Young Man Thinking

Don’t Believe Everything You Think!

If you have ever been in the market for a new car, you might have noticed how, once you started thinking about what kind of car you wanted – what make, what color – you began to see that car everywhere you went.  Because the car was on your mind, you were inclined to see it, more apt to see it than you would have been otherwise.

If you worry about rejection, you might well experience a similar phenomenon.  When we have rejection on our minds, we also tend to see it, or at least the potential for it, everywhere.  And why wouldn’t we?  After all, we are trying to protect ourselves from what rejection means for us – loneliness, perhaps, or “proof” that our negative core beliefs, the declarations of our inner critic, are true.  However, the threat of rejection – in the form of other people thinking negatively of us, for instance – is something that we often interpret, and even overinterpret, into situations and what other people say and do.  We indulge in what cognitive-behavioral therapy calls mind reading.

In our context of social anxiety, shyness, and performance fears, we can talk about mind reading as another kind of anxious thinking (two weeks ago, we looked at personalization as our first example).  When we engage in mind reading, we make anxious assumptions not only about what other people are thinking, but that they are thinking negatively of us.

Let us say, for instance, that I am aware that I begin to sweat and blush when I feel nervous.  I may assume not only that others notice my physical responses, but that they view me as strange or weird as a result.  In making these assumptions, I am engaging in mind reading on two counts.  First, I am assuming that others can tell as clearly as I can that I am feeling nervous, which may not be true; then, I am assuming that others are judging me negatively, which may not be accurate, either.  In both cases, I am very likely overestimating the probability that my fears represent what others really have on their minds.  From a cognitive-behavioral perspective, probability overestimation is yet another kind of anxious thinking, one that often goes hand-in-hand with mind reading.  For many of us, the idea that we overestimate the likelihood of what we fear is both a relief and difficult to believe.  Don’t forget – we are trying to avoid the pain of what rejection means to us.  Why wouldn’t we overestimate the danger?  We think that doing so will keep us safer.

The trouble is that in being so vigilant against the threat of rejection, and seeing it everywhere, we actually set ourselves up for more frequent chances of having the very kinds of experiences that we want to avoid.  For example, if we speak too softly or avoid eye contact in social situations on account of our fears, others may “reject” us not because they are actually thinking negatively of us, but because they interpret us as not interested in them.

The good news is … we do not have to believe everything that we think!  Our perception of rejection, or its potential, is open to challenge.  We can approach our thoughts like a purchase we have made; if one doesn’t work for us, we can take it back!

To the extent that you feel comfortable sharing, what have been your own experiences of mind reading?  How do you keep yourself from believing the negative things that you imagine others are thinking about you?

I will be continuing to write about kinds of anxious thinking in the coming weeks.  If you are interested in following this blog, you can do so via e-mail; please feel free to subscribe!

For more information and resources, visit scottburnskahler.com.

Disgusted?

Anxious Thinking — Personalization

One of the premises of a cognitive-behavioral response to problems with social anxiety, shyness, or performance fears is that certain ways of thinking fuel the experiences that are our complaint; we can call this phenomenon “anxious thinking.”  There are several patterns or types of anxious thinking defined in the literature on cognitive-behavioral therapy, and many of these patterns overlap.  In this post, I am going to focus on one and touch on a couple of others.  The kind of anxious thinking that I will concentrate on today is often called personalization.

When we engage in personalization, we take an experience personally – that is to say, as caused by or about us – and we fail to consider all the other factors that may be at play, or other ways of interpreting the situation.  If I am sitting in a coffee shop, for example, I might look up and see a woman at another table looking in my direction and wrinkling her nose.  I assume that the woman is looking at me and wrinkling her nose in disgust at some aspect of my appearance or behavior, perhaps the fact that I’m typing on my laptop in a coffee shop, or that I forgot to comb my hair before leaving the house.  In this instance, not only have I taken the situation personally in seeing myself as the object of the woman’s attention and as the cause of her facial expression, but I am indulging in mind reading as well – assuming that I know the woman’s thoughts — yet another kind of anxious thinking.  In reality, this woman may be looking at me and admiring my tousled hair, or noticing my laptop, which is a brand she has considered buying, while her nose starts to tickle.  She may not be thinking about me at all, even if she is looking at me!

Cognitive-behavioral therapy encourages us to challenge our anxious thinking, to consider meanings or interpretations other than the ones that fuel our experiences of anxiety.  In the case of personalization, we may remind ourselves – perhaps with a mixture of relief and disappointment – that “It’s not all about me!”  After all, what makes me think that this woman cares about what I am doing or how I look?  Even if the woman is looking at me, and is critical of my appearance or behavior (which is not the same as being critical of me as a person, I might add), I could ask myself, “So what?  Why do I care?”  I wonder if we care at times because we want a sense of validation that we matter somehow to someone, or because the criticism that we imagine echoes our own conscience, self-doubts, or inner critic.  Perhaps I am feeling a bit guilty about sitting at a table for two at the coffee shop to type on my laptop for an hour, or I tend to be critical of my hair, thinking it too thin or wispy or curly, or I am beating myself up for being a ditz yet again, this time walking out of the house before I looked in the mirror.  We can talk about negative core beliefs of the “I’m not good enough!” or “Something is wrong with me!” variety (and there are others) as a third kind of anxious thinking involved in this scenario.

To the extent that you are comfortable sharing, what have been your own experiences of personalization?  What are the helpful ways you have found to respond?

I will be writing more about other types of anxious thinking in the coming weeks.  If you’re interested, you can follow this blog via e-mail!

For more information and resources, visit scottburnskahler.com.

Welcome!

Welcome to My Blog!

Welcome to the companion blog to scottburnskahler.com!  I am Scott Burns Kahler, a psychotherapist and coach specializing in collaborative and cognitive-behavioral work with clients who identify themselves as suffering from social anxiety, shyness, or performance fears.  I maintain a private counseling practice in Indianapolis, Indiana, and offer coaching over the telephone and Skype, primarily for clients who have seen a therapist before, and want to maintain and build on the gains that they have made.  I intend this blog to be a helpful resource for those interested in issues related to social anxiety, shyness, and performance fears; look for a post coming soon on the topic of “Anxious Thinking.”  Note that you can choose to follow this blog via e-mail if you would like.  Thank you for reading!

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