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!

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.

 

Considering Suicide (Part 1)

national suicide preventionYes.  I’ve considered it.  I was 12 or 13 at the time.  New home.  New school.  No friends.  I was shy and overweight.  Girls? Well, I was just starting to notice the girls, but they didn’t really notice me.  They were nice and all, but no romantic interest (as if 12 year-old’s know anything about being romantic).  I was depressed and I remember thinking with a knife to my chest, “If this was what life was going to be like, I don’t want to live anymore.”

Many of us have considered suicide.  Many have “succeeded” in the task to end their lives on earth, but they failed everyone else around them.  Many have “failed” in their attempts at suicide, but in their failure, they have gained so much more in life.  For me…I failed. And I am so grateful to God that I did!

If you’ve considered suicide or are considering it, you are not alone.  Not only because others have thought it and desired it, but because God is near to you, loves you, and has a plan for you.  It may not feel like it.  But it’s true.  He also gives answers in His Word to help you as you consider it.  Let’s look at one man who considered suicide in the bible and what this shows us about considering suicide.

In Acts 16:25-34, there was a man, a jailer overseeing the inmates Paul & Silas & others, who was about to end his life because he didn’t measure up to his assigned duties.  

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.  The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.  

The jailer failed. He knew his life was over when he thought the prisoners had escaped. As a punishment, the governing authority would kill him for his negligence, so instead of letting his life be in the hands of others, he sought to take matters into his own hands.  But just before he was about to kill himself, an intrusive, yet important voice enters his hearing…

But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

Have you heard this intrusive voice?  “Stop!”  “Don’t do it!” “Things will get better!” – Maybe it’s in your mind or maybe the voice of a trusted friend.  Listen to this voice!!!  It’s so easy to listen to the other voices (audible or inaudible) that say “It won’t get better.”  “This life stinks!”  “Everyone will be better off when I’m gone.” “No one loves me, so I might as well end it now.” Etc, etc.   These voices do not speak truth, but are lies based on feelings and perceptions.

Paul then states, We are all here!  This is such a small and often overlooked statement, but it has huge ramifications.  There is only one thing the jailer needs to hear right now… only only one thing that can get him to stop in his tracks…Truth.  His decision to commit suicide is based on what he perceives, but not on what really is.  The overwhelming circumstances he is encountering is entirely based on his perception.  The jailer doesn’t see the whole picture. Why? First, he was sleeping, so he didn’t know what happened while he was in dreamland.  Second, it was still dark in the jail.  When he awakes, he sees the cell doors open and assumes all have escaped.  Paul’s statement, “We are all here,” is more than a informative statement of their presence, but a declarative statement that it is not as bad as you perceive it to be!  Do you hear that?  It is worth repeating.  It is not as bad as you perceive it to be!

When considering suicide, the bigger picture fades into the impossible and unreal while perception becomes truth.  In the darkness, the jailer did not see the whole picture, but only a small portion.  The most urgent thing on his mind was how much he failed (sleeping on duty, open cell doors) and what his future would be due to his failings (being put to death).  This was a loss of hope.  Not wanting to suffer through the humiliation, his rash decision almost led to his ultimate failure – giving up on life.  It was only when he stopped to listen to the voice and opened his eyes to the truth that his life began to change.

Just when he thought his future was over, his decision to keep going by faith produced hope, peace, and joy in his life.  Click here for “Considering Suicide – Part 2” for the continuation of the jailer’s story as recorded in Acts 16.  

If you are considering suicide, seek help – we all need it sometimes.  You may click on the picture above or call the number listed on the picture to talk with someone who can help!

If you would like this presentation to be given at your church or youth group, please contact us at info @ foundchristcounsel. org or by calling 570-402-5088 (ext 0).