Robert F. Mullen, PhD
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Cognitive Distortion #2: Control Fallacies
Our anxieties manifest in how we think about ourselves and how we think others think about us. We struggle with our fears of criticism and ridicule. The majority of us also live with depression, which can lead to multiple cognitive distortions like Filtering and PolarizedThinking (Chapter 10), Overgeneralization (Chapter 12), and Personalization (Chapter 14). This chapter focuses on our tendency to engage in ControlFallacies due to our SAD-induced feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
A fallacy is a belief based on unreliable evidence and unsound arguments. As we discussed earlier, we cognitively distort to reinforce or justify our self-beliefs and validate our irrational attitudes, rules, and assumptions – how we perceive, think, and behave.
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.
Space is Limited
When we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as weak and powerless. We blame outside forces (fate, the weather, authority figures) for the adversity in our lives. We accuse our gender, race, sexuality, weight, income, and education 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 has a personal grudge.
Conversely, the fallacy of internal control is when we assume unrealistic responsibility for everything. We believe we have power and influence over other people’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. We blame ourselves for their mishaps and misfortunes. It is our fault our friend turns to drugs because we weren’t supportive. Our supervisor suffers a heart attack because we continually miss deadlines.
Both external and internal control fallacies correspond to our SAD-induced feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, undesirability, and worthlessness.
We believe external forces control us because we feel powerless over what happens to us. Our sense of hopelessness tells us any effort towards remedy is futile. “They think I’m incompetent.” “She finds me unattractive.” “I don’t belong here.” We subsequently feel guilty for our inadequacy, and shame for our weakness. We wallow in self-pity, convinced that attempts at happiness are pointless.
Our tendency to unjustifiably blame ourselves for our social anxiety disorder leads to internal control fallacies. Had we moderated our adolescent behavior, we claim, we could have prevented the onset. This leads us to believe we have control over other things we bear no responsibility for. “It’s my fault she’s unhappy.” “He drinks because I ignored him.” The belief we have let everyone down wreaks havoc on our emotional well-being and our sense of competence.
These control fallacies inform us we are not assigning blame in the appropriate ways. We need to stop taking responsibility for problems we do not create and assume responsibility for our actions. That is only logical. Unfortunately, SAD subsists on our irrational thoughts and behaviors. Those of us living with social anxiety frequently use cognitive distortions because we feel trapped in its vicious circle, restricted from living a normal life. A fundamental component of recovery is learning how to identify our cognitive distortions and devise rational responses.
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