Circumstantial Thinking: Does Stuff Really ‘Just Happen’?

Disordered characters don’t like to think that behavior has consequences and they certainly don’t like to examine their own motives.

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 dysfunctional thinking patterns, all of which help contribute to their difficulty in solidifying a more pro-social character.

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 determining 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 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?), 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 and 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.

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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 people 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. 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.

The responsible character knows that although there are rare times when fate does indeed play a significant role, for the most part, the circumstances of his life have been shaped by the choices he has made. Paying attention to those choices and resisting the temptation to engage in circumstantial thinking is a prerequisite for sound character development.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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