Avoiding Emotional Fallacies in Resolutions: Toward a(nother) Year of Assertiveness

Avoiding Emotional Fallacies in Resolutions: Toward a(nother) Year of Assertiveness

I don’t know about you, but I had been flagging a bit in my resolve in the end of the last year. It’s hard work, this relay marathon of speaking up and working against the toxic crap (and there’s soooo much of it!). It’s easy to be weary going forward. In this week’s post, I’ll discuss many of the emotional fallacies that often prevent us from forming and keeping resolutions toward acting toward the common good–as well as their antidotes. Hopefully this info will help all of us keep resolving to do what we can to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all.  

Taking Stock of Causes for Grief and Potential Action

So yes, a new year and decade started this week. Arbitrary, yes, but nonetheless a great time to take stock of our lives.

I don’t know about you, but it feels like the world has been going on in this religio-political apocalypse for a long time, and while looking for and trying to be the helper has helped, it still feels like there’s a seemingly impossible number of catastrophes and religio-political responsibilities to attend to all at once.

Just a Small List of Things to Be Assertive About

If you’re me, that includes:

  • The possibility of a distraction war starting with Iraq (deep sigh–I’ve been concerned about something like this for 3 years)
  • Australia tragically burning (a HUGE canary in the coal mine for climate change, which we wrote about here, here and here)
  • Anti-semitic attacks in New York and across the globe (illustrating an unhealthy nationalism I wrote about here)
  • Family separation and other human rights violations (I’ve spoken about this here, here, here, and here)
  • GOP senators trying to overturn Roe v. Wade (despite STRONG evidence, as I’ve discussed here, that making abortion illegal is the worst solution to reducing abortions)
  • Continued demonization of “the left” and ongoing bothsidesism that keeps people we used to respect from hearing and acting on truth (I talked about this here, here, here, here, here, and here)
  • Ongoing racism (which I discussed here and here)
  • Ongoing domestic violence and abuse and sexism problems, including #metoo and #churchtoo problems (which I talked about here, here,, here, and here)
  • Unhealthy patterns of “Nice” that keep people from assertively standing up against power (which I talked about here, here, here, here, and here, among other places)
  • Unhealthy forms of purity culture, ethnocentrism, etc. that cause so much damage and enable so much of the above (I talked about the dark side of “family values” rhetoric here, and white Evangelical-centrism here)
  • Increasingly extreme rhetoric coming from some extremist white Evangelicals in response to the Christianity Today impeachment editorial (I talked about the context for the editorial here)
  • The 2020 US election and impeachment processes
  • So much more I can’t even think of right now because there’s so much going on

None of this is okay or ought to be normalized, and it can feel rightfully overwhelming. That overwhelm can lead to literal lack of health for so many—both individually and through the ways we may freeze up, which may stop us from staving off the worst of these things.

It’s very important in such times that we pay close attention to how to process all of this and make our resolutions strategically. Strategic resolutions will help both our health and those of others and the world. In the process of drafting them, it’s especially important to avoid what I’m going to be calling emotional fallacies.

Emotional Fallacies When It Comes to Resolutions (and, You Know, Action in General)

There are several traps when it comes to resolutions, and they’re all rooted in the natural stress responses that are designed to help us respond to felt threat about rising to the occasion (I talk about our stress responses more and how they feed into conflict and debate situations in the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls”—I’ll give instructions on how to get that for free at the end of this article).

These resolution traps, or emotional fallacies, are all discussed in one of the textbooks I teach out of in my university communication classes—Adler, Rosenfeld, and Proctor’s 13th edition of Interplay. Because the authors and I are all communication scholars (and communication includes the study of logic and rhetoric), Adler et al. borrow them from the psychology discipline but call them emotional fallacies.

I find three of these emotional fallacies particularly pertinent to resolution time as well as any time I’m trying to figure out what I can do where I am with what I’ve got to the best effect:

  1. The fallacy of perfection
  2. The fallacy of helplessness
  3. The fallacy of catastrophic expectations

I’ll define these in a minute, but I want to note first that all of us tend toward one or the other of these naturally, but we also often have complicated blends of these depending on our particular upbringings and experiences, etc.

When people make fun of resolutions, in my experience they’re usually applying the fallacy of catastrophic expectations because they assume the fallacy of perfection will lead to the fallacy of helplessness. This means they are often pre-emptively applying the fallacy of helplessness.

I won’t go too deeply in depth into these fallacies here, but I will define them briefly.

If you’re interested and want more info, please sign up for my email newsletter—I’m working toward offering more resources and courses/workshops this year—that’s one of my project-related resolutions—and those on my email list will get prompt notification of when new opportunities pop up. Newsletter subscribers also get a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls,” which helps with dealing with conflict that results from speaking up both online and off.

