Insecurity and Black & White Thinkers

in·se·cu·ri·ty  ˌinsəˈkyo͝orədē/
noun
 1.  uncertainty or anxiety about oneself; lack of confidence.
  1. “she had a deep sense of insecurity”
    synonyms:  lack of confidence, self-  doubtdiffidence, unassertiveness,  timidityuncertaintynervousness,  inhibitionMore

Insecure _brett ellis

Insecurity is something most of us have faced at some time or another.  It doesn’t matter who you are, your personality, location, ethnicity, sex, etc.  Insecurity is feeling self-doubt and a lack of confidence in who we are (identity) and what we are worth (value). Typically, most of us have felt this in our teen years, or even earlier.  We first look to our parents for security (worth, etc.), then to peers and also to performance.  If our peers like and accept us, or our performance in school or sports or arts gets us recognition & praise, then we feel good and have value.  When considering parents, peers, and performance for our sense of security or worth, we can generally do without one, maybe two of them, but we have a hard time living without affirmation in all three.  We may even grow older continuing to seek worth and approval by continuing to perform well, please parents, or please peers, but eventually performance and people pleasing backfire in relationships.

For Black & White Thinkers who are insecure,  the “all or nothing” thinking plays a significant role in the interpretation of both words spoken to them and events surrounding them. As a result of the “all or nothing” / “right or wrong” thinking, they come to conclusions of negative self-worth.  (Note: As a negative self-worth is present in depression, I recommend reading Black & White Thinking in Depression to understand how some of the thinking occurs.)  Insecure individuals have a difficult time distinguishing between behaviors / actions and personhood.  If you do something bad (actions), this means you are bad (personhood).  And if you are bad, then your sense of worth decreases.

An insecure person generally takes things personally.  Words of instruction or direction may be taken as criticism.  Where Black & White Thinking may occur is when another person says they didn’t do something well, this is interpreted as meaning they did horrible.  If one says they did good, this means they either did great or horrible (if they are perfectionists).  It typically goes to either side of the extreme.  There is no middle ground for many Black & White Thinkers.  

Responsibility & Protection

For some Black & White Thinkers, to accept responsibility for wrong (actions) would mean to admit fault.  Admitting fault or guilt would mean they are bad, horrible, no good and worthless (personhood), and means they are entirely to blame for the issue (100% at fault).  In order to protect themselves, some use blame-shifting, justifying (“I yelled because you disrespected me!“), and may even attack others so as to keep their fragile personhood in tact (0% at fault).  For example, if you try to tell a Black & White Thinker that they did something wrong in a conflict, it is quite possible that they will think you are blaming them for the entire conflict.  Why? Because they are either all to blame or not at all to blame.  If they are all to blame, they are all bad or wrong. There may not be any middle ground.  To take responsibility (or admit guilt or wrongdoing) only for their part (25%, 50%. 75%, etc.) may be difficult to grasp.  So, they may either become down and depressed (feeling blamed for everything) or they may become more verbally aggressive (attacking others who they feel attacked them).  This does not occur in all Black & White Thinkers, only those who are more insecure.

Self-Protection & Preservation is one of key tasks of an insecure Black & White Thinker. Often, feelings of hurt, rejection, grief, abandonment, etc. are too difficult to bear.  Since Black & White Thinkers are more concrete, and feelings are abstract, working through such intangible feelings may seem an impossible task. Additionally, since such negative feelings of hurt, rejection, and abandonment are both difficult and painful to feel,  Black & White Thinking may increase in order to simplify life and nullify feelings.   It’s almost as if the protection mantra is this, “If the feelings aren’t acknowledged or felt, they are not there.  They don’t exist.”*  So life is simplified outside of emotions by refusing to feel, painful emotions are minimized, and the concrete words and actions become more of a focus.

Healing often begins when the negative emotions of hurt, rejection, and abandonment are acknowledged and worked through (felt), rather than ignored.  This is best done after the individual first recognizes that their emotional security (identity, self-worth & value) rests in God’s love and Christ’s actions on the cross, and not on what others have said or done to them, or in their own performance.  In order to work through such emotions, it would be wise to work through them with a trained Christ-centered counselor or a close, trusted friend or pastor.  Being anchored in the Truth of God’s love and grace for them is essential in working through insecurity, as our worth and value must be anchored in the Truth of God’s Word.  As God’s love and grace for us becomes more real, we are able to acknowledge guilt and responsibility because our sense of value and worth is based on the permanence of His love and grace, and not on our inconsistent selves or others varying words or actions.

