Control Fallacies: Cognitive Distortion 7

If we feel externally controlled, as in control fallacies, we see ourselves as helpless a victim of fate. For example, “I can’t help it if the quality of the work is poor, my boss demanded I work overtime on it.” The fallacy of internal control has us assuming responsibility for the pain and happiness of everyone around us. For example, “Why aren’t you happy? Is it because of something I did?”


The basic premise of control fallacies is the wrong assumption that we can control someone else’s internal struggle or reaction. Or be controlled by someone else.

The premises here are not extreme situations involving crimes or violence to self or others. Obviously in those cases, please get outside help. These are your basic, run of the mill, human struggles. Two people interacting and one taking on more control than is healthy, i.e. control fallacies.


Here’s a story to demonstrate Control Fallacies.

Margo was so thankful she got to stay home with her kids. As a stay at home mom, she got to be part of her little one’s daily lives. As the kids grew older, she noticed an increasing frustration her kids experienced with the world. This friend fought with them or that friend ignored. Basic, human, social interaction type problems. She couldn’t make friends. He couldn’t stop obsessing about his anxieties.

The older her children got, the more Margot took on their problems. She felt personally responsible for making sure her daughter had enough friends. Margot felt personally responsible for calming her son down every time something outside his control caused anxiety. The more Margot pushed the more her kids put up walls against her. Margot couldn’t figure out why her little darlings were so shut off to her these days. It seemed like the more she cared, the further they distanced themselves from her.

The kids’ problems became so intense that Margot started looking for answers. Books, blogs, counselors. The answer came back that Margot needed to back off. Every human will experience problems at some point or another. Yes, even our darling little children.

We can help by being supportive. Problem solve IF, and only IF the other person is receptive. We cannot personally fix everything for everyone.

Margot learned to back off. She learned to listen and ask good questions. Now she’d say, tell me more about that. She didn’t interject her own experiences or stories as evidence for how they should solve their own problems in the same way she had. She learned to let her kids take the lead in solving their own problems.

Now, Margot’s kids come to her for a chat, someone to listen and help them find their own solutions. By talking and doing less, Margot is getting more from her children.


Motivational Interviewing Therapy teaches us that people almost always have solutions to their own problems.

People intuitively know how to fix most situations. People know what works for them and what they’re willing to try.

If you have a specific solution to a specific solution – that you experienced – then feel free to ask if it’s ok to give advice. And be ok, if the answer is no. If you have the permission to advise, then do so. Otherwise, offer support and listen.

Control fallacies boil down to who actually has control and who does not. Each person is in control of their internal world. They get to decide what works for them and what doesn’t. Individuals get to solve their own problems. And we get to support.

Give people the freedom to try. Again, get help if we’re talking crime or violence. Otherwise, empower others by letting them control their own internal world.

Maybe you’re on the other side of that equation.

Where have you given someone more power than was healthy? In what ways can you slowly and gently take it back? Just like any skill, it takes practice, but over time and with patience you can grow that muscle.

Lollipop Flowers 9 Acrylic Painting Yellow and Grey
Lollipop Flowers 9

Stand tall and proud like these flowers! Take your space and give others space.


Find some more art here!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.