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Building Critical Thinking Skills  Assumptions vs. Inferences; 
from the Cognitive Treatments website.

Building critical thinking is essential for overcoming Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and other mental disorders. This technique can benefit you in many ways because you can use critical thinking to dissect your thoughts systematically.

By dissecting your thoughts you can analyze each part and then study the messages you discover to find ways to improve.

To build your critical mind you have to understand the parts of your thinking and its elements of reason. These elements include purpose, questions, information, inference, assumptions, viewpoints, concepts and implications.

When the mind is reasoning, these elements exist. To take control of oneís thoughts, one needs to formulate both oneís purpose and questions clearly. We can use our learning (Information) to find relevant answers to our questions. This is when you meet the subliminal and unconscious mind in which the answers to your questions will become accurate. (Boost confidence and self-esteem)

Our minds can make logical inferences, which are usually based on our assumptions. To understand these inferences is to understand our viewpoints in which you will study to find relevant viewpoints. Using concepts, we might justify and follow implications of our decisions that we consider.

Focus on the elements of reasoning
When we build a critical mind it helps us to eliminate problems. We need to focus on inferences and assumptions. When one focuses on the elements one can learn to distinguish which inferences from oneís assumptions are important to oneís intellectual skills. Since most people confuse the two critical elements one might consider inferences and compare them to assumptions.

Inferences compared to Assumptions
Inferences occur from stressors, yet they are intellectual acts because we deduce or conjecture something in which one might decide if something is true or false or if it assumed to be true. For example, if you came at me with strong convictions, blaming me for some action, I might infer that you are challenging me. This inferred response may be real, imagined, or logical, illogical, justified or unfair.

BPD patients can benefit from building critical thinking skills because often their conjectures are illogical, imagined, or unfair. This is not something that the patient can help because it is a symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder Ė BPD.

Assumptions are hypotheses or theories, often based on beliefs. We often assume something of others which turns out to be unfair. For example, Jill doesnít like me. Yet, Jill says hi every time she sees you. We assumed based on illogical reasoning. (Mind reading) We recommend that you study information on mind readers also from educational sources. These assumptions often lead people to believe they can read minds or predict the future. This is a symptom that is out of control and has no basis inlogic, realism, justification and so forth because none of us has the ability to read othersí minds.

Most of our assumptions are based on something we learned, yet failed to question. This action becomes the part of a system of beliefs.

System of beliefs explained
We may assume something based on our beliefs. Based on what we believe we may assume that something is true. We use these beliefs to interpret the world around us. If one believes that it is dangerous to walk during the night in Detroit, one of the most dangerous cities in the country, it is usually based on their beliefs and comes from the stories they heard in the past. If our belief has soundness, then our assumptions are sound as well. If our belief is unjustified however, our assumptions are not realistic.

Our beliefs are often based on assumptions. For example, you may assume that you will go to hell if you are a bad person. This is part of a belief system that has been set up for centuries and yet it has no realistic facts to prove such assumptions.

Naturally, humans assume something based on their beliefs. We make inferences based on those assumptions. It is our natural way to make sense of who we are, what we are about, where we are going and what are happening to us. We use these assumptions to judge others, form interpretations and conclude our final decision based on our beliefs that we have formed over the years.

Most times if you put a person in a situation, they will find some meaning. People routinely infer to gain some basis of understanding actions. Thus, like robots we make inferences based on our beliefs; yet, without training, we notice these assumptions as inferences.

Examples of inferences
When someone sees dark clouds in the sky they automatically assume it will rain. Their inferences come from past experiences when they had seen dark clouds in the sky and it rained. They do not think further often because they expect rain. But, if they look back in history they would know that dark clouds can move on quickly and sun can shine in.

When someone with BPD sees a familiar person frowning, they automatically think that the person is hurt, sad or angry. People with BPD tend to infer that the person is hurt because of something they had done or angry at them. A normal person with critical thinking skills would consider all possibilities and all aspects of the matter. Some people who are critical thinkers rarely smile so an average person or someone with a mental disorder may assume the person is hurt or angry. There is no justification behind their assumptions in this case.

Inferences come from a strong belief system that has not been challenged or reformed. It is due to the lack of self-development that these belief systems continue into the future. We see this when a person notices a tall man walking down the streets. The person may automatically infer that the man is a basketball player. Without critical thinking skills, the person may not know that just because a person is tall it doesnít mean that he is a basketball player. Another example: we see someone of Asian culture and may automatically infer that this person is a genius at solving math equations. The truth is not everyone who is Asian is good at math. Most people base inferences and assumptions on what they learned in the past.

Critical Think importance
The critical mind is a powerful weapon that allows us to tap into the subliminal and unconscious mind to discover answers to our questions and achieve a level of conscious realization. Recognition comes to mind as we get to this level.

When one reaches a higher level of conscious awareness they begin to recognize that their experiences are shaped by our inferences that we made during those experiences. When one achieves recognition he or she can separate experiences by dividing them into two categories.

The mind in category one will evaluate the raw data from our past experiences and compare it with his or her interpretations of that data. The person then moves to consider the inferences to determine what makes sense to them.

