OVERCOMING PERFORMANCE ANXIETY BY MEANS OF MENTAL IMAGES
Dott. Giovanna Genovese Study centre and psychological counselling Italy firstname.lastname@example.org www.giovannagenovese.it
Abstract A new way to act on the overcoming of performance anxiety using the author’s neuro-psychological V A-E model is described. The model is based on the presupposition that it’s possible, in a short time, to control emotions and the behaviour linked to them, by modifying the images produced by neural circuits of the brain. This hypothesis is the result of a study that uses the latest research of neuroscience ~eJA-te.t/1 .1’h1 visual and emotional areas and others areas connected to them. It is pointed out how mental images take shape and how they, together with emotions.Jcan interfere on instinctual, sensory-emotional, motor and organic-hormonal factors of sex’Ual behaviour, producing performance anxiety. What happens during the excitement, orgasmic and resolution phases of intercourse is described, and how the neural discharge of motor impulses produce, without interference, the co-ordinated body movements, that allow orgasmic pleasure. How the V A-E model, suggested by the author, can become a productive therapeutic means is explained.
.Keywords: performance anxiety; instinctual, motor, organic-hormonal factors; mental images; visu an emotional areas of the brain; neuro-psychological model V A-E.
The possibility to control anxiety in general, and in particular performance anxiety, working on mental images, arises from three presuppositions of the neuro-psychological VA-E model:
1 -Visual and Auditory stimuli remain recorded in the brain in specific neural tracks that are connected with the Emotional areas.
2 -Between Visual and Auditory mental representations, and Emotions there is a connection-conditioning so that images and emotions can be re-called reciprocally.
3 -By changing our mental images it’s possible to manage the emotion linked to them and the behaviour that follows. These hypothesis can have an empirical support considering what happens inside the brain when the areas of vision and other areas connected to them function.
125 million receptors inside each eye are stimulated by what we see; cornea and crystalline lens send the image focuses to the retina. The retina is able to change the light into nerve signals, they arrive at the brain through a cluster of fibres, which form the optic nerve. When the fibres exit from the eye they reach the lateral geniculate body, after, maintaining a topographical order, they fan out to end up in the primary visual cortex and other areas, (D. H. Hubel 1998) that in turn are a collection of varied areas ( Tononi G. 1992). Inside each one of such areas there is a dense intersecting of signals that are the basis of the topographically organised representations (Kosslyn et a1.1993) the source of mental images (Kosslyn S.M.1980).
Emotions, attitudes, goals and intentions can be also activated without awareness, and they can influence the way in which people think and act in social situations (Bargh, lA, 1990).
Damasio affirms that the active knowledge needed in order to reason and decide comes to the mind under the form of images, and that to have a mind means that an organism forms neural representations which can become images, can be manipulated in a process called thought, and at the end can influence behaviour by helping to foresee the future and consequently to plan and choose the next action (Damasio AR.1996). It is also our interest to investigate the connection between areas of the brain, that permit the construction of mental images, and areas in which emotions arise.
The primary visual area is connected with the visual Thalamus that controls all the impulses deriving from the cortex. Thalamus elaborates impulses and distributes the elaborations to other different subcortical regions, including the Hippocampus and Amygdala, which seem to be involved in the emotions and cognitive functions (Amaral D.G. 1992).
The Hippocampus is important for its particular role in memory, it has, together with others functions, that of creating a context in which to place memories autobiographically, locating them in space and time (O’keefe, 1. 1978).
The Amygdala sends emergency messages to the main parts of the brain, it stimulates the hormone secretion, which urges the fighting reaction or escape, and it ignites the centres of movement and activates the cardiovascular system, the muscles and the intestine (LeDoux 1.1999). The Amygdala has been considered important for a long time in the procedure of emotional behaviour. It is the archive, which contains those preferences and refusals that we have accumulated during our life.
Le Doux has pointed out that the stimuli reach the Amygdala through two pathways which pass from the Thalamus: one going straight to the amygdala giving a crude representation of the stimulus -in 12 milliseconds the response is obtained -while the other pathway passes first of all by the cortex before reaching the amygdala, and the representation of the stimuli will be rational -the response will arrive in 24 milliseconds (Le Doux 1.1999).
In this way we can have an empirical confirmation of the active connection between mental images and emotions.
Consider another three points of the VA-E model:
1 -The image-representations of events that are emotionally saturated are inclined to be fixed in the memory and are more easily recalled, and an image can stimulate an emotional reaction, whether it comes from external reality or from the memory archive.
2 -The image of something, even if it only looks like the visual stimulus, which has produced the neural tracks, can recall the entire image that regards the event, and the associated emotion also re-emerges.
3 – By modifying the images we have the possibility to change emotions linked to them and behaviour (Genovese G. 2000).
What has been said would seem to be a reduction to a simple neurobiological mechanism, but this hypothesis has produced a neuro-psychological model that permits us to use the capacities of our brain, to control emotions and behaviour.
The V A-E model works; it is easy to apply and sometimes immediately effective.
