Robert F. Mullen, PhD
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Cognitive Distortion #3: 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 including Filtering, Polarized Thinking, Overgeneralization, and Personalization. This chapter focuses on our tendency to engage in Control Fallacies 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 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.
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When we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as weak and powerless, blaming outside forces for our adversities. 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 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.
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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. A fundamental component of recovery is learning how to identify our cognitive distortions and devise rational responses.
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