The following is Part 6 in the Black & White Thinker Series. Click on these links for Part 1 (Intro and Intro continued), Part 2 (Biblical Lens), Part 3 (Grace), Part 4 (Mental Illness?), and Part 5 (Depression).
Anxiousness is something we have all experienced. We worry about our children, our jobs, or our schooling. We feel anxious when we have an interview, speak or sing in public, or have some event or activity we are not used to (& sometimes which we do all the time).
I remember the time when I asked my wife to marry me. I had told her I would propose to her after she received the twelfth rose from me. So, throughout perhaps two months, I had given her one rose, maybe two at a time until it came to the last few roses. We were at a restaurant in Connecticut and I left her at the table to “go to the restroom.” I then went to my car’s trunk where I had the final roses and walked back into the restaurant and proceeded on bended knee to ask for her hand. Why I was so anxious then, I have no idea. I knew she would accept my proposal, yet the anxiety I felt was pretty high, probably because this was the biggest decision of my life (and one of the best!).
High amounts of anxiety that disrupt everyday life are considered anxiety disorders. Often, these high levels of anxieties lead to compulsions to ease the anxieties. This is where Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD) come in. Certain fears reign in the heart and ruminate in the mind and the only way to quell the fear is to obey the compulsion. The fear is an itch that MUST be scratched, and the compulsion is the scratch.
Anxiety occurs because we are fearful. The greater the fear, the greater the anxiety. If we are only slightly afraid of spiders, we will avoid them or get others to kill them. If we are deathly afraid of them, we will probably freak out.
Black & White Thinking shows up in several ways with anxiety. First, Black & White Thinking occurs when the level of fear goes quickly past “slightly afraid” to “Mostly/all afraid” (all or nothing). The fear becomes so intense that there is only one way that can end it (the compulsion). It has to be all afraid or not afraid. The compulsion is completed either right or wrong. It is either handled perfectly, or it is unacceptable. An OCD individual who is fearful of germs is compelled to wash in a way that they KNOW will quell the fear (the right way), at least temporarily. If they do it wrong (the wrong way), the fear intensifies. There is no settling or “good enough” mentality when dealing with fear. One cannot simply wash their hands once, it has to be ___ times to be right and to work.
A second way Black & White Thinking is involved in anxieties is with those who struggle with perfectionism (something, I believe, is found more in Black & White thinkers). Perfectionists often struggle with anxiety or depression because their standards are so high (that’s the “all” in “all or nothing”). They MUST achieve a certain standard and to do less or perform poorly is to fail. Many Black & White Thinkers will work extremely hard to measure up to their (ALL) standards. The standards are so high that it produces anxieties trying to meet them, as if these standards were given by a ruthless dictator threatening their lives. Panic, fear, and stress reign trying to please an insatiable tyrant. If these high standards have been set for other people, it is very likely they will experience anxieties while they are trying to make the Black & White Perfectionist happy. This has been known to cause many problems in relationships.
Black & White Thinking may also occur with everyday worries and anxieties. When we worry, we often think about worst case scenarios. “Something bad happened to them!” “They could be laying on the side of the road, dead!” “I’m going to look like a fool!” “I’m going to fail!” “I’ll be rejected!” Dwelling on worst case scenarios is in itself Black & White Thinking. Worriers reason that if they think of the worst case scenario, at least they will be prepared for the worst. But they’ve also lost time, energy, and or rest in the present while predicting an unlikely future outcome.
Recognizing that Black & White Thinking is present in anxiety is important so that we see our active involvement in our anxiety. Anxiety is not simply something that happens to you, but something you can address. If we know we are actively involved in our worries, we can also be actively involved in our healing as well. When we feel anxious, we can note (write down) our thoughts and begin to exchange them with the Truth. Yet our thoughts are not simply the only thing that ought to change, but our hearts as well. As we experience anxious thoughts, it’s important to recognize that anxiety is fear, and God speaks to our fears. Replacing our Black & White Thoughts with the truths of God as mentioned in Scripture, and believing them, will be important for change.
If you did a search throughout Scripture, each time the words “fear not” or “Don’t be afraid” are spoken, there is a promise either before or after most of them. “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isa 41:10). “Fear not. I have redeemed you. I have called you by name” (Is 43:1). “Do not be afraid….for the Lord your God will be with you” (Josh 1:9). “The Lord Himself will go before you and will be with you. Do not be afraid” (Deut 31:8). It is in these promises of his presence and faithfulness to us that we are to take comfort, because they come from a God who is Love and who speaks to us when we are anxious. They come from a God who will never leave us nor forsake us. They come from a God who promises that ALL THINGS work together for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28).
As we continue the Black & White Thinker Series, we will be moving on to Black & White Thinking in Relationships, such as in marriage and in parenting.