Black and White Thinking < -------- Its Got to Go!

So many of “our” mamas suffer from depression and I am discovering that some of it is (at least) related to what psychologists call “black and white thinking”. It is a real problem, especially for those with fundamental Christian backgrounds, and I want to call it out for what it is (distortive thinking) because I used to suffer with so many of the same damaging thoughts.

Black and white thinking is the thought process that accompanies “all or nothing” beliefs, and is a form of cognitive distortion. Now, I want to be very careful here because, as a Christian, I do believe there are some things that are true — whether we believe them or not. Basic, doctrinal truths are not what I’m talking about. I want to discuss the distortion that, because you are tired, you are exhausted. Or, because you fell at the skating rink, you are a total klutz. Or, because you have a checkered past, you are a complete failure. This thinking has crept into the church and is a danger to emotional health. Yes . . . we sin. We are sinners. But, we are also saints. And our pasts are part of the tapestry of our lives that God (yes, God) has been weaving together. And, my fear is that, if we do not embrace ALL of it, we will never be whole. This embracing is difficult in the church because we are supposed to be super-holy. Or, at least, our mistakes should have been made before we came to Christ. Right? I don’t agree.

For people with abusive pasts, all or nothing thinking is particularly harmful because it triggers a fight or flight response that causes anxiety (sometimes) several times a day. An abusive past plus a fundamental past equals extreme anxiety. For women who were in abusive marriages for years and years (or grew up in abusive families), they faced life-threatening situations every day. Compounded by that is the prevalent belief that we are either good or bad inside. That belief produces shame (not true moral guilt). And down the spiral we glide. Statements like, “I’m a terrible person!” “She has a perfect marriage!” “I deserve this bad thing that is happening to me!” and so on over-generalize our very life and can cause massive mood shifts.

A lot of things are massive disasters. But, a lot of things are not massive disasters. A lot of things are grey . . . or blue or yellow and it is OK to acknowledge that. The abuse you endured when you were a child was bad. Very bad. But, that doest mean that you are bad. And it doesn’t mean that you must hate yourself. The self-harm you are partaking in does not make you “ruined” . . . it reveals a symptom, in yourself, of a greater problem that God wants to address. It is only a symptom; it is not who you are.

These are some words that reveal black and white thinking, as noted by the clinical depression blog of the UK:




Do you recognize these? The more we polarize our thinking, the more we risk emotional ups and downs throughout the day, triggering that fight or flight response. It might be more boring to be “a little tired” or to say, “Today was a little rough but it ended well.” . . .  But, that’s OK. Practice seeing things for what they are. Because when we see ourselves in black and white, all or nothing terms, we see others that way, further breaking down relationships around us. We don’t accept differing opinions and we have less compassion for others.

I found that, five years ago when I left several unhealthy situations, I was somewhat addicted to drama. Not because I loved it or anything. It was simply what I knew and was used to. It was wearing me out in all areas of life. And it was exacerbating my PTSD. I love this quote from Brennan Manning (my fave author):

As psychoanalist Eric Erikson once noted, there are only two choices: integration and acceptance of our whole life-story, or despair. Thus, the apostle Paul writes, “For all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus.” ( 1 Thess. 5:18) (Ruthless Trust p. 31)

Are you like me? Do you look at your life, wondering how it could have taken so many twists and turns that you never ever could have imagined? Its OK. Because, as much as we would like to believe we have power in our lives, we really don’t have the kind of power to snatch ourselves out of God’s hands and do what we please. Our lives are not one big blight because they did not turn out the way we thought they would. Your life is a beautiful, colorful quilting that has had incredible purpose and will continue to. He is always there . . . always has been. There is so much evil that I’ve done and that has been done to me. There is so much good that I have done and that has been done to me. It is all working together. These are our lives . . . our stories. Embrace, re-think, grow and live in the color and joy of your history and future. God will take all of it and use it for good, somehow. And it will be beautiful.






“Water of Life” by Megan D Cox


3 Replies to “Black and White Thinking < -------- Its Got to Go!”

  1. This describes my life in so many ways. I left my abusive church one year ago. My husband and adult children refuse to leave. This year has been rough as I have learned many churches don’t want to hear about the abuse. Their reaction is I must be the problem. Your statement about having the addiction of living in turmoil resonated with me. I am trying so hard to heal, but am finding it hard to do without a support group of people who understand, your stories and blogs have helped me tremendously.

    1. Oh Kathy, I can’t imagine the pain you experience and the courage it took when you walked away and your family stayed! Any time we break free from abusive relationships, there is that period of time in which we feel so very alone until we begin to find ways to identify and seek out new, healthy relationships.
      I am glad that our site has brought you encouragement and support, and we will be praying that soon you find a healthy church home that will provide you with strong and healthy community.

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