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!

By Your Side

One of the great privileges I have daily is to listen to my favorite Christian radio station, the WordFM (www.wordfm.org).  This year, especially during fundraising time, they played a song by Tenth Avenue North called By Your Side.  In playing this song, the WordFM communicated that the radio station was by your side, offering encouraging music inspired by God’s Word to help people get through whatever they were going through.  I have often been encouraged with music in my life and by the WordFM’s ministry as well.

This summer, I had the opportunity to be with a friend before he had succumbed to cancer.  Though it was difficult to understand him when he spoke, I remember feeling the utmost honor to be by his side in the final days of his life, even if just for a few minutes.  To offer encouragement to him and to his family was an honor (and still is).  I often think the same in the counseling office.  To be called by God to be by the side of people going through struggles is an honor like none other.  To think that God has chosen these individuals to come through the doors of my office and that He had chosen me to be a person to encourage and communicate Truth to them simply baffles me.   I can’t help but think “Why would He choose me to be a vessel of His Truth when He knows that I am just as sinful as them?”  I know the answer to that, but I just see it as amazing that it is not necessary for me to have achieved or reached a certain point in faith and righteousness to be used by God.  It’s an honor, to say the least, and very humbling.

As Christians saved by grace, He chooses who He wishes to choose. Each one of us are broken vessels chosen by God to love and be by the side of others going through difficult times.  This is actually one of our purposes in life, to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”  Some do this because being kind to others feels good.  Others are kind to people because God calls us to do this, and as a result of loving others, they feel good.  The former get their reward here, while the latter get their reward in heaven. 

The WordFM can be by your side at a distance while bringing encouraging music to your ears (not including their missions trips which are much more personal).  Foundations Christian Counseling can be by your side through face-to-face fee-based counseling for an hour per week.  But you can be by someone’s side as a friend and confidante and speak Truth into their lives simply because your love for them (emotion) leads to your love for them (action) when needed.  And why should we do this?  Because it is being like Christ – who is always by your side.  He’s not there to condemn, but to build you up and to love you simply because he has declared you worthy (not by your actions, but by his giving you life (made in the image of God) and by his death for you on the cross – he took your sins upon himself and now declares you righteous). 

There is no sin that will separate you from his love…so, too, let no sin separate you from loving another, from being by their side and showing the love of Christ.  This is one of the greatest things we can do for one another…to be by their side when they have been hurt or abandoned, to be by their side and to celebrate with them, to be by their side to build them up, encourage, and to instruct in the Word.  This is God’s view for the church body, for His children, and for us as individuals.  Whose side will you be by this week?