Rationalization: What It Is And How It Influences Our Thinking


Nobody is perfect, even though it is difficult for us to assume it. Sometimes we screw up or fail to do things well, something totally normal of course, but difficult to accept.

On many occasions, far from accepting that perhaps we did not put all the effort we could have invested or that we did not have the necessary skills, we prefer to say that it was either the fault of other people or that we have had bad luck… and we believe it!

Searching for logical, although not true, explanations for our actions and those of others has a name: rationalization Next we will see what this curious and common defense mechanism consists of.

What is rationalization?

Many times dealing with our daily lives can cause us tension and even facing certain realities can overwhelm our psychological resources. These situations can be especially threatening for our “ego” and, to avoid this, we put into play various defense mechanisms with the intention of maintaining our psychological balance and avoiding any type of disturbance. Among these mechanisms, one of the most widespread is that of rationalization.

In psychoanalysis, rationalization, also known as intellectualization, is the defense mechanism that consists of employing rational explanations, valid or not, to hide from oneself and others the motives behind a behavior That is, it consists of justifying our actions and those of others in such a way that they avoid censorship, giving a logical explanation to our feelings, thoughts or behaviors. If we had to give this mechanism a motto it would be “that’s not my fault because…”

Human beings are not perfect and within this imperfection we are not able to accept this reality That is why people give us reasons, apparently logical, in order to justify our setbacks and defects. We rationalize when we try to defend ourselves from the frustrating effect of our actions and we try to convince ourselves that either it was due to something beyond our control or, if we have tried to achieve something but have not been successful in our task, we convince ourselves that in reality We didn’t want it that much.

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Examples of rationalization

An example of rationalization can be found in the fable of the fox and the grape The fox sees a bunch of grapes on a very tall vine and wants them, so she wants to jump to see if she can reach them. Unfortunately for her, she can’t jump high enough to reach the sweet fruit and exclaims, “Oh, they’re green!” and she stops jumping. Yes, it is true, they are green and this assessment is true, however the real reason why he gives up his attempt is because he cannot jump high enough, but if he accepted this weakness he would feel frustration for not being able to achieve what he has set out to do. .

Another example, in this case more applicable to life itself, is the situation in which many workers and students live having to hand in a job but not getting it on time Far from recognizing that it was because they did not dedicate enough time or were not consistent, they begin to come up with all kinds of arguments to justify not meeting the deadlines. Cognitively, it is much easier to accept that they did not deliver things on time because the computer was slow one day or because they could not do their part because the other members of the work team did not do their parts on time.

We could also give as an example that of a person who has decided to go for a run every morning but is not fulfilling it. Far from recognizing that it is because he falls asleep or that he is lazy, he looks for logical arguments but they are still excuses such as that he does not have the right footwear, in the mornings it is too cold and if he sweats he is going to catch a cold or that if something happens to him something is not going to be able to receive help from anyone because at that time there is almost no one walking around.

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Rationalization and psychopathology

Rationalization is a psychodynamic concept and, as such, it is inevitable to relate it to psychopathology from that perspective. This does not mean that people without psychological disorders do not rationalize or intellectualize our actions or that, if we do, we have a problem. It is totally normal that when we do something wrong or we do not achieve what we wanted, it is logical and even healthy to throw things out, saying that in reality we have had bad luck or that it is because of what others have done, although the ideal is to recognize in What have we failed so we can improve and achieve it next time.

From Freudian psychoanalysis, rationalization is considered to be something typical of neurotic personalities. It is also related to people with very sensitive egos, in the sense that they do not accept their weaknesses well and if they did, they would feel very high frustration and a great loss of self-esteem. In both cases, making rational excuses is so easy for them that they don’t even realize they are doing it.

As we said, it is normal to rationalize our behaviors. However, this will be a cause for concern when we are constantly applying this mechanism, looking for “rational” but not real explanations for what has not gone well for us instead of going directly to the root of the problem, our possible failures, and trying to solve it. improve. What determines that this mechanism is a sign of disorder is the rigidity with which it manifests and its duration over time

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Rationalization is a certainly curious mechanism, given that when we apply it to ourselves we are not aware that we are applying it. That is to say, people do not consciously deceive themselves, but what happens is that a set of biased perceptions of reality act, causing us to believe our own story. For this reason, when a therapist or other person tries to confront patients who constantly apply this mechanism to the reality of their actions, on many occasions they tend to deny them.

As a final clarification at this point, we should not confuse rationalizing with reasoning about our behavior. Rationalization does not have to restrict our self-knowledge or our potential that is, being aware of what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are.

Reasoning is often the step that comes after rationalizing, since once we have looked for a “logical” explanation for our behavior and some time passes, we realize that it is actually because we did things wrong or we were missing something. a little skill. Likewise, to avoid rationalizing, it is necessary to exercise deep acceptance, recognizing that we are not perfect human beings, so any error or lack of knowledge only indicates that we should try a little harder.