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Clear the Mind: Discussing Relationships with Carrie Hurchinson, PhD

Remove the false thoughts that block relationships.

 by Carrie Hutchinson, PhD

Inside each unique human brain exist complex building blocks of ideas, sometimes referred to as “mansions of thoughts.” Like any home, the mental mansion can fall victim to years of neglect, calling for a major cleaning. Schemata are the webs of interconnected ideas that you learn from experiencing the world and are sprawled across your mental mansion. These webs, while useful some of the time, can impede our ability to perceive things clearly.

Like insects flying through the air, our thoughts get caught in our webs of pre-formulated ideas, becoming wrapped in a stifling cocoon that prevents them from seeing the light. Tidying up the mind requires that we clear out the cobwebs to allow information to enter and exit the mind without being trapped by inaccurate patterns of thinking, otherwise known as fallacies.

In the context of relationships, there are eight particular fallacies that can prevent us from the kinds of relationships we truly desire.

The first is the fallacy of approval, which is the belief that every person must like you at all times. A person exhibits this fallacy when he or she behaves non-assertively, indicating that the fear of disapproval or disagreement overrides addressing real needs in a relationship.

This erroneous thinking is often paired with the fallacy of perfection, which is the idea that I can or should be able to handle everything. When it comes to relationships, this fallacy often comes in the form of attempting to solve interpersonal problems with others… all by yourself.

You may try and convince yourself that if you could just be more understanding enough or express yourself better, then your issues or conflicts with another person would go away. In reality, interpersonal means “between two persons,” and this is exactly how we should handle our issues: together. If you tend not to want to apply collaborative methods to work out conflicts with another individual because you feel like either a) you don’t want to be disagreeable, or b) you should be able to work it out yourself, then you are probably committing either the fallacy of approval or the fallacy of perfection.

In contrast, the fallacy of should occurs when we expect too much from others. This fallacy causes us to believe that everything should be a certain way, and when things deviate from our expectations, panic ensues. If other people constantly disappoint you, you may consider asking yourself if your preconceived notions of how things should be in your relationship are blocking your acceptance of how things are. This is not to say that you shouldn’t work toward positive change; only that focusing on a fantasy of the perfect relationship or partner may be counterproductive.

Another common one is the fallacy of overgeneralization, which is revealed by the overuse of words such as “never” or “always” that show sweeping conclusions about a person or situation. Overgeneralizing is an attempt to gain control by summarizing the meaning of things; however, these summaries usually reflect the current emotional state rather than the overall state of the relationship.

Overgeneralizers also tend to commit the fallacy of catastrophic expectations, feeling like the worst possible outcome is likely to occur. Saying “this always happens to me,” or “I knew it was too good to be true” may reveal a tendency toward overgeneralization or catastrophic expectations.

The last two fallacies reflect challenges with personal accountability. The fallacy of causation occurs when you believe that someone else causes your emotions, when, in fact, we choose how we react to the behaviors of others.

The fallacy of helplessness is the belief that forces outside of ourselves are responsible for all that happens to us, good or bad.

Both of these fallacies support the belief that we really have no control over our lives, and therefore, we are unmotivated to be proactive in our relationships. These errors in thinking cause us to seek blame for the root of a relationship problem instead of seeking to heal the problem.

In your mental spring cleaning process, take some time to identify the fallacies that you commit most often in your interpersonal relationships.

Do you try to handle everything yourself?

Do you expect too much from others?

Do you often overgeneralize?

Or do you expect the worst-case scenario? 

Do you have a sense of helplessness, feeling like others are controlling your emotions and fate?

 When we ask ourselves these questions, we break apart the webs that clutter up our minds, making room for the light.

Dr. Carrie Hutchinson earned her PhD from the University of California Santa Barbara in Communication and Psychology. She is a professor at Santa Barbara City College and the author of Interpersonal Communication: Navigating Relationships in a Changing World.


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