We all need to realize that our inferences are severely influenced by oneís viewpoints and assumptions we made about situations and people. Recognition is part of building the critical mind so that we have a broader outlook that allows us to explore situations and people more effectively. We develop an open mind.

We all have different viewpoints. Therefore, to infer that someone will abandon you based on your past experiences and beliefs, is illogical thinking that causes major symptoms such as suicidal threats, promiscuous behaviors, violence and so forth. This means that people with BPD need to accept that everyone is different.

When you develop critical thinking skills, you see the raw data in a different view. In other words, what you assume will be more profoundly considered. For example, at one time you may have inferred that Jill didnít like you, but after you build your critical thinking skills you will see that Jill has viewpoints just like you, which leads her to discover something new as well. Jillís time is likely consumed in solving her own problems and this has nothing to do with you. These assumptions connect to each otherís viewpoints about situations and people.

An example of viewpoints is noted when one person may assume that people who take care of themselves are responsible. Another person may see that some things that happen in life are out of our control. Does it mean that because the person sees that our survival is based on major forces and events that are often out of our control, and that if someone becomes ill, that the person is irresponsible? Not at all, diseases develop and target both healthy and unhealthy alike.

When you build critical thinking skills you notice your inferences when they emerge. You also notice the assumptions and the basis of those inferences as well as the viewpoint of the world. You see more clearly that everything does not revolve around you.

Critical Thinking - To develop such skills, you need to start by practicing Ė notice your inferences and try to discover which assumptions you drew lead up to this inference. Once you notice your inferences write them down immediately to help you evaluate your assumptions more effectively.

Commander of Critical Thinking
When you become aware of your inferences you make better decisions because you will evaluate the underlying inferences based on your assumptions. You will begin to see that you are the commander of your critical thinking, especially when you gain more control over your thoughts.

Since most human inferences are embedded in your assumptions we need to check all possible meanings before we make a decision. For example, am I worthless? Do I have value? What good qualities do I have that can help me to see my worth?

Every one of us daily continues to assume something about ourselves, our mates, friends, jobs, children and the world in general. Most of us will take something for granted because we fail to question everything surrounding the situation or person. Some of us often take things the wrong way. For example, someone may go into a public place believing that people are judging them. Most of these people do not realize that most people are so busy trying to survive and develop themselves that they do not have time to judge everyone on the streets.

Some people make assumptions without knowing it or thinking about what they are considering. This means that most times the assumptions these people make has no ground for fairness. Thus, the question becomes apparent. How can we recognize our inferences? How do our assumptions factor into our inferences? What is our viewpoint of the world?

Critical thinking is built on studying inferences and assumptions.
As a matter of daily practice, then, we can help people begin to notice the inferences they are making within the content we teach. We can help them identify inferences made by authors of a textbook or of an article. Once they have identified these inferences, we can ask them to figure out the assumptions that led to those inferences. When we give them routine practice in identifying inferences and assumptions, they begin to see that inferences will be illogical when the assumptions that led to them are not justifiable. They begin to see that whenever they make an inference, there are other (perhaps more logical) inferences they could have made. They begin to see high quality inferences as coming from good reasoning.

We can also help people think about the inferences they make in daily situations and the assumptions that lead to those inferences. As they become skilled in identifying their inferences and assumptions, they are in a better position to question the extent to which any of their assumptions are justified. They can begin to ask questions, for example, Am I justified in assuming that everyone eats lunch at 12:00 noon? Am I justified in assuming that it usually rains when there are black clouds in the sky? Am I justified in assuming that bumps on the head are only caused by blows?

The point is that we all make many assumptions as we go about our daily life and we ought to be able to recognize and question them. As a person develops these critical intuitions, they increasingly notice their inferences and those of others. They increasingly notice what they and others are taking for granted. They increasingly notice how their point of view shapes their experiences. In turn, you feel better about yourself and about what others think about you.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a painful disorder that rarely gets better due to negligence on professional therapists part and the patients. Yet, through a series of treatment programs that addresses the symptoms and isolates them, one can in fact conquer Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD.

This article was published on Thursday 25 February, 2010.


BPD's in Therapy    (10-13-09)
(excerpt from Dr. Harold Koenigsberg, Prof. Psychiatry, James Peters VA Medical Center)

Summary of Key Neuroimaging Findings in BPD Emotion Processing
1.  BPD's show greater activation of visual areas, over-reading facial cues.
2.  BPD's show more reflexive rather than reflective processing.
3.  BPD's sensitize in the amygdala and fusiform when repeatedly
     exposed to interpersonal scenes, unlike healthy subjects who acclimate.
4.  BPD's don't activate the anterior cingulate or intraparetial sulcus (IPS)
     when regulating emotion to the extent that healthy controls do.
5.  BPD's don't down-regulate their amygdala when suppressing emotion.

Possible Treatment Implications
1.  Help BPD's understand that they may be seeing the interpersonal world
     through an emotional microscope--reacting to correctly perceived but low
     level emotions in others.
2.  Psychotherapists should not rely on desensitization to reduce intensity and
     should not be surprised by intensified reactions as emotional patterns
     are re-visited in therapy.
3.  Pharmacologic interventions which reduce amygdala activity may have a
     role in treating BPD.  (NMDA partial agonist d-cycloserine)