Download PDF

When Ideas Change the WorldIdeas implanted in the right mind at the right time can be incredibly powerful. After all, this is basically how radicalization works. By creating or highlighting an imbalance between a person’s ideals and aspirations and their present reality, a very painful situation starts to take shape. Resentment and embitterment are often the prevailing emotions as an affected person embarks on a road of increasing dissatisfaction. It is a journey that tends to generate its own momentum with every disappointment and every perceived rejection.

Cognitive science and the nature of beliefs

In the 1950s, researchers have figured out that their depressed patients had one thing in common. They shared the same thought patterns and themes. These ideas centered around their inherent beliefs about themselves, others, and the world. Most often the thoughts were about how they were somehow deficient, incapable, and unworthy of others’ love and attention. How others could not be trusted and always meant them harm. And that the world was a dangerous place that could produce a nasty surprise at any moment. These thoughts and beliefs seemed to be the cause of negative emotions and dysfunctional behavior too.

When automatic thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy

But, it is not only depression that follows this pathway. In fact, most disordered personality, mood, and behavior features share a similar cognitive cycle. As negative beliefs are triggered by unpleasant events, a person automatically engages in irrational thoughts too. “They think I am weird” or “They don’t like me” assumes that others’ thoughts can be accurately predicted.

Other automatic negative thoughts are “There is no hope for me” or “I am no good.” Or even, “I deserve better,” “I’m better than other people,” and “If I don’t take what I want, someone else will take it away.” These are all examples of unhelpful thoughts that automatically pop up when a person with those core beliefs perceive a challenge, threat, or some other kind of difficulty. They are seen as universally valid whatever the condition. The problem is that automatic negative thoughts quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Here’s how it works.

We think; therefore we do

Negative thoughts generate unpleasant feelings, which become ever more intense with time and repetition. An overwhelming imbalance starts happening in our brains until we just can’t tolerate inaction anymore. Then, we act. Irresponsibly. With little or no regard for ourselves or others. We think. Therefore we do. Simple as that. A thoughtful contemplation about the consequences has no place in the process. Through evolution, we are wired to instinctively react to anything that we perceive to be threatening our safety, our status, and our survival. That is what beliefs are designed to accomplish. Only, in modern times, the environment has changed. A lot. But, our brains sometimes don’t seem to appreciate that fact. And, as we act rashly and thoughtlessly, the reaction from others are likely to be unfavorable, which increases our unhappiness and confirms the negative beliefs we had in the first place. It is an evil cycle that intensifies with each repetition.

When ideas become weapons

Beliefs take a long time to develop. And an even longer time to dismantle, as many psychologists can attest to. But, those with similarly cynical themes of beliefs are vulnerable to being targeted and exploited too. A person who is already resentful and embittered about his situation or opportunities, for feeling rejected and alienated, who believe that they deserve more and resent others for perceived or real privileges, can become a perfect tool.

Give him or her an idea, hope that they can fit in, make a difference, or do something memorable and you have a lethal weapon in your hands. Literally. By enhancing their feeling of separateness and discontent and replacing it with goal and meaning makes a powerful force. Suddenly, they fit in and have a dream. This is what radicalization is about. Activating and snapping negative beliefs into action.

Joan Swart, PsyD

Joan Swart, PsyD

Forensic Psychologist | Business Developer at Open Forest LLC
Joan is a forensic psychologist, lecturer, and author of “Treating Adolescents with Family-Based Mindfulness” published by Springer in 2015 and “Homicide: A Forensic Psychology Casebook” published by CRC Press in 2016. She is a business developer at Open Forest LLC. Open Forest LLC provides online psychoeducation and self-help programs aimed at improving many conditions, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and mindfulness.
Joan Swart, PsyD


Forensic psychologist, #narcissist, #psychopath, other PDs | Business developer at | #pug lover | masters #powerlifting
Joan Swart, PsyD
Joan Swart, PsyD

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *