I stumbled across this list of eleven fallacies and distortions at Surrender Works and couldn’t resist reposting it (with some fairly heavy editing).
This is an interesting checklist because it’s different from the classical list of false arguments, such as a priori conclusions, ad hominem arguments, etc., which many of us encountered in school.
Noticing Your Own Distorted Thinking (aka Cognitive Errors)
Mark Twain defined Man as “the rationalizing animal.” And, boy, are we good at it! Since we’re good at it, our rationalizations usually live up to our reasonably high standards. When we resort to fallacies, it’s a sign that something’s not right. Ideally, we’ll notice this before anyone else does, and take action.
As a hypnotist, I have a lot of respect for the power of the unconscious mind, and when the unconscious mind is pulling in a different direction from the conscious mind, it tends to win. Rationalizations are a sign that the conscious mind has little idea what’s going on, and is making up excuses to fill in the gaps. The lights are on, but nobody’s home. That’s a warning sign.
When we notice a warning sign, it’s time to investigate. White-knuckling it may work for a while, but what’s really called for is to sit down and dicker with the unconscious mind. There are lots of techniques for this: hypnosis and self-hypnosis are the ones I know best, but there are others as well. But all this, alas, is beyond the scope of this blog post.
Noticing Distorted Thinking in Others
Of course, other people’s distortions are often outward signs of the same kinds of inward struggles they are with us. Sadly, directly challenging other people’s failures of logic will rarely earn you a thank-you note and a bouquet of flowers. While we all have minor spasms of illogic that we’ll clear up as soon as they’re pointed out, the more extravagant ones tend to backed up by strong emotions. But you knew that already.
So don’t think that the list below is going to be met with shouts of joy by your friends if you use it to critique them. No, it’ll be met with shouts of joy if you get together and use it to critique people who are not present! So perhaps it’s a self-help technique and a deliciously malicious (delimalicious?) party game in one?
The Fifteen Distortions
- Mind Reading. You base your actions or feelings on your fantasies of what others are thinking. In particular, you are able to divine how people are feeling towards you.
- Overgeneralization. Mark Twain said, “A cat who sits on a hot stove lid will never do it again, but she won’t sit on a cold one, either.” You come to a general conclusion based on evidence that doesn’t stretch that far.
- Black-and-White Thinking. Things are black or white, good or bad. You have to be perfect or you’re a failure. There is no middle ground. This turns every situation, however complex, into a false dichotomy.
- Filtering. You cling to the details that support your feelings or beliefs and ignore or even forget the rest. (Strong emotions have this effect on everyone, of course.)
- Castastrophizing. The possibility of failure set you to imagining disasters. Mark Twain: “I am an old man and have known many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
- Personalization. People’s words and deeds are some kind of reaction to you.
- Control Fallacies. One or both of: (a) You see yourself as helpless, a victim of fate, without control. (b) Your actions cause the happiness or pain of everyone around you.
- Emotional Reasoning. Your feelings represent reality better than reality does. If you feel stupid and boring, then, therefore, you are stupid and boring.
- Fallacy of Change. You can’t change until others do.
- Being Right. Being wrong is unbearable and you will go to any length to demonstrate your rightness.
- Credit in Heaven. You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were a heavenly cashier keeping score. You may even feel better when the reward doesn’t come, as it increases your balance.