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Self-serving bias (DW#505)

Today's cognitive distortion, the self-serving bias, is closely related to yesterday’s unhelpful thinking pattern (always being right).

A person who suffers from a self-serving bias will attribute all positive events or achievements to himself while seeing any negative events or mistakes as outside his control.

If I do well at work, it is my hard work.

If I mess up a project, it is my boss who did not give proper instructions.

If I am a good hostess, it is my own creativity and hard work.

If the food turns out bad, it is my children’s fault who distracted me while I was cooking.

If my relationship is going well, it is because I am such an awesome spouse.

If we are going through a difficult patch, it is because my spouse is being extraordinarily challenging.

This pattern of thinking causes a person to refuse to admit mistakes or flaws and to live in a distorted reality where he or she can do no wrong. 

Since self growth and emotional and spiritual maturity begins with...

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Always Being Right (DW#504)

This type of thinking pattern essentially thinks: It’s not me, it’s you. It is not my fault, it is yours. No matter what the issue is, I am right, and you are wrong. Please don't confuse me with facts or evidence or what experts think because I am not open to influence.

With this distortion, the idea that we could be wrong is absolutely unacceptable, and we will fight to the metaphorical death to prove that we are right. We can see this distortion quite easily on social media platforms where people sometimes spend hours arguing with each other over an opinion or political issue far beyond the point where reasonable individuals would conclude that they should "agree to disagree". To them, it is not simply a matter of a difference of opinion, it is an intellectual battle that must be won at all costs. The idea that there may be another equally valid opinion is quite alien.

As you can imagine, always being right can make us slightly (!) insufferable, tiring and...

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Fallacy of Change (DW#503)

The fallacy of change is another distortion which, even we recognize it, can be rather challenging to shift.

This pattern of thinking involves believing that we will be happy if people around us change to accommodate our wishes and desires. An outcome of this type of thinking is to expect that others will change if we just pressure or encourage them enough.

If I just nag my adult son enough, we may think, he will stop wearing un-ironed clothes. Or


If I gently (!) and sweetly tell my spouse that he should not watch so much football, or eat healthy, or cut his hair a different way, he should listen to my solid advice!

Instead of focusing on our own circle of control, we focus our energies on ‘encouraging’ others around us to change. Of course, it seems that the more enthusiastic we get about our agenda for others to change, the more they seem to resist our good advice!!

Now we do need to mention a huge caveat here: let’s be honest. The behaviour of...

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Heaven’s Reward Fallacy (DW#502)

Related to the fairness fallacy, this kind of distorted thinking makes us believe that we deserve a good outcome if we work hard and make sacrifices in the short run.

A lot of women (and parents) who believe they have done everything for their families are devastated when their relationships do not work out. They struggle to find the missing link – where did they go wrong, they keep asking themselves? What more could they have done? They never looked after their own needs and where did it leave them?

Now, wouldn’t it be lovely if things always worked out as they ‘should’?

But each and every one of us knows lots of examples of when hard work and sacrifice did not pay off. Reality is that sometimes no matter how hard we work or how much we sacrifice, we will not achieve what we hope to achieve. To think otherwise is a potentially damaging pattern of thought that can result in disappointment, frustration, anger, and even depression when the awaited reward does...

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Fallacy of Fairness (DW#501)

This week we are continuing our series on Cognitive Distortions or Unhelpful Thinking Patterns.

Today’s distortion is called "fallacy of fairness" closely related to, and sometimes referred to as "Heaven’s Reward Fallacy".

The fallacy of fairness leads us to believe that the world in general and certainly our life "should" be fair.

Truth be told, this is a distortion that I fall into quite often. In my head, if we have good intentions, work hard and do the right thing, we should get good results. Are you with me on this?

The problem with thinking in this way is that we are often disappointed and even angry when we are faced with proof of "life’s unfairness". When something happens which does not appear fair, we resist the reality of it, telling ourselves "it should not be like this". (Guess who wins when we fight with reality?)

Those who are realists are more at peace when faced with situations that appear unfair. They seem to accept that "it is...

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Control Fallacies (DW#500)

Some experts explain the last two distortions by calling them "control fallacies’. 

A control fallacy manifests as one of two beliefs: 
(1) that we have no control over our lives and are helpless victims of fate, or 
(2) that we are in complete control of ourselves and our surroundings, making us responsible for things which we cannot actually control, such as the feelings and actions of others. 

Of course, both beliefs are inaccurate and damaging. While it is dis-empowering to take no responsibility for things within our control, it is equally damaging to to accept responsibility for more than our share, or things which we have no power to change. 

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It’s not me – it is you (DW#499)

The opposite of taking responsibility for everything is to deny responsibility even for the things that I CAN control. 

When we suffer from this cognitive distortion, we tend to blame all our actions and reactions on others. 

You made me mad. 
It is because of you that I over ate tonight. 
It is my friend’s fault that I am late because she would not hang up the phone. 
Everyone was smoking so I could not help myself. 
I lied to you because you cannot bear the truth.

What is the problem with thinking like this? You live your entire life feeling like a victim. If your actions are controlled by others, then you cannot change them, can you? You must wait until others change before you will see a change in your life. 

I would not hold my breath for that!

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Personalization (DW#498)

Personalization is a cognitive distortion where we consistently take the blame for anything and everything that goes wrong with our life. 

When we think like this, everything that goes wrong is all about us, even if there is no way we could have controlled or even influenced the outcome. For example, if we go on a picnic with friends and it ends up raining, we tell ourselves it is raining because of the bad luck and bad weather that follows us wherever we go. 

Now taking responsibility for our life, our words and our actions is the mature thing to do of course but we are not accountable for the outcome of actions and situations beyond our control. 

And we are certainly NOT responsible for the weather :) 

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Jumping to Conclusions – Fortune Telling (DW#497)

There are two kinds of distorted thinking which lead us to jump to conclusions – mind reading, which we discussed yesterday and fortune telling.

Fortune telling is when we jump to conclusions and make predictions about the future – predictions which are most likely to be negative.

If we lose our job, for example, we may predict that we will be broke and poor for the rest of our days. If we have a bad experience in a relationship, we may assume that we will never find love or settle down.

As you can imagine, fortune telling can make us quite miserable about things that may never happen! Instead of being realistic that various different outcomes are equally possible, fortune telling convinces us that the outcome is bound to disastrous, even though the opposite may be just as possible.

So the next time you notice yourself fortune telling about yourself or others (hint: as parents some of us are rather skilled at telling our children’s negative fortunes if they...

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Jumping to Conclusions – Mind Reading (DW#496)

Sometimes we are convinced that we know what another person is thinking and what their motivation is for doing something. We make this assumption and then we start treating that assumption as if it were a fact – true beyond dispute.

If that assumption is neutral or positive there is no harm done. For example, if I go grocery shopping, I can safely assume that my spouse will like a certain brand of ice cream. This is mind reading from past experience and does no harm (unless he has decided to go on a diet, of course).

The vast majority of time, however, our assumptions are far from positive or neutral. They are negative interpretations that we have come to from a given set of facts without checking them out.

If someone does not greet us in a public place, we may assume any of the following:

-       They are mad at us
-       We have offended them in some way
-       They are holding onto a...
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