of their character strengths, virtues, and achievements. Recognizing and accepting our inherent and developed personal values encourages us to embrace the extraordinariness of our lives, confirming we are consequential and valuable.  

The lifetime-consistent influx of negative self-beliefs and images generated by SAD negatively impacts the natural development of self-esteem, defined as the realization of one’s significance to self and community. Self-esteem is the complex interrelationship between how we think about ourselves, how we think others perceive us, and how we process and express that information. 

The roots of this lacuna are illustrated by Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of developmental needs. Childhood physical, emotional, or sexual disturbance disrupts our emotional and physiological development. Our sense of safety and security as well as feelings of belongingness and being loved are subverted, denying the satisfaction of self-esteem. While access to Maslow’s hierarchal levels is nonlinear, when coupled with our negative core and intermediate beliefs, the impact on our self-esteem becomes a certainty.

Maslow and Psychobiography: Realizing Our Potential

The collaboration of psychobiography and positive psychology traces its origins to themes addressed by Maslow that stress the importance of focusing on our positive qualities to realize our potential—to become the most that we can be. A function of psychobiography is to generate an understanding of the individual to learn what motivates our thoughts and behaviors. SAD functions by compelling irrational and self-destructive thoughts and behaviors due to its life-consistent negative self-beliefs and images.  Psychobiography lays the groundwork for rational response. 

The foundation of positive psychology is a human’s ability, development, and potential. The SAD symptomatic, life-consistent neural input of toxic information subverts our recognition and appreciation of our inherent and developed character strengths, virtues, and achievements—a trajectory initiated by our negative core and intermediate beliefs. It is the role of psychobiography to study the character attributes that generate the motivation to achieve and apply these understandings toward optimal functioning and improved life satisfaction.

The Influence of Core Beliefs in SAD

Core beliefs are determined by our childhood physiology, heredity, environment, information input, experience, learning, and relationships. Negative core beliefs are generated by any childhood disturbance that interferes with our optimal physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development. Perhaps we were subject to dysfunctional parenting, a lack of emotional validation, gender bullying, or a broken home. The disturbance can be intentional or accidental, real, or perceptual.  A toddler whose parental quality time is interrupted by a phone call can sense abandonment, which can generate core beliefs of unworthiness or insignificance.  

Core beliefs remain our belief system throughout life and govern our perceptions. They are more rigid in SAD persons because we tend to store information consistent with negative self-beliefs, ignoring evidence that contradicts. A recent Japanese study on emotional neuroticism found that core beliefs about the negative self generate cognitive vulnerabilities in achievement, dependency, and self-control. SAD generates cognitive distortions and maladaptive behaviors counterproductive to logical reasoning, negatively impacting the rationality and accuracy of our perspectives and decisions.  

Aaron Beck is the undisputed pioneer of cognitive-behavioral therapy for social anxiety and depression. He assigned negative core beliefs to two categories: self-oriented (“I am undesirable”) and other-oriented (“You are undesirable”). Individuals with self-oriented negative core beliefs view themselves in four ways: we feel helpless, hopeless, undesirable, and/or worthless. These beliefs can lead to fears of intimacy and commitment, an inability to trust, debilitating anxiety, codependence, aggression, feelings of insecurity, isolation, a lack of control over life, and resistance to new experiences. People with other-oriented negative core beliefs view people as demeaning, dismissive, malicious, or manipulative. By blaming others, we avoid personal accountability for our behaviors.  

Intermediate Beliefs: Establishing Attitudes, Rules, and Assumptions

The accumulated negative core beliefs due to childhood disturbance and other early-life experiences heavily influence our intermediate beliefs that develop our adolescence. As with core beliefs, they support our natural negative bias, neurobiologically inputting toxic information that reinforces our negative self-valuations. Intermediate beliefs establish our attitudes, rules, and assumptions. Attitude refers to our emotions, convictions, and behaviors. Rules are the principles or regulations that influence our behaviors. Our assumptions are what we believe to be true or real. A SAD person’s attitude is one of self-denigration, assumptions illogical and cognitively distorted, and rules interacted by destructive behaviors, 

A comprehensive recovery workshop must consider the needs of the individual within the group. One-size-fits-all approaches are anathema to recovery. Just as there is no one right way to do or experience recovery and transformation, so also what benefits one individual may not be helpful to another. The insularity of cognitive-behavioral therapy, positive psychologies, and other approaches cannot comprehensively address the complexity of the personality. Our environment, heritage, background, and associations reflect our wants, choices, and aspirations. If they are not given appropriate consideration, then we are not valued.

Devising a targeted recovery approach requires multiple perspectives from different psychological and scientific schools of thought developed through client trust, cultural assimilation, and therapeutic innovation. A collaboration of science and East-West psychologies is essential to capture the diversity of human thought and experience. Science gives us proactive neuroplasticity: cognitive-behavioral modification, positive psychology, and psychobiography are western-oriented; and eastern practices provide the therapeutic benefits of Buddhist psychology, as well as a sense of self that embraces the positive qualities of the individual. The qualitative and quantitative research elements of psychobiography, including the case study, hermeneutics, interpretations and explanations, personal data and evidence, and the narrative are useful tools for understanding the impact of SAD on our self-beliefs and images.

Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Quantitative research involves the empirical investigation of observable and measurable variables. It is used for testing theory, predicting and illustrating outcomes, and considering clinically-supported techniques. Quantitative research generates hypotheses and helps determine research and recovery strategies. It can include data-driven research, scales, personal inventories, and comparative or correlational studies. Although conceived as focusing on data articulated numerically, quantitative analysis is also used to study feared situations and the severity of anxiety.  

Qualitative research provides a close-up look at the human side of SAD relative to behaviors, beliefs, emotions, and relationships, supported by such intangible factors as social norms, ethnicity, socio-economic status, philosophy, and religion. A comprehensive study of the status and motivations of a SAD person is partially compiled through interviews, open-ended questions, and opinion research to gain insight into perceptions and belief systems.  

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In-Depth Case-Study           

The psychobiographic in-depth case study is a reconstructive clinical and systematic analysis of the life and productivity of an individual. The key is the availability of evidence. Accessing therapeutic notes and conclusions is legally impermissible; the workshop facilitator must lean heavily on experience and innovative methods of discovery. A case study of a recovering SAD person relies heavily on personal interviews—testimony that is conditional and truthful to the extent that the individual believes it or needs the facilitator to believe it. Clinically-supported scales and inventories are useful, and statistical research and studies are abundant. Comparative and correlational evidence supports conclusions.  

Psychobiography: Interpretations and Explanations

Psychobiography is an interpretation of the life of individuals, extraordinary or otherwise. Interpretations and explanations compensate for the physiological and psychological resistance to personal revelation. Recollections are highly subject to inaccuracies. We must ask ourselves, to what extent are memories of subjective experiences and events accurate portrayals of what happened, wistful recollections, or biased reconstructions? Whether correctly recalled or not, memories and recollections must be valued as authentic perceptions of the reality of the individual. In the case of Michael Z., his recollections of childhood physical and emotional abuse helped him understand and moderate his avoidance of trust and intimacy.

Interpretation permeates all investigations from data to statistics, the case study, and hermeneutics. Psychobiography is an intuitive, interpretive method of comprehension based upon the synthesis of evidence culled from all available, relevant sources. Therapists must partially base their diagnosis on the interpretation of observable behaviors. 

 A facilitator must consider the multiplicities of truth, which means different things to different people and is contingent upon the validity of the information provided by the subject. We must be willing to risk and value our interpretations, instincts, and even speculations while remaining cognizant that we are susceptible to incorporating personal sensibilities and subject to imperfect conclusions, due to the vagaries and ambiguities of the subject.  

Hermeneutics: An Essential Step in Recovery

Hermeneutics is essential to recovery due to the core beliefs of the child impacted by a dysfunction-provoking disturbance. The disruption in emotional development coupled with unjustifiable shame and guilt generates negative and often hostile perspectives in early learning which leans heavily on morality and religion. The unjustifiable shame and guilt expressed by Matty S. was a reliable indicator of his sense of undesirability and worthlessness. Recognizing his non-accountability for onset allowed him to realize the irrationality of his adverse moral emotions. The negative belief system of the susceptible child cognitively distorts their understanding of self and their relationship with others and the world. A major function of recovery is moderating these irrational beliefs. This entails identifying and examining our disruptive thoughts and behaviors and generating rational responses, while proactively repatterning our neural network. 

Narrative: The Ordinary Extraordinary

The narrative aspect of psychobiography favors the “ordinary” extraordinary because of their ability to access experiences. While the narrative of the average individual may lack spectacularism it does not impede creativity. Every SAD individual’s life is distinctive, consisting of unique experiences, beliefs, and sensibilities. How we express that information is subject to our self-beliefs and images. Through the interview and narrative process, Liz D. was able to rationally comprehend and moderate her intense situational fear of constructive confrontation. Its complex origins stemmed from her adolescent intermediate self-beliefs.  The role of the personal narrative in moderating negative-self perceptions is significant.  

Concluding Thoughts

This article illustrates the value of psychobiography in constructing an individually targeted approach to recovery from social anxiety disorder. A psychobiography generates hypotheses and helps determine recovery strategies while offering a close-up look at the human side of SAD relative to behaviors, beliefs, emotions, and relationships. It provides support in evaluating and treating the individual within the workshop gestalt. The investigative methods utilized in psychobiography, including the case study, hermeneutics, interview, narrative, and the relevant social sciences, are valuable to understanding the trajectory of and methods to moderate life-consistent negative self-beliefs and images. Less reliable is the availability of an informed case study and personal data and evidence. This lacuna is compensated by the experienced facilitator’s interpretation of common threads in SAD recovery, supported by statistical research and comparative and correlational evidence.  

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Clio’s Psyche is a peer-reviewed, scholarly journal, founded in 1994, and published by the Psychohistory Forum, holding regular scholarly meetings in Manhattan and at international conventions. Clio’s Psyche is unique in that it prefers experiential testimony over extensive citation.

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