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By Alana Gregg, MA

We are so divided on many issues right now and our anxiety is on the rise. There are two opposite ends of the spectrum and you’re constantly having to choose a side. One choice is good and the other is bad. There is no in between. All or nothing. We are living in a world of extremes where we fixate on one point of view and completely reject the other. Yes there are times we need to make a choice, but more often than not, life is found in the middle. There are complexities to the human experience that can’t be summed up in black and white terms. 

Here are 4 problems with black and white thinking:

1. It hurts our relationships: When we cling to a one sided viewpoint, often there are other people in our world who are on the other side. If we believe that our view is the one that is good and theirs is bad, it starts to divide and impact your relationships. Sometimes we make assumptions on what the other person may be thinking or feeling. Suddenly it’s not just the viewpoint that is bad but the person as well. We miss opportunities to learn from others or see things through someone else’s eyes. I have seen this happen in marriage relationships as well. When we are hurting it is easy to jump to saying things like “you always do this to me” or “you never do anything to show me you care about me.” These extreme statements will create anxiety and more division in your marriage because, while it can be hard to see at times. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

2. It impacts our view of “self”: When we see ourselves in black and white, there is little room for error. Our performance is judged as good or bad, meaning if it isn’t perfect then we must be failing. Maybe it’s our size that’s judged as fat or skinny. Or we forgot crazy hat day at school so we are a failure as a mom (this may or may not be a personal example). Or we made a mistake at work and started to believe we will never succeed. But no one is a complete failure or a complete success. Seeing ourselves this way is not only unhelpful but it creates anxiety by setting an unattainable standard that no one can meet. When we see ourselves as flawed human beings that are learning and growing, we become free to beat ourselves up less and show ourselves more grace.

3. It keeps us from seeing the world clearly: Another extreme way of thinking is to see things as all or nothing. If we are feeling good and life is going well, then we see the world as good. If we are having a bad day and life is not going well, then suddenly the world is a bad place and our anxiety, anger and depression grows. Finding a balanced perspective of how we see the world is so important to our mental health. There will always be good days and bad days, joy and pain, sorrow and happiness. We need to be able to see and feel both. This doesn’t mean we can never be happy because we are waiting for the other shoe to drop or we can never be sad because we need to “stay positive.” We can find beauty in both the ups and the downs and even more importantly, the daily in between.

4. It does not leave room to feel two things at once: Sometimes we need to feel two things at once that may seem to be contradictory but are actually both true and very real. For instance, it is possible to be devastated by the loss of a loved one and at the same time be relieved that they are no longer suffering. Being relieved does not make you a bad person or say that you are glad they are gone. It’s possible to want to know your birth parents even if your adoptive parents have given you an amazing life. You can long to know where you came from and be thankful for the life you have at the same time. It is possible to be angry with your parent(s) who abused you and still love them because they are your parent(s). Longing for love and acceptance from your parents doesn’t mean you are condoning their abusive behavior. Sometimes two feelings need to be held in tension because we need to feel both. Both are important to our healing.

Lime Tree Counseling 

If you are struggling right now with finding a balanced perspective of life and are feeling anxious, our trained counselors would love to help you. They understand that it is hard to see things clearly when you are hurting and can help you process those polarized thoughts that are keeping you trapped in anxiety and depression. Sometimes we need to talk to someone to help gain more perspective. Contact us today for more information or to schedule an appointment