If you are a Black & White Thinker, please consider how you have dealt with the negative emotions of rejection, hurt, grief or abandonment.  Have you allowed yourself to feel them and work through them, or have you simplified the emotions into anger or ignored them entirely?   Are you able to take responsibility for your actions alone and seek forgiveness for them, or do you blame-shift, justify, or refuse any guilt for words or actions you have expressed?  If so, please also consider that God made you to be both a physical being, spiritual being, and emotional being.  Working through painful emotions is a sign of maturity, and admitting fault or blame does not change your worth or value (it is actually acting in obedience to Christ!) and may even bring you closer to family members.

 

*At times, negative feelings of hurt, rejection, grief and abandonment filter into the one emotion that is acknowledged and deemed acceptable: anger.  Anger can be a lightning rod of emotions where the negative emotions are simplified in the expression of anger.  In such situations, physical confrontations or emotional abuse may not be far behind…

For More on Black & White Thinkers:

The Black & White Thinker: An Introduction

The Black & White Thinker: An Introduction (Part 2)

Black & White Thinking Through a Biblical Lens

Grace & the Black & White Thinker

The Black & White Thinking Christian

Is Black & White Thinking a Mental Illness?

Black & White Thinking in Depression

When Black & White Thinking is Ruled by Pride

Black & White Thinking in Anxiety

Black & White Thinking in Relationships: Men & Women

Black & White Thinking in Anger

Emotions & the Black & White Thinker

Black & White Thinking in Relationships: Differences in Men & Women

Below is Part 10 in the Black & White Thinking Series.  Please click on the respective links for Parts 1-9:  Part 1 (Introduction), Introduction (Part 2)Part 2 (Biblical Lens),  Part 3 (Grace),  Part 4 (Mental Illness), Part 5 (Depression), Part 6 (Anxiety), Part 7 (Pride), Part 8 (Christian), and Part 9 (Anger).man and woman head

Men are from Mars.  Women are from Venus.  Men are like Waffles.  Women are like Spaghetti.  There is no doubt that men and women are different, yet both men and women can be Black & White Thinkers.  And even though there are some similarities in the sexes with Black & White thinking, there are some differences as well.

SIMILARITIES

To review, Black & White Thinking involves processing events and situations as “all or nothing,” “either – or,” or “right or wrong.”   This type of thinking over-simplifies all the ins and outs of situations and reduces them to basically two choices.  Since there are only two choices (good or bad, right or wrong, etc.), it is important to meet the standard (successful/good), or else you fail (failure/bad).  While standards can be good, setting standards without a measure of grace is unwise.  Black & White Thinking may lead to setting high standards for others and criticizing them when they fail to meet them.  Such interactions will cause others you are close to to feel insecure, lonely, and resentful.  In situations of abuse, Black & White Thinking combined with pride is always present.

DIFFERENCES

Generally, men and women who think or process things in Black & White do so differently because they are created male or female.  Hormones, societal norms, and past events and relationships will certainly influence how one perceives, processes, and performs (acts).  These influences will also impact the amount of Black & White Thinking that is present in the individual.  Typically, the greater the hurt, broken relationships, or trauma of the past, the greater the Black & White Thinking may be in every area of life.  In all cases, when Black & White Thinking is combined with pride, it is about my way, or my will be done in the relationship.  It is important to be mindful of these laws (expectations / standards) as they can harm the relationship and cause hurt feelings, fears, and resentments.

Ladies First

In general, women seem to be more relational (and probably less Black & White as a whole) than men. I believe this is because women were created by God to be Relational. This conclusion is based on the ability and plumbing to give birth and bond with their children through breastfeeding.  In addition, the Creation order and reasons for Woman to be created seems to suggest that woman was created FOR relationship (Gen 3) with man. Therefore, I would conclude that women seem to be created to be more Relational, in general.  So it would make sense that either women are more Relational and less Black & White in their thinking, or, at least, the content of their Black & White Thinking may be more relationship oriented.   For example, in many Black & White Thinkers with whom I have spoken, the Black & White Thinking in women often occurs as “relational laws.”  In other words, your husband MUST love you (love is desired by women, whereas respect is more desired by men) by spending time, serving, etc. That becomes the right way and only way to love, and your husband must do this or a punishment (criticism, withholding sex, etc.) will be given.  Either you love me this way (which is rightor you don’t love me (which is wrong).  Demanding love (instead of desiring it) thus becomes an idol of the heart.  This idol is held on to because she knows she is right, but in holding onto it, she becomes wrong.  This can turn into being controlling and will cause damage in the relationship.

Some questions for female Black & White thinkers: What if your husband was loving you in other ways?  Why are these other ways dismissed as wrong?  What relationship laws have you set in your heart? How do you respond when you don’t get what you want? 

Men, Your Turn

Although the same Genesis account shows us that Adam desired companionship and, I believe, wanted to be IN relationship (It was not good that man was alone – Gen 2:18), man was not created FOR relationship like woman (unless it is a relationship with God), but instead was created FOR work (there was no one to tend the Garden -Gen 2:5, 15).  But to be clear, relationship is important and necessary for men to learn, grow, love, and become like Christ.  In addition, although women were created FOR relationship, they were created to be equal with man, and not FOR man to do as he wishes. If the Black & White Thinker believes that his spouse is created FOR him, to please him and make him happy, he is outside of God’s plan for marriage.  Like women, male Black & White Thinkers also have “relationship laws,” but these laws are not about being loved, but about being respected. When these desires become demands (from desiring respect to demanding obedience), however, the laws will become overbearing to spouses.

Some Questions for male Black & White thinkers: What if your wife is honoring or serving you in other ways?  Why are these other ways dismissed as wrong?  What relationship laws have you set in your heart? How do you respond when you don’t get what you want?

Final Thoughts

The differences above are not meant to be comprehensive, by any means, but outline areas where God has created men and women differently (men desiring respect and women desiring love – see Eph 5 and the book, Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs).  “Relationship Laws” are essentially expectations and standards set for the other person (or maybe for oneself), that when unmet, result in criticisms or “advice” for the other person.  The goal is to make the other person into your image of a perfect spouse (as if they are created to make you happy or fulfilled).  However, our goal is not to get others to meet our standards, but for us to seek after Christ and be changed so that we become like Him (the full image of God).  Future blogs will continue to address other relationship issues that occur in relationships with someone who is a Black & White Thinker.  What would you like to know more about?  Write any questions of comments below…

When Black & White Thinking is Ruled by Pride

This is part 7 in the Black & White Thinking Series.  Click on these links for Part 1 (Intro), Introduction (Part 2), Part 2 (Biblical Lens), Part 3 (Grace), Part 4 (Mental Illness?), Part 5 (Depression), and Part 6 (Anxiety).

pride-comes-b4-a-fall

Let’s be honest, pride is something all of us have.  I’m not talking about pride as in “taking pride in our work” kind of pride.  No, I’m talking about the self-centered, self-aggrandizing, self-focus, all about me kind of pride.  The kind of self-centeredness that all of us have inside of us, thanks to that inherited sinful nature all of us have received from Adam & Eve.

Our pride and self-centeredness manifests itself in different ways.  At times it occurs in subtle ways that nobody really notices, such as in our unspoken thoughts.  At times it can be disguised in our kindness to others, while we are doing the acts for our own benefit. Other times, it is seen and heard by others in comments, conversations, and actions.

While pride is present in everyone, all of us seem to have one or two areas that seem to be displayed more frequently than other areas.  Authors Paul Tripp & Tim Lane, in their book, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, describe many areas of pride that are present in our lives.  They are self-centeredness (seeks attention & approval), self-rule (seeks to be right, in control), self-sufficiency (seeks independence), self-satisfaction (seeks pleasure), self-righteousness (seeks to be right in eyes of others), & self-taught (seeks to give opinion). Personally, as I look at this list, I see all of them in me, though self-centeredness and self-satisfaction seem to be more prevalent in my life.

As previously mentioned in other blogs, Black & White Thinkers simplify their judgments into whatever is good/bad, black/white, or right/wrong.  When pride is present, admitting wrong is tantamount to being wrong or bad.  And if you “can’t” be wrong, than you must be right and others are wrong.  When pride reigns in the Black & White Thinker, self-righteousness and self-rule are often the two highest heart struggles on the list dealing with pride.  The need to be right and to be right in other’s eyes lends itself to making justifications, excuses, blaming, etc. for personal actions in order to convince themselves and others that they are in the right (and others in the wrong).  Truth be told, all of us do this, Relational and Black & White Thinkers alike.  However, when pride reigns in the Black & White Thinker’s heart, the justifications, blaming, and excuses are regular occurrences.  Additionally, if being “right” is considered “good” and being “wrong” is considered “bad” (heart), then the tendency to look at self as better and others as worse is demonstrated in bragging, insults, and criticisms (fruit).

Similarly, I had mentioned that Black & White Thinkers are likened to the Pharisees in Scripture who obey the “law” or standards.  That is, anyone who falls short of obeying the law deserves punishment.  The Pharisees started with God’s Law, and then added thousands of other laws on top of God’s laws so that the original laws would not be violated.  When Black & White Thinkers make their own laws or standards in their own homes and then require others to follow them, they can become controlling through criticisms and conflicts, and they may look down upon others who don’t meet their standards.  This occurs in emotionally or physically abusive relationships.  Their laws or standards are high for others, and they can’t admit to being wrong, so their actions and beliefs are justified, excused, or blame is placed elsewhere.

Of course, it is important to note that abusive relationships are more likely to occur when pride REIGNS in Black & White Thinkers, not if pride is simply PRESENT.  The presence of pride in our lives means that we are fallen humanity living in a fallen world.   The reign of pride means that we are completely absorbed in ourselves and we are moving towards what psychologists would call narcissistic.  In order to keep pride from reigning in our hearts, it is essential to recognize that we are indeed wrong (sinful) and that it is OK to be wrong. That doesn’t mean that we are to pursue wrong-doing, of course, but simply to expect it as fallen human beings.  Our wrongness, per se, does not impact our value or worth as humans, but it does help us recognize the great love Christ has for us which is not based on our wrong-doing, but on his love.  This is the path to humility.  As we recognize and believe these things, and we seek Christ, he begins to change us inwardly so that pride does not reign in our hearts.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6, Prov 29:23)

Black & White Thinkers vs Relational Thinkers (an Introduction)

2-thinkersAs I have looked back at my counseling throughout the years, I have noticed that there has been a certain population I have a difficult time connecting with and counseling.  It’s not that the counsel was bad, per se, but that the counsel was not connecting to how they operate.  As I considered their characteristics and comments, and as I did more research, I would say the similarities of these clients would lead me to conclude that they tend to be black & white thinkers.

As I thought about my relationships, I also learned that there are those close to me who are more black & white thinkers.  As a parent of one such thinker, I also found it difficult to connect with him at times because we think so differently.  For me, well, I am more of a relational thinker.  My motives, desires, and hopeful outcomes are very different than the black & white thinker.  As I have done some research on black & white thinking, I have found it to be seen mostly as a negative thing (one article called it a cognitive disorder) and all I have seen in writings have been from a secular viewpoint.  So, let’s take a few blogs to explore the black & white thinking biblically.  But first things first, what is a Black & White thinker and how is it different than a relational thinker*?

Black & white thinkers are typically described as believing in “all or nothing,” “good or bad,” “right or wrong,” “strong or weak,” and “smart or stupid.”  In these extremes, events or people (including themselves) are judged to be one or the other.  There is no middle ground or gray area.  Black & White thinkers typically focus on the tangible, “out in the open” things.  These are things that can be seen, heard, or measured (the fruit).  The thoughts or emotional processes and motives in decisions (the heart) are practically irrelevant and are difficult to grasp.  You make a decision based on what is right or wrong.  Period. You see other’s actions as “either-or.”  Either they love me and will show it (the way it is right for me (self-defined)), or they don’t love me.  Either the kids do what I say when I say it or they are disobedient.  Black & White thinkers generally recognize their need for relationships, but have a harder time connecting emotionally in relationships (I find this to be more true for males than females, who seem to be more relational than males).

Relational Thinkers (I’m using this term to describe what is most important to this type of person – relationship) live in the gray. Hardly anything is black & white. Relational Thinkers tend to be more flexible in their judgment of actions and people for the sake of the relationship. Relational thinkers tend to be more empathetic to others, placing themselves in the other’s shoes as much as they can, and sympathetic, identifying with the emotional struggles of others.  They will focus more on the “behind the scenes” stuff, such as emotions, thoughts, motives and desires and will tend to be more considerate of the other’s feelings.

In an argument, relational thinkers will tend to give in to others for the relationships’ sake while black and white thinkers tend to stand more on the absolute truths or facts.  In other words, relational thinkers will focus on the relationship of those engaged in the exchange, while the black & white thinkers will focus on the content of the exchange.  Each one focuses on what is most important to them.

As humans created in the Image of God, I believe it is important to see how both of these type of thinkers can reflect Him.  You see, God is both moral and relational.  There is absolute Truth because it is His universe.  There is absolute right and absolute wrong.  In His Word, He explains what wrong is (sin) throughout every 66 books of the Scriptures.  Yet as His Word explains what is wrong and sinful, these wrongs are also explained in the greater context of relationship between us and Him, the Bride (church) and the bridegroom (Christ).  Former Pastor and Speaker, Paul Tripp said, “Sin is not simply a breaking of the rules, it is a breaking in the relationship.”  In declaring what is wrong, God seeks the greater good for us, to have a relationship with Him that comes through the repentance of sin (moral) and the reconciliation with Him through Christ (relational).

Yet, even though both type of thinkers come from being image-bearers of God, it is necessary that we recognize that our type of thinking has been stained by the sin in our hearts.

For the Black & White Thinker, consider this: You interpret and perceive things as right and wrong, but in doing so, have you defined right or wrong, or does that come from God?  Does it take into account your relationship with God or others, or only yourself? Are you becoming like a Pharisee focusing on how others need to get in line while being blind to your own sins?  When you speak truth, is it spoken in love?

For the Relational Thinker, consider this: You can see things relationally, but in doing so, are you so focused on having a good relationship that you are refusing to deal with your sin or overlooking others’ sin?  Are you so focused on love and feeling good that you are making moral compromises?  Are you sidestepping discipline for the children so that you have good relationships with them?

Throughout the next few months, we’ll consider these two types of thinking and how they play a role in our relationships.  We will also focus on some passages of Scripture to help us understand the strengths and weaknesses of each and how to grow in faith & love.

For more on understanding Black & White Thinkers vs Black & White Thinking, Click on Part 2!:  

 

Q. What more can you add about black & white thinkers vs relational thinkers?  What questions come to mind when reading this?

 

*Honestly, there may be more types of thinkers than the two I have written about (black & white vs relational).  Yet for simplicity sake, I have narrowed it down to these two types of thinkers.  Perhaps further research will allow for additional categories and more discussions.

 

The Marriage Trap

When I was a kid, I enjoyed watching the movie, The Parent Trap. A story of twins separated at birth who met each other at a camp, switched places, and worked hard to reunite their parents. They plotted to “trap” their parents into getting together and rekindling their romance. And, of course, it worked and they’re all one big happy family.

Often, there are many people who feel trapped in marriage. As a counselor, I meet with people regularly who correctly cite Scripture in saying “God hates divorce” and believe that God would rather them be miserably trapped in marriage. “My husband is a jerk. He treats the dog better than me. If God hates divorce, then I am trapped in this miserable marriage. I guess this is God’s will for me.”

Sadly, many experience poor treatment by their spouses who do not treat them as God would desire. These spouses often tolerate a lot of negative comments, blaming, criticism, etc.   The spouse on the receiving end often feels emotionally empty…and trapped.  This often leads to an “either/or” thinking.  Either I remain trapped, or I find new life outside the marriage and get my “needs” met elsewhere.

Does God leave us trapped in a miserable marriage? Is this really his will? Are the “either/or” choices all there are?

Here are some points to consider:

1. What are your greatest emotional needs? Our spouses are not supposed to meet our deepest emotional needs of love, worth, and forgiveness. Though God has called husbands to love their wives (as Christ loved the church), these greatest needs must first be met in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Though God has called wives to respect their husbands, ultimately husbands must first recognize the honor received through Christ, in that he died for them because he honors them (men & women) above all living things. It is right to desire love and respect from spouses, because that is what we should do, but when we seek them from our spouses apart from God, we place too much on our spouses. Again, we are to find these things ultimately from God first.

2. What are your greatest physical needs? Is your life in danger due to your spouses actions? Do you need to be physically safe? If so, this may certainly warrant leaving a home (though not necessarily a marriage) for safety. Even Jesus and Paul ran when people picked up stones to throw at him.

3. What are some other options besides a) leaving, and b) being trapped and miserable? What actions are you doing (or not doing) that are contributing to this cycle? Are your actions enabling (not causing) your spouse’s actions? If you change…the relationship will change.

4. What godly help are you seeking? Are you speaking with your pastor or a counselor? Even if your spouse is unwilling to go, you can go and seek godly wisdom and learn to be confident in who you are (through Christ) and begin to change inside.

This list is just to get you started and thinking that a struggling marriage is not a trap that God has you in to be miserable. His desire for you is to first find your fulfillment in Him. When you find fulfillment in Him, your life takes on meaning and direction. God will give you the wisdom and strength to alter the direction of your marriage in a way that honors him.  For more on this, read The Emotionally Destructive Relationship by Leslie Vernick.

Don’t give in to The Happiness Trap, that is, “God doesn’t want me to be miserable, but God wants me to be happy. So, I’ll leave my marriage so I can be happy.”  When you seek Him with all your heart, you will find Him.  Happiness is found in relationship to Him and not due to circumstances or relationships with others.  More on this in The Happiness Trap (next blog).