So, Some Definitions and Quick and Dirty Antidotes to these Emotional Fallacies

First, The Fallacy of Perfection

Definition: The fallacy of perfection assumes that we have to get everything perfect, and do everything, in order to get anything done at all. Abusive messaging and policies often presume this is the case. Application of both god terms and devil terms often presume this is the case.

Examples: We try to tackle everything from the whole list of issues above, and get down on ourselves for our natural human limitations (which we all have). (NOTE: This isn’t meant to excuse avoidable issues like abuse, oppression, etc.)

Consequences: A lot of unhealthy shame and trauma stems from the idea that we can’t live up to this. Also, burnout when we get tired of trying to reach for it.

Related Stress Response: Fight. This fallacy is a dysfunctional version of the perfectly good fight response to felt threat that is meant to protect us from danger.

Antidote: Strive for excellence for your efforts, not perfection, and expect the same of those around you. Be careful when you choose to insist on being right. And remember that all striving requires self-care, including reasonable rest, as part of the gig. Just remember to rest, don’t quit, as Banksy says.  Also remember that you don’t have to do everything on your own—join with others to toward greater efforts than you could do on your own.

Second, The Fallacy of Helplessness

Definition: The fallacy of helplessness assumes that because we can’t do everything, that we can’t and shouldn’t do anything. Abusive messaging usually combines this assumption with the fallacy of perfection, and this is where shame comes from—the assumption that because you’re expected to do everything, and will never be able to do that, that you’re always and automatically not enough.

Example: We don’t even try to make resolutions or goals because we assume they won’t work out anyway.

Consequences: We don’t hold ourselves to any kind of standards, definitely don’t try new things, and create unhealthy self-fulfilling prophecies—we assume things aren’t possible so we don’t even try.

Related Stress Response: Flight and/or Freeze. This fallacy is a dysfunctional version of these healthy responses that can protect us from danger.

Antidote: Remind yourself that even small steps are worthwhile, look for and remember the positive consequences of your efforts, and ask people in close relationship to you to encourage you as well and hold you accountable to keep going.

Last But Not Least, the Fallacy of Catastrophic Expectations

Definition: The fallacy of catastrophic expectations is closely aligned with both of the above, but is a bit different—this is the assumption that everything will work out poorly no matter what we do. Remember that Worst Case Scenario handbook that was so big a few years back? This is assuming everything will end up like that all the time, except without the planning to respond if those things happen, because we assume there’s no point.

Consequences: We don’t even try, and often we drag others down with us when we predict dire consequences no matter what we do. Or, if combined with the fallacy of perfection, we go wild trying to fix EVERYTHING assuming that we and only we can avert the crisis (this is how type A people tend to respond to these things).

Related Stress Response: Flight and/or Freeze. This response is a dysfunctional response to these things that often accompanies overwhelm and burnout/trauma. A variant is when things have gone poorly in the past and so we assume that things will automatically go poorly in the future. The shame-based version of this is called foreboding joy by Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly.   

Antidote: Remind yourself that things can go well, and work to strategize ways to make things go as well as possible with your resolutions to make the world a better place. Also recognize that we all make mistakes and things may go poorly as well, but every individual’s efforts matter in making things go better than catastrophe.

IMPORTANT!: Don’t accept the lie that things will automatically go poorly—we can’t fix everything, but we can do what we can do, and collectively, if we work together and strategize and encourage one another, we can ultimately do a lot!

A Resolution-Building Charge

So, friends, get on those reasonable resolutions to assertively seek to make the world a better place, today, this week, this month, this year, this decade and always! Let’s knock down these emotional fallacies in ourselves and call them out in others toward a healthier world for us all.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s remember that while we can’t fix everything, our efforts toward making the world a better place CAN make a difference to avert the worst, and that we don’t have to be perfect to strive toward excellence. We can do this thing.

Looking for More Resources Toward Your Assertiveness Goals?

As I said, my Assertive Spirituality-related goals for this year are to move in the direction of offering more resources for those of you seeking to speak up. This will likely involve a Patreon platform offering bonus content and possibly closed support and/or training communities in exchange for your financial support of the project (if you don’t know Patreon, think how PBS offers things in exchange for sponsorship). Hopefully I will soon be able to offer some online courses related to assertiveness and relationships/speaking up as well. I’ll get them up as soon as I reasonably can, with as much as I can offer.

If you would like to stay apprised of these developments, as well as receive our free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls,” please sign up for our weekly email newsletter in the top bar of this site or by checking the box when you comment on this blog post. You’ll also get weekly emails with notifications of our new blog posts and other project updates.

Finally, make sure to like and share and such from our AS Facebook page–we send out multiple-daily encouragements on there to keep up the good fight and consider new viewpoints.

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2 thoughts on “Avoiding Emotional Fallacies in Resolutions: Toward a(nother) Year of Assertiveness

  1. Thanks, just what I needed! We live near Nogales, AZ, where people seeking asylum having finally made it to a legal USA process, are being put back across the border to make their way without legal representation to Juarez, 8 hours of danger. Today I will call and ask how to help.

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