With patients we also use hypnosis as an instrument that can render some images prevailing over others; thinking during the trance facilitates also the formation and the adjustment of the schemes that can determine useful actions to the well-being of the person.
To connect what we have said with how to win performance anxiety, we consider what happens during the excitement, orgasmic, and resolution phases of a sexual act. In this process, the instinctual, emotional-sensorial, motor and organic components of the act take part, almost simultaneously, in the construction of mental representations that produce on anxiety block.
In the phase of excitement the instinct becomes sensations; the senses of vision, smell, hearing, and taste are involved” together with instinctual, cultural-environmental, psychological and sensorial-emotional factors.
McDougal considered that instinct is a motivational power and each instinct is linked to one emotion. He recognised that cultural and environmental factors intervene in modifying instinctive behaviour (McDougal W. 1921).
The cultural and environmental factors have contributed to modifying the primary aim of a sexual act, that is no more to procreating, but to pleasure. Instinctual incentive can be modified and adapted to the various circumstances; it’s possible to utilise instincts directing them towards many aims; it’s possible to develop inhibitions that can win them.
Psychological and emotional factors can modify the instinctual incentive, and alter the instinctive sequence that will permit orgasmic pleasure to be reached.
Learning, expectation, and tendency to newness intervene in modifying instinct. Regarding learning, perhaps, the best thing to learn about a sexual act is that there is nothing to be learnt (Richardson John T.E., 1999).
The concepts that regard the word “love”, that are part of emotional components, can become dangerous elements, because they produce plots of “film” full of romantic images, which stimulate the desire of sexual performance full of feelings. Feeling is the experience of what our body tests in the moment in which the thoughts are elaborated.
Sexual attraction between two people is determined primarily by the persistent tendency to verify our sensorial experiences with all the senses. When an attractive person is only seen, a strong incentive to touch them, to feel them with the mouth, to hear them arises: the person is desired and is wanted entirely.
Perhaps this natural tendency has been named “love”. This concept becoming the “noble” companion of sex has contributed to enrich the archives of the mental representations of sexuality.
Today these mental images have characteristics that are different from that, which in past time were used for postponing the satisfaction of pleasure and increasing desire; they drive towards “all and now” . These images, maintaining the name of “love affair”, “to make love”, or ” fall in love”, continue to produce expectations of loving gestures and romantic satisfaction that, only too often, have a negative interference in the performance, primarily ofthe woman.
Only too often sex becomes an intellectual construction that goes away from instinctual spontaneity of the animal, from those beastly pure movements, which, if they aren’t excessive, if they are refined, they can act as filter of high quality.
The tendency to newness, that is part of environment factors and regards the changing of partner and situation, acts dangerously on sexual behaviour.
Two experiments with animals about a “newness effect” are significant.
When the female is in season, the male has a sexual activity until he is exhausted, but if the female is substituted with another female also in season, the male starts the activity again with vigour. If oestrogen injections are given to the female to keep her in season for a whole month, activity of the male is decreased progressively during this time; when the first female is substituted with a second also in season, the male becomes excited again, but if the first female comes back, the excitement again is reduced (Michael R.P. Zumpe D. 1978).
A lot of people realise that by changing partners the sexual interest is increase” but a few are interested in the fact that after a short time they have necessity to change again, and the betrayals increase. Perhaps the woman should forgive the betrayals more easily, thinking of how difficult it can be for a man, to resist the excessive stimulation of a XXI century woman, that are “in season” too often, and at the same time to go against nature. The man, having consciousness of his weakness, in which women are involved, should understand and forgive the errors of the woman. Both partners should realise that it could be better to change something in themselves if they want to obtain a change in the other.
Some men try to have pleasure by provoking orgasm, which is a reflex action of motor impulses, with a conscious effort, using erotic images or other things to produce the erection. Sometimes it is possible to achieve a good result, but the reflex has its fundamental characteristic missing, that is to be purely a reflex: sometimes the consciousness to fulfil an action is sufficient to stop or to interrupt that action, for example the attention paid to swallowing, sneezing or taking a pill can interfere with the correct movements for completing these acts.
In the orgasmic phase there are instinctual, motor, and organic-hormonal reactions.
Feldenkrais said that the concept of instinct is linked to a neuro-motor plan of behaviour, and that sexual action has sensorial motor and emotional components and each of them has the possibility to restore the situation in which they appeared the first time (Feldenkrais 1995).
The friction of the penis against the vaginal walls is a part of the motor component that increases the excitement. The movements, which produce excitement, at the beginning are voluntary; after, while excitement becomes greater, the movements of both partners quicken and become co-ordinated exactly.
Excitement increases until reaching a point in which the movements become involuntary and always more frequent. Contractions of the muscles that produce ejaculation spread throughout the pelvic wall, which have rhythmical oscillations. Pelvic movements are part of the reflex discharge of motor impulses, and they are involuntary like the rhythmical contractions of the muscles of the clitoris erector and vagina sphincter. So reflex discharge of adequate motor impulse is necessary for reaching pleasure in the final phase of the sexual act, and it can be expressed in an adequate way only when the conscious control has completely retired. If this reflex discharge is blocked, if the oscillation of the pelvis cannot have complete breadth, orgasm cannot be complete.
