Robert F. Mullen, PhD
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Cognitive Distortion #9: Fallacy of Fairness
is the unrealistic assumption that life should be fair. It is human nature to equate fairness with how well our personal preferences are met. We know how we want to be treated and anything that conflicts with that seems unreasonable and emotionally unacceptable. Fairness is subjective, however. Two people seldom agree on what is fair. The fact that those living with SAD are predisposed to emotional reasoning or personalization does validate the irrationality that life is fair.
The concept of fairness varies, based on our experiences, culture, and environment. It is a personally biased assessment of how well our expectations, needs, and wants are met by others, institutions, and nature. When real life goes against our perceptions of fairness, as it often does, it generates negative emotions.
Space is Limited
The belief that all things in life should be based on fairness and equality is a noble but unrealistic philosophy. We can strive for such things, but life’s vicissitudes have a will of their own. The obvious reality is that much of life is inequitable. People are self-oriented, institutions alternatively focused, and nature indeterminate. Wanting things to work in our favor is normal; expecting them to do so is irrational.
We all have our ideas of how we like to be treated In personal interactions, but reciprocation is governed by the other, and it rarely comports with our expectations. As a result, we blame others for any adverse response rather than consider their expectations and our self-centered assumptions of fairness.
The problem is exacerbated in those of us living with social anxiety because SAD subsists on our irrational thoughts and behaviors, which means that our expectations are often irrational as well. Ironically, we are not surprised when they are not met because we symptomatically anticipate and project negative outcomes. This does not stop us, however, from blaming ourselves or others when our negative prophecies are fulfilled.
The fallacy of fairness is often expressed in conditional assumptions. “If my teacher knew how hard I studied, she’d give me a passing grade.” Conditional conclusions allow us to avoid delegating true accountability. Studying does not always lead to comprehension, and teachers, ostensibly, base grades on test results. ”If my parents had treated me better, I wouldn’t have social anxiety disorder.” The direct cause of emotional dysfunction is indeterminate, and blaming our parents or ourselves is irrational given the evidence.
It is advisable to stand outside the bullseye – to emotionally extract ourselves from an undesirable situation and evaluate it from multiple perspectives. Fairness is subjective, based on personal beliefs and experiences. Mindfulness of the needs and experiences of others is a product of recovery. Moderating our fears of social interaction allows us to entertain other points of view, and reveals the narrow-mindedness of fairness, which is only a state of mind.
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