Controlled or Controlling: Who’s in Charge?

Robert F. Mullen, PhD

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The distinction between social anxiety disorder and social anxiety is a matter of severity; reference to one includes the other. The recovery tools and techniques provided are applicable to most emotional malfunctions including depression, substance abuse, ADHD, PTSD, generalized anxiety, and issues of self-esteem and motivation. These malfunctions originate homogeneously, their trajectories differentiated by environment, experience, and the diversity of human thought and behavior. 

“Dr. Mullen is doing impressive work helping the world. He is the pioneer of proactive neuroplasticity utilizing DRNI – deliberate, repetitive, neural information.” – WeVoice (Madrid, Málaga)

Cognitive Distortion #8

Control Fallacies

A fallacy is a questionable assumption. It is a belief based on unreliable evidence and unsound arguments. 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.

External Control Fallacy

When we feel externally controlled, we perceive ourselves as weak and powerless. We blame outside forces (fate, weather, authority figures) 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 carries a personal grudge. We believe external forces control us because our emotional malfunction makes us feel helpless.

Internal Control Fallacy

The fallacy of internal control is when we assume responsibility for the conduct of others. We compensate for our failure to manage our own lives by taking control of others. Often, our compulsion to assume responsibility for another’s actions is because we have subconsciously projected our own behaviors onto them.

Our social anxiety provokes internal control fallacies. Our expectations of criticism and rejection become self-fulfilling prophecies, implying we control other people’s thoughts and behaviors. We become prognosticators and mind readers.

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Control fallacies rationalize or enable unacceptable conduct which demands accountability. Assigning responsibility to another for something we did suggests an inability or unwillingness to accept the repercussions of our behaviors. We subsequently feel guilt for our inadequacy, and shame for our weakness. When these feelings become unmanageable, we externally blame the other because they control our actions.

On the other hand, assuming responsibility for the negative actions of another can lead to self-blaming. “It’s my fault she’s unhappy.” “He drinks because I ignored him.” When the conduct of the other is destructive, the notion that we have let failed them wreaks havoc on our self-esteem.

One final control fallacy prevalent in emotional dysfunction is our tendency to blame ourselves for our condition under the false assumption that we are responsible for the childhood disturbance that precipitated it. Self-blaming for our unwillingness or inability to moderate our symptoms later in life is, obviously, reasonable.

Inaccurate Accountability

Control fallacies inform us we are assigning blame in inappropriate ways. Logic dictates we assume responsibility for our actions and stop taking responsibility for problems we do not create. Social anxiety disorder, however, subsists on provoking irrational thoughts and behaviors. We are trapped in a vicious circle of self-delusion and a way to manage our emotional well-being is to rationalize our misconceptions. Thus, we twist our thinking to support our distorted reality. A fundamental component of recovery is learning how to identify our cognitive distortions, analyze them, and devise rational responses. 

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