Today we’re on to the next part of our series on the most common “cognitive distortions,” or thinking errors.
I’m bundling two distortions together this time, because they’re opposite sides of the same coin:
The “fallacy of change” and the “fallacy of control.”
What they are:
The fallacy of change involves the belief that external circumstances or other people need to change in order for us to be happy or fulfilled. It gives away all our power and leaves us in a “wait and see” stance that’s dependent on others to meet our needs.
On the other hand, the fallacy of internal control involves the belief that we have complete control over our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and outcomes. We don’t give ourselves enough credit and acknowledgement for the external factors that may be impacting our situation. It places unrealistic pressure on our shoulders to single-handedly master every challenge regardless of circumstances.
Both pertain to our level of perceived autonomy, agency, and control over our desired outcomes.
While these represent opposite extremes, and a given person will generally tend towards one or the other, it is also possible for one person to experience both at different times.
I think of these as swinging between hyper-independence and helplessness.
Most of the folks I work with tend toward the “fallacy of internal control” (hyper-independence) most of the time, and only occasionally collapse in exhaustion into “fallacy of change” mode (helplessness) when they’ve run out of ideas and energy to fix a situation on their own.
Both of these cognitive distortions can be problematic, as they can lead to a sense of hopelessness or frustration when things don’t go as planned.
When they happen:
The fallacy of change often occurs when we feel that we are not in control of a situation or when we are facing challenges that seem insurmountable. This can happen when we are under-resourced, are facing many pressures, or are in a toxic situation – and we have learned that advocating for our own needs was ineffective or was not welcomed by those around us.
On the other hand, the fallacy of internal control often has roots in the same conditions as the fallacy of change: when we are under-resourced, are facing significant pressures, or are in a toxic situation – but we learned that taking charge of a situation was an effective way to soothe our discomfort.
(Context also often influences which fallacy becomes the go-to in a given situation. For example, you might feel that you have a high degree of control in your professional life, but feel more helpless when it comes to relating to your family members.)
In short, these are two opposite ways of imagining our level of control and internal efficacy when we want something to be different.
Fallacy of Change
Fallacy of Internal Control
What to do if you catch yourself doing it: