The Fallacy of Control, A Cognitive Distortion

The fallacy of control is a bias you experience when interpreting reality. It causes you to overestimate or underestimate in a very marked way the degree of influence you have on your environment.
The Fallacy of Control, A Cognitive Distortion

Last update: 17 September, 2021

Do you perpetually feel that everything that happens in your life is dependent on you? Or, on the contrary, do you feel like your circumstances control you and that you’re unable to change anything?  If so, you may be experiencing the fallacy of control.

However, what’s behind this kind of fallacy? What are fallacies? How do they control us? Can they be fought? Find out here.

The fallacy of control

The fallacy of control is a mental bias, a cognitive distortion. Cognitive distortions are incorrect ways of processing information. They imply a misinterpretation of reality and lead to inaccurate judgments of it.

With this kind of control bias, you might believe that you have complete control of everything that happens to you. Or, on the contrary, you may think that you’re completely incapable of solving your problems. In this particular case, you believe that circumstances (or other people) control you.

The person with this bias usually believes that they’re responsible for everything that happens to them. Or, it’s just the opposite, they feel powerless and unable to control anything in their life.

As we can see, in the fallacy of control, the concept of control is altered. This is either by excess (“everything’s down to me, I’m in control of everything that happens to me”) or by default (“I’m unable to control anything in my environment”).

Woman upset by the control fallacy

What are fallacies?

We can also understand this bias as a fallacy, as its name suggests. Fallacies are concepts closely related to cognitive distortions.

According to Irving M. Copi, author of Introduction to Logic (Editorial Universitaria de Buenos Aires, 1969), the fallacy is ‘a form of reasoning that seems correct, but turns out not to be when carefully analyzed’. In the more philosophical realm, the fallacy has been defined as ‘ incorrect reasoning, but psychologically persuasive ‘.

Fallacies aren’t always easy to spot, as they often sound “good” as well as being subtle and convincing.

Feeling that you can control everything

If you experience the fallacy of control, you might feel that you can control everything. Furthermore, you may believe that control leads to increasingly better situations. If you’re one of these people you might be extremely controlling, rigid, and a perfectionist.

When you think you’re not in control of something, this creates feelings of fear or rejection in you. On the other hand, you tend to overestimate the degree of real control you have over what you think you can control.

Unfortunately, all this generates a self-imposed and brutal stress on you.

Feeling that nothing depends on you

On the other hand, perhaps you’re at the opposite pole of the fallacy of control and believe you can’t change anything in your life. In effect, you feel that life controls you.

This also generates suffering. You may have low self-esteem and many other insecurities as well. Furthermore, you might tend to place the responsibilities of your own life onto others.

Causes of the fallacy of control

What’s behind the control fallacy? If you’re one of the people who feel you’re in control of everything, here are the contributory factors:

  • High self-demand.
  • Deep-rooted beliefs that “everything depends on you.”
  • An internal locus of control (what happens to you depends on you, and not on external factors).
  • Fear of delegating tasks.
  • Being too much of a perfectionist.
  • Having an anxious personality.

On the other hand, if you believe that nothing depends on you and that you have no control over events, these are the contributory factors:

  • An external locus of control (“everything depends on others or the environment”).
  • Being an anxious person, who cares a lot about things.
  • Feelings of learned helplessness.
  • Personal insecurities (thinking that you’re not capable of changing anything).
  • Low self-esteem.
Sad man

How to combat the fallacy of control

Can you combat this type of fallacy? Yes, you can, with patience and dedication. her are some ideas that could help you:

  • Compare your ideas with reliable sources of information.
  • Begin to develop critical thinking.
  • Question your way of thinking. Don’t always assume it’s right.
  • Evaluate your thoughts and register the possible fallacies or cognitive distortions that you carry out.

In short: in the fallacy of control, there’s a filter when it comes to processing and interpreting reality. This can occur in two ways. In the first, you have the feeling of being able to control everything. However, in the second, you feel that you have no control over anything and that people, life, or the environment dominate you.

In the second case, in addition, you may experience the sensation of learned helplessness, which means you feel unable to change anything in your life.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Arredondo Londoño, N., Alvarez Vargas, C., López Bustamante, P., & Posada Gómez, S. (2005). Distorsiones cognitivas asociadas al trastorno de ansiedad generalizada. Informes Psicológicos.
  • De Rosa, Lorena (2012). Factores mantenedores del perfeccionismo desadaptativo o clínico. IV Congreso Internacional de Investigación y Práctica Profesional en Psicología XIX Jornadas de Investigación VIII Encuentro de Investigadores en Psicología del MERCOSUR. Facultad de Psicología – Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires.
  • Facione, P.A. (2007). Pensamiento Crítico: ¿Qué es y por qué es importante? Revista Académica Digital: 23 – 56.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.