Warped Thinking: This is All My Fault

We make so many decisions every day -- What to wear, what to eat, what direction to drive, who to talk to, what to do for fun, what time to go to sleep, and a million more! Even though some of these decisions seem automatic, there is a thought process that goes into every decision we make. And each of the thoughts which go into this process have the ability to be swayed by cognitive biases (that's a fancy way of saying warped thought processes).

This series will look at common warped thought processes and how to combat them. There are many, but today we will look at personalization.

Like the title of this post implies, personalization occurs when a person believes that he or she is responsible for situations in which they likely had little or no influence. Personalization often sounds like this:

“It's my fault she got into a car accident. If I wouldn't have invited her to lunch she wouldn't have even been in the car.”

“If I had cooked something different they wouldn't have gotten into an argument after dinner.”

“If I was quieter she wouldn't be so angry.”

In each of these instances, someone is taking responsibility for situations in which they had no responsibility. In the first scenario, for example, the responsibility for the car accident falls on the person who actually caused the wreck, not on the person who invited a friend for lunch.

This version of warped thinking can crop up in many situations across many aspects of a person's life and can often lead to misplaced guilt, remorse, and sadness and is often a first step to a person beating himself or herself up over the event.

So how do we combat this?

As with any warped thinking process, stepping back from the situation to examine it without emotion is a good place to start. Asking the following questions can help give perspective:

1. What is my responsibility for this situation occurring?

2. If another person was in my situation, would I view them as responsible for what happened?

3. Who else might be responsible for what happened? What actions did they take that make them responsible.

4. If I do have some responsibility here, what percentage is my responsibility versus others' responsibility?

In addition, recognizing that you have no control over another person's actions or mood is helpful in ridding your life of personalization.

Having a level-headed person in your life to work through this process is a great way to stop taking the blame for things outside of your control, and as you incorporate new thought processes without the bias you will find that you likely will have less worry and a more positive outlook.