Circumstantial Thinking

I’ve been posting a series of articles on several of the most common “thinking errors” common to individuals with disturbances of character. It’s important to remember that none of these dysfunctional thinking patterns can singularly indicate that a person has a character disturbance. But individuals struggling with significant deficiencies of character tend to engage in several of these thinking patterns, all of which help contribute to their difficulty in solidifying a more pro-social character.  This article is the last in the series on thinking errors.

Understanding the erroneous thinking patterns of disturbed characters is important because the ways in which they tend to think greatly influence the attitudes and core beliefs they form as well as the kinds of behaviors they’re most likely to exhibit. Erroneous thinking almost always leads to problematic behavior.

In my book, In Sheep’s Clothing, I make the point that just how sincerely an individual really believes the twisted ways they sometimes think varies considerably. Sometimes, underneath it all an individual really knows better — but they will still do their best to convince you that they really hold a belief in order to make themselves look better or to justify behavior they know you and others have a problem with. Sometimes, however, they really do hold the distorted beliefs that they tout. In such cases, confronting dysfunctional ways of thinking and facilitating their correction can be a real challenge.

The last thinking error I’d like to present in this series is one that I label “circumstantial thinking.” Persons with disturbed characters like to think that things in life “just happen” to them or others. They don’t like to think in terms of cause and effect relationships with respect to the decisions they make about how to manage their lives. So, when people of good character manage to earn good fortune, the envious, disturbed character attributes it to “blind luck.” When the consequences of his own irresponsible conduct fall upon the disordered character, he attributes it to “just one of those things,” the corrupt system, or the ill motives of others. Disordered characters don’t like to think that behavior has consequences, and they certainly don’t like to examine their own motives. In the mind of the disturbed character, “shit happens.” Among criminal personalities, there is an acronym “OTLTA” that reflects their common thinking that one thing simply led to another whenever they’re challenged about their motivations for committing criminal acts. It’s their way of revealing the fact that they don’t give much focus to the series of choices they’ve made, but rather see their behavior and its consequences as the inevitable result of a snowball rolling out of control and becoming too massive to stop.  Circumstantial thinking (i.e., not thinking about one’s motives for engaging in behaviors, one’s internal decision-making process, and the consequences of one’s choices, but rather telling oneself that things simply happen) is the thinking error most responsible for the development of a socially irresponsible attitude.

There are indeed some times when fate plays the major role in life’s circumstances.  Sometimes, things simply happen. Tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, happen without warning.  But such events are rare occurrences.  And responsible people know that, for the most part, when it comes to the major issues of life, more often circumstances are shaped by the choices a person makes.  Paying attention to those choices and taking care to make the best possible choice regardless of the circumstances is what sound character is all about.

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