Category Archives: Cognitive Distortions

Reduced to a Label

Robert F. Mullen, PhD
Director/ReChanneling

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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.  

Whoever Said Life is Fair?

Robert F. Mullen, PhD
Director/ReChanneling

Subscriber numbers generate contributions that support scholarships for workshops.

Cognitive Distortion #9: 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 living with SAD are predisposed to emotional reasoning or personalization does validate the irrationality that life is fair.

The concept of fairness varies, based on our experiences, culture, and environment. It is a personally biased assessment of how well our expectations, needs, and wants are met by others, institutions, and nature. When real life goes against our perceptions of fairness, as it often does, it generates negative emotions.

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The belief that all things in life should be based on fairness and equality is a noble but unrealistic philosophy. We can strive for such things, but life’s vicissitudes have a will of their own. The obvious reality is that much of life is inequitable. People are self-oriented, institutions alternatively focused, and nature indeterminate. Wanting things to work in our favor is normal; expecting them to do so is irrational.

We all have our ideas of how we like to be treated In personal interactions, but reciprocation is governed by the other, and it rarely comports with our expectations. As a result, we blame others for any adverse response rather than consider their expectations and our self-centered assumptions of fairness.

The problem is exacerbated in those of us living with social anxiety because SAD subsists on our irrational thoughts and behaviors, which means that our expectations are often irrational as well. Ironically, we are not surprised when they are not met because we symptomatically anticipate and project negative outcomes. This does not stop us, however, from blaming ourselves or others when our negative prophecies are fulfilled.

The fallacy of fairness is often expressed in conditional assumptions. “If my teacher knew how hard I studied, she’d give me a passing grade.” Conditional conclusions allow us to avoid delegating true accountability. Studying does not always lead to comprehension, and teachers, ostensibly, base grades on test results. ”If my parents had treated me better, I wouldn’t have social anxiety disorder.” The direct cause of emotional dysfunction is indeterminate, and blaming our parents or ourselves is irrational given the evidence.

It is advisable to stand outside the bullseye – to emotionally extract ourselves from an undesirable situation and evaluate it from multiple perspectives. Fairness is subjective, based on personal beliefs and experiences. Mindfulness of the needs and experiences of others is a product of recovery. Moderating our fears of social interaction allows us to entertain other points of view, and reveals the narrow-mindedness of fairness, which is only a state of mind.

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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.  

Repeat Offender

Robert F. Mullen, PhD
Director/ReChannelng

Subscriber numbers generate contributions that support scholarships for workshops.

Cognitive Distortion #7: 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. 

Overgeneralization supports our negative self-beliefs and image. If someone rejects us, we assume everyone will find us undesirable. Because we persuade ourselves it is unlikely anyone is interested in getting to know us, we avoid situations where that might occur. That aggravates our SAD-induced fears of intimacy and avoidance of social situations.

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Our automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) are usually overgeneralizations. “No one will like me.” “I’m a failure.” “She called me stupid.” “Everyone thinks I’m an idiot.” These self-defeating thoughts are based on our fears and anxieties rather than the available evidence. An example of overgeneralization would be the false assumption that, because you failed a test, you will never be able to pass the course.

We justify our prejudices by overgeneralizing. One bad apple in a group means everyone in the group is rotten. We make broad and inaccurate assumptions about that group based on this one person’s behavior. Overgeneralized thinking can cause us to wrongly judge entire groups of people, which is harmful to self and society.

This distortion inevitably leads to avoidance, limiting our willingness to experience things because we have self-prophesied what will happen based on it happening before. Similar to Filtering, where we ignore the positive and dwell on the negative, and Polarized Thinking, where we see things in black or white, overgeneralization is based on assuming the worst. Keywords that support overgeneralization include allevery, none, never, always, everybody, and nobody. See the section on The Destructive Nature of Negative Words in Chapter Nine. Overgeneralization often tends to be self-fulfilling prophecy and is associated with generalized anxiety, social anxiety, depression, panic attacks, PTSD, and OCD.

The rational response to overgeneralization is to (1) consider the accuracy of the statement and consider the available evidence, and (2) identify the situation, fears, and ANTs that compel the need to cognitively distort in the first place.

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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.

Don’t Take It Personally

Robert F. Mullen
Director/ReChanneling

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Cognitive Distortion #6: 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. 

Personalization is the stepping-stone to internal blaming and internal control fallacies where we wrongly believe we are responsible for things we have little or nothing to do with. As I cautioned earlier, cognitive distortions are not cut-and-dried but ambiguous and overlapping 

Did you ever walk into a room, and everyone suddenly stops talking? If you assume they were talking about you, you are exhibiting an acute case of Personalization

Those of us living with SAD lack the ability to understand things accurately from the perspectives of others. Our self-centeredness drives us to assume irrelevant things involve us. We imagine the world revolves around us which only aggravates our fears of saying or doing the wrong thing and embarrassing ourselves.