The completeness of gratification is “short circuited” also by anxiety that can condition the usual muscle schemes (Gray JA.1982). Erection disappears suddenly instead of slowly, because, as in all anxiety states, flexors are tight, the breathing is blocked, and the sympathetic system is aroused. Anxiety can even cause indifference or disgust that takes the place of satisfaction.
In this case the complete abandonment of conscious control is impossible, and the movements are perceived inadequate, a negative representation of one embarrassed, ridiculous or inefficient remain recorded in the brain. This not only interferes with the gratifying sexual process of that moment, but will also interfere with future rapports, pleasure will be blocked too often.
Pleasure is one part of a mechanism that guarantees the continuation of the species stimulating a chemical mechanism, which rewards behaviour that is useful with reproduction; in fact if sex did not give pleasure nobody would think in such an assiduous way about an activity so exhausting.
The brain gives pleasure as a prize increasing the dopamine hormone, which is a neurotransmitter that activates and transmits pleasure. Hormones intervene in sexual behaviour: level and sexual interest are modified and regulated by variations of androgen and oestrogen secretions. These hormones are stimulated in turn by hormones released by the hypothesis, “master gland” ofthe endocrine system, that is under direct control of the hypothalamus and is continuous with it in the brain. (Loring D.W. 1999).
Also the functioning of melatonin hormone is interesting: the daytime light blocks its activity, and if this activity is blocked, the gonads produce more sexual hormones and sexual activation is stimulated. When the production of germinal cells are increased, in both sexes sexual behaviour is increased. A lot of people prefer to have sexual intercourse with the lights on.
Considering also the fact that looking, even only with the eye of the mind, can provoke important variations on the hormonal levels, we confirm the hypothesis of the VA-E model.
The third phase of intercourse has more importance than it is given.
After the last movement that concludes the reflex phase of the act, which is after the orgasm, the partners remain for a short time in their position. After, if the man is satisfied, he likes to sleep without being disturbed; other stimulation is ineffective. .
Desire can persist in the woman who can have more consecutive orgasms, and at the end of intercourse she would like to be cuddled and gratified. If the man gratifies her, she will record positive sensations, and this memory will permit her to amplify desire of the next intercourse with the partner. If this doesn’t happen a sensation of refusal can remain, which will interfere negatively also with the way in which she will interact with her partner, so that if the partner also has some anxious “film” recorded in the memory, it will be confirmed and the tension will increase.
The third phase of intercourse is a moment in which mental scheme are strongly fixed.
When mental schemes laden with emotive tension are activated, it isn’t possible to use rationality to consider that something could be wrong in the behaviour, and so a change is necessary; the person shuns rationality, and the fixed mental scheme is perpetuated.
These schemes can alter the whole sexual life: they condition the behaviour, interfere with every sexual program, and every conditioned performance will reinforce the schemes, creating a vicious circle (Kosslyn,S.M. 1994).
« ….unnoticed events can activate memories including emotional memories, implicitly (without awareness), and implicit and undetected meanings of consciously perceived stimuli can do the same (LeDoux J. 1999).
The characteristic of the mental schemes is that they can also be activated by even one element of the sequence of the “film” that is kept in the archive of the personal mental images. This can happen because the replay to the evoked images, together with afferent sensations that come from muscles, tendons, internal organs, fluids, constitute a constant source of stimuli. When these stimuli are sent to superior centres of the central and autonomic nervous system.)! make it possible that even only one element of the stimulus evokes the entire scheme.
Among the many ways that facilitate anxiety, the projection of the film prevail in which the person was incapable, insufficient, embarrassed or ridicules. When even one image of the “film” is remembered, the negative emotion re-emerge; in the same way an emotion even only like that of the “film”, will recall the entire sequence also blocking some behaviour that isn’t in the “film”. This happens also if images do not corresponded to the real facts, but they are entirely constructed.
Fear connected with anxiety constructs dangerous images well, they settle so strongly that the sensation linked them can invade every moment of the day remaining as background music which accompany every normal act. When the sound of this music in too high, it interferes with behaviour lowering the possibility to pay the right attention where it must go, or paying too much attention where mustn’t be. In sexual intercourse the latter interferes with instinct, that has a primary function during sexual behaviour.
Neuro-psychological V A-E model maintains that we can change emotionsby modifying the images recorded in our brain and learns how it’s possible to do this.
When we change images, that can be: brightness,distance, clearness, etc.; or change a characteristic that is inside the “photos ” such as people, places, objects etc.; or paying attentionto another image entirely different we reduce the intensity of emotion, and anxiety, when it doesn’t disappear completly, decreases, and it becomes possible to manage fears and behaviour.
VA.E model can be used not only with sexual problems, but it permits us to lead our. brain towards the control of a lot of emotions, and to manage the behaviour linked to them.
The model works well, it is easy to apply and sometimes immediately effective, so it can help people to maintain high own self esteem and efficiency that are really necessary and very difficult to maintain in modem life.
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