The following blog is Part 5 in the Black & White Thinking Series. Click on the links for Part 1 (Introduction), Part 1b (Introduction), Part 2 (Biblical Lens), Part 3 (Grace), and Part 4 (Mental Illness?).
According to the Mayo Clinic, depression is “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” It is characterized by low energy or fatigue, change in appetite and sleep, low self-esteem, poor concentration or inability to make decisions, and feelings of hopelessness. Feelings of guilt, shame, being unloved, and numb feelings can be oppressive and lead to inactivity and loneliness. The more severe the depression is, the more likely the oppression seems to control you (thoughts, actions, mood, etc.), which means the more you feel powerless to control yourself.
Some of the writings about depression state that the depression itself causes thought patterns. Though I am unsure as to whether depression itself causes negative thought patterns, I can certainly say that they are present in depression. One of the common thought patterns found in depression is Black & White Thinking.
If we take a look at the diagram on the left, we see the green ball which represents the actions or words of another, or events that take place. The Black & White Thinker hears the words (green ball) and they are interpreted (fall all the way down the triangle) as either “all or nothing” or “black & white.” There is no stopping the interpretation until it reaches the bottom. For example, a student who is depressed will tell herself after receiving a “B” on a test: “I failed it. I’m stupid.” A father who did not handle a situation well will tell himself, “I’m a lousy father. I’m a failure.” The event happened and the interpretation of themselves goes to one side or the other. But a “B” certainly is not failing, but far from it! The father may not have handled a situation well, but that does not mean that he is a horrible father as he has probably done many things well! In Black & White Thinking, the simple conclusion is that it has to be one or the other. To conclude that a “B” is not stupid or that a good father can make poor decisions is difficult to comprehend, let alone believe.
People struggling with depression make similar conclusions about themselves. “I am unloved.” “No one really cares.” “I am a failure.” “All is hopeless.” “Nothing will help me.” When Black & White Thinking is present and its conclusions are believed, the depression gets worse.
We not only feel oppressed by our depression, but we also participate in our depression. In other words, we not only feel it, but we do it. We actively (or passively) engage in our depression. We may wear dark clothes, think depressive thoughts, remain in bed, and basically obey our feelings. At times, we may not feel as though we have a choice, even though we do.
In order to combat the Black & White Thinking in Depression (or in general), new conclusions based on a different Truth needs to be introduced. This new Truth is not based on one’s own flawed interpretation, but it is a Truth based on God’s Word.
Take a look at the second Diagram to the right. Here, we see that with the intervention of God’s Truth, the green ball does not fall to the previous Black & White conclusion, but instead falls a shorter distance. And what are these new conclusions based on God’s Truth? Let’s go back to the examples. In both cases, the Truth of God’s Word (based on Rom 2:8, 3:23, 8:1; Jn 3:16) is the following, “I may not have done as well as I would have liked, or maybe even failed, yet I can expect to do poorly at times as ‘All have sinned and fall short.’ But who I am is based on Christ’s actions for me, not on my own actions (grace). Therefore, I may have failed, but I am not a failure. I am loved, worthwhile, blessed, cherished, and adored by Him…not because of what I have or have not done, but because of who He is.” Or perhaps these Truths may be better for others: “I know I failed or did poorly. My failures were taken to the cross by Jesus. Therefore, I do not need to punish myself any further, as my punishment fell on Christ.” When these Truths become more important than personal truths and conclusions, and when they are trusted and believed more than one’s own truths, there is progress made for those who struggle with Depression.
It sounds simple enough, yet it is difficult for someone who is depressed to think differently as they have been thinking this way for a long period of time. At times, medication may be necessary to lift the person up to be able to challenge their own thinking successfully. Other times, medication is not necessary at all. It may be necessary only having accountability and a list of God’s truths available to rehearse, repeat, and challenge the Black & White Thinking.
What are some other examples of Black & White Thinking found in Depression? How about truths that have helped?
Black & White Thinking is not only found in Depression, but it is also found in Anxiety as well. Next week, we will take a look at Black & White Thinking found in Anxiety Disorders and God’s Truths that will help!