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Another aspect of Personalization is when we compare ourselves to the achievements of others. If a coworker receives a commendation, we feel inadequate because we were not honored. Our need to personalize is underscored by our concerns about how others think about us. If we do not receive the acclaim to which we think we are entitled, we believe we are being judged unfairly. The rational response to someone receiving a commendation is to recognize their achievements, but our low self-esteem makes us envious. 

As children, we believe the world revolves around us, and we lack the ability to consider the perspectives of others. We are cognitively incapable of considering the other probabilities. We assume our parents fight because we did something wrong. Most reasonable people grow out of this self-obsession, but SAD subsists on irrationality which makes us feel underappreciated and misunderstood.

Much of recovery focuses on the regeneration of our self-esteem through the renewed mindfulness of our character strengths, virtues, and achievements. 

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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.  

Controlled or Controlling: Who’s in Charge?

Robert F. Mullen, PhD
Director/ReChanneling

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Cognitive Distortion #3: Control Fallacies

Our anxieties manifest in how we think about ourselves and how we think others think about us. We struggle with our fears of criticism and ridicule. The majority of us also live with depression, which can lead to multiple cognitive distortions including Filtering, Polarized Thinking, Overgeneralization, and Personalization. This chapter focuses on our tendency to engage in Control Fallacies due to our SAD-induced feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. 

A fallacy is a belief based on unreliable evidence and unsound arguments. As we discussed earlier, we cognitively distort to reinforce or justify our self-beliefs and validate our irrational attitudes, rules, and assumptions – how we think and behave.

A 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.

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When we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as weak and powerless, blaming outside forces for our adversities. We accuse our gender, race, sexuality, weight, income, and education rather than assume responsibility for our actions. A health scare becomes an act of god, the philanderer blames his wife for leaving him, and our failing grade is because our instructor has a personal grudge. 

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. It is our fault our friend turns to drugs because we weren’t supportive. Our supervisor suffers a heart attack because we continually miss deadlines.

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We believe external forces control us because we feel powerless over what happens to us. Our sense of hopelessness tells us any effort towards remedy is futile. “They think I’m incompetent.” “She finds me unattractive.” “I don’t belong here.” We subsequently feel guilty for our inadequacy, and shame for our weakness. We wallow in self-pity, convinced that attempts at happiness are pointless. 

Our tendency to unjustifiably blame ourselves for our social anxiety disorder leads to internal control fallacies. Had we moderated our adolescent behavior, we claim, we could have prevented the onset. This leads us to believe we have control over other things we bear no responsibility for. “It’s my fault she’s unhappy.” “He drinks because I ignored him.” The belief we have let everyone down wreaks havoc on our emotional well-being and our sense of competence. 

These control fallacies inform us we are not assigning blame in the appropriate ways. We need to stop taking responsibility for problems we do not create and assume responsibility for our actions. That is only logical. Unfortunately, SAD subsists on our irrational thoughts and behaviors.  A fundamental component of recovery is learning how to identify our cognitive distortions and devise rational responses. 

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

Chapter 9: Constructing Our Neural Information

Robert F. Mullen
Director/ReChanneling

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This is a draft of Chapter Nine – “Constructing Our Neural Information” 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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Constructing Our Neural Information

“The problems are solved, not by giving new information,
but by arranging what we have known since long.”
― Ludwig Wittgenstein

A comprehensive recovery program has three primary goals: (1) To replace or overwhelm our negative thoughts and beliefs with healthy, productive ones, (2) to produce rapid, concentrated, neurological stimulation to change the polarity of our neural network, and (3) to regenerate our self-esteem.

Proactive neuroplasticity is our ability to govern our emotional well-being through DRNI – the deliberate, repetitive, neural input of information. What is significant is how we dramatically accelerate and consolidate learning by consciously compelling our brain to repattern its neural circuitry. DRNI empowers us to proactively transform our thoughts and behaviors, creating healthy new mindsets, skills, and abilities. 

Before delving into the construction of our neural information, let’s break DRNI down into its components so we fully understand the purpose and the process.

Deliberate. A deliberate act is a premeditated one; we initiate and control the process. Let’s review the three forms of neuroplasticity. Reactive neuroplasticity is our brain’s natural adaption to externally driven information that impacts our neural network. Active neuroplasticity is cognitive pursuits such as dancing, yoga, or assembling a puzzle. It is not a deliberate manipulation of our neural network and is often impulsive. To be proactive is to intentionally cause something to happen rather than respond to it after it has happened. Proactive neuroplasticity is the deliberate act of reconstructing our neural network. Its purpose is to overwhelm or replace negative and toxic neural input with healthy positive information. As psychoanalyst Otto Rank confirms in Art and the Artist, “positively willed control takes the place of negative inhibition. 

