Black & White Thinking in Depression

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?).

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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.

b_w-diagram-1If 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, wb_w-diagram-2e 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!

Vote For Me! I’m the Bestest!

Well, today, November 2nd is the blessed day when political advertisements will come to an end. Certain politicians hopes and dreams come true, start to take place, or take a dive.  The political candidates spend many months raising support and spending money on advertising, sending a message on why they are better than the other candidates, in hopes that you will vote for them because they are better and they will get more done.

I can’t help but think that many live their lives the same way.  Instead of months, though, years are invested to get people to “vote” for them…or like them.  We put on certain “political” fronts (also known as masks), spend money getting the right clothes, electronic toys (iphones, etc.), boast about accomplishments or put other’s failures on the radar so that we look better…..It’s all about the presentation and projecting an image to have an identity that is worthy of respect….but is it real?  Is it genuine?

As a teen and even into the adult years, I can’t help but wonder how many of my actions have been a campaign for approval…to be liked, respected, and admired while my true self was hidden and known only by God.  When my campaign would fail, I would fail, and therefore become depressed.  I can tell you  with confidence that the campaign for approval will always end in not being elected by all voters, because that is the only way to win in this campaign.

The past few weeks, Cornerstone Church has been doing the r12 series (Romans 12 – Living on the Edge) by Chip Ingram.  This week, the focus is on having a sober assessment of self.  Not to think of ourselves too highly or too low, but that our identity or worth being found in Him who gives us worth.  Any campaigns for approval seek the votes from people who do not have an accurate assessment of who we are, only who we project or pretend to be (and that always changes!).  The real assessment of who we are can only be made by the One who created us, who chose to die for us, and who has adopted us to become His children.  This is based on who He says we are and what He has done for us on the cross….and not what I say about me, what others say about me, what I have done, or what others have done to me.  This is an awesome fact as stated in His Word that still amazes me to this day.

So, vote for me.  Don’t vote for me.  Do what you want.  All I know, is that in love, Christ died for me…and that is enough.