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Repetition is the act or an instance of repeating or being repeated – in this case, our neural information. Common synonyms of repetitive include monotonous, tedious, and mind-numbing. The process can be off-putting unless we remain mindful of its purpose, which is the positive realignment of our neural network. Proactive neural Information consists of short, self-affirming, and self-motivating statements we commit to memory and repeat to expedite learning and unlearning. 

Neural input is the stimuli that impact our brain and compel its circuits to realign and create new neurons. The gateway to information, receptor neurons do not react to every stimulus. Our brain receives around two million bits of data per second but is capable of processing roughly 126 bits, so it is important to provide substantial information. 

Multiple tools assist in our recovery, and we identify them throughout this book. Coping mechanisms moderate our situational fears, graded exposure eases our transition into society, and cognitive comprehension corrects our irrational assumptions. In this chapter, our focus is on the rapid and concentrated neurological stimulation that compels a sensory neuron to spark, initiating a neural chain reaction. The more repetitions, the more durable the circuits. 

Neural stimuli are sensory – sights, sounds, tactile impressions; mental in the form of memory, experience, and ideas; and emotional incited by images, words, and music. The purpose of inputting neural information in proactive neuroplasticity is to overwhelm or replace toxic with healthy information in the form of positive electrical energy. The content and motive of our information determine the positive or negative polarity of its energy – the size, amount, or degree of that which passes from one atom to another in the course of its chain reaction. 

We begin the process of DRNI by identifying the goal of our information. What is our intention? What do we want to achieve? Are we challenging our anxieties about a social event? Are we asking for a raise? Are we confronting the family conspiracist at Thanksgiving dinner? A firm, specific goal enables the process. 

The next step is identifying the actions or measurable steps needed to achieve the goal. Our goal is the outcome we want to achieve; the objectives are the means necessary to achieve the desired outcome. Goals and objectives work in tandem. If our goal is to challenge a feared-situation, what is our strategy, and what coping mechanisms and other steps do we take to successfully engage? 

Now we construct our information – the self-empowering statement(s) that support our goal and objectives. To ensure its integrity, the information is sound in its construction. Meeting the following eight guidelines will establish an effective neural response. The best information is rational, reasonable, possible, positive, goal-focused, unconditional, brief, and in first-person present or future form.

Rational. Our overarching objective in recovery is to subvert our life-consistent negative self-beliefs and image that stem from our core and intermediate beliefs influenced by childhood disturbance and onset. We manifest these self-defeating perspectives in our automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). For the most part, our assumptions are illogical and cognitively distorted. Countering them requires devising a rational response. If our ANT corresponds to our SAD-indued fear of ridicule or criticism, a rebuttal might be an affirmation of our significance – mindfulness of the value of our contributions.

Reasonable. Unreasonable means without reason, which is a definition of insanity. We are either sensible and of sound judgment or are cognitively impaired. Unreasonable aspirations and expectations impact the soundness of our information. “I will publish my first novel” is an unreasonable expectation if we choose to remain illiterate.

Possible means it is within our power or capacity to achieve it. Because our social anxiety attacks our confidence and self-esteem, we tend to subvert our inherent and achieved attributes, which limits our recognition of possibility. 

Positive. For our purposes positive means we eliminate negative thoughts, words, or statements from our information. Rather than stating, “I will not be afraid,” preferable statements could be “I am confident,” or “I will be courageous.”

Goal-Focused. If we do not know our destination, the path will be unfocused and meandering. We focus the content of our information on our goals and objectives. For SAD persons, our overarching goal is moderating our fears, anxieties, and ANTs. 

Unconditional. Our commitment to the content of our information must be unequivocal. Any undertaking contingent upon something or someone else weakens its resolution and potential. Saying “I might do something” means “I may or may not do something.” How comfortable are we when someone says, “I might consider paying you for your work?” 

First-Person Present or Future. Our information is a self-affirming and self-motivating commitment to our current or future. The past is important to intention but irrevocable. “I can do this.” Future time as self-fulfilling prophecy is also fine: “I will succeed,” for example. 

Brief. We express our information in brief statements purposed to initiate the rapid, concentrated, neurological stimulation that transmits the electrical energy from one atom to another in the course of its chain reaction. Brevity also makes it easier to commit our PPAs to memory because information changes as it evolves in recovery. 

The importance of productive neural input is indisputable. It expedites and integrates our three primary goals, each complementary to the others. The deliberate and considered replacement of our negative thoughts and beliefs with healthy, productive ones assists in changing the energy polarity of our neural network and simultaneously helps regenerate our self-esteem.

Proactive Neuroplasticity YouTube Series

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