Is This You? (Hint: Only seeing things in black or white like you are starring in your own 1930s melodrama!)

Picture the scenario…the sun is shining and you are having a lovely time with your other-half.  You are walking by the river hand-in-hand, drinking your favourite coffee-to-go, laughing, talking, kissing and LOVING your day!

You pass by a crowd of tourists and you notice your other-half glance at one person in particular.  This person is clearly the centre of attention, they are charismatic, so easy in their own skin, and they ooze confidence and magnetism.

In an instant your sunny, beautiful existence has transformed into dark clouds and thunder. Your muscles tense as you battle with the conflict within; how could your partner want to be with this other person and not you!

‘How dare you…’, you think to yourself, ‘after all the effort I make to keep you happy!’

You continue walking and notice your other-half smiling and you decide they are thinking about this other person.

So you say ‘What are you smiling about?’

And they reply ‘Oh, nothing really, just feeling so happy today’ squeezing your hand.

For a moment you feel reassured but very quickly you tell yourself, that squeeze of the hand wasn’t meant in a loving way, it was just for effect…to make you believe you are important when really you are not.

By the time you get home later that day you are well on your way to plumbing your own private depths of despair.  Your other-half has picked up on this and has repeatedly asked what the matter is but you just shrug each time and say ‘It’s nothing’.

So your partner puts the television on and you sit there in the living-room and fester.  You look over at your other-half watching the TV and you take this as evidence for how uncaring they are…’After-all’, you think ‘we have a major problem in our relationship and yet you can still watch your favourite programme!’

Finally at the end of the evening your partner can take your silence no more and insists you tell them what is wrong.

All the vitriol you have stored up inside you hits the fan and a blazing row ensues…

How familiar does this sound?  It may be an almost exact play-back of events or it may be that it kind of rings a bell for you; you get into similar scenarios with your thinking.

There are actually several types of Negative Thinking at work here but I want to concentrate on one in particular.

BLACK AND WHITE

also known as…

ALL OR NOTHING

QUESTION: Is this you?  Do you find yourself with inner conflict which can turn into external arguments purely because you have decided that something is either this way or that with no other possibilities in between?

Well, I am here today to say GOOD! Well done if you are nodding right now and acknowledging that you do this because we all do to some extent.

The trick is to know that you do it and know what you can do about it before you end up upsetting yourself and the people around you.

But first, let’s look at why we think this way.

Black and White thinking is believed to be a defence mechanism; it serves as a way of reducing our anxiety in situations that we don’t fully understand.  So it can be thought of as a way of simplifying things.

It also enables us to think of ourselves as good or virtuous as opposed to the other person, thing or situation that is perceived by us as bad.  In this way it bolsters our belief that we are somehow better than.

The problem however is that it leaves us with a distorted view of reality.  It reduces our flexibility of thought by narrowing down the range of thoughts and emotions available to us and it affects our ability to attract and maintain relationships.

Let’s face it; others find it very tricky trying to keep up with the mood swings that black and white thinking elicits.  Living this way is at best tedious for those around you and at worst extremely upsetting as they go from being amazing in your eyes one moment to useless the next.

So, what can you do about it?

REFLECT

rather than

REACT

When you find your thoughts becoming darker and you can feel a sense of being uncomfortable and tense ask yourself some questions (reflect).

  • Am I thinking in extremes? I can tell if I am because I will be thinking of only 2 possible outcomes…one of which is good and the other of which is bad.
  • Am I responding in an emotional way and ignoring logic? I will know if I am because I will FEEL it…BIG TIME!
  • Am I judging myself or others too severely? I will be if I think of myself or others in terms of being smart or stupid, strong or weak etc.
  • Am I over-simplifying situations? I can tell if I am because I will be thinking in terms of right or wrong, good or bad.

Once you have spent a couple of minutes reflecting you will have disarmed your negative thought processes enough to start challenging them:

  • Ask yourself where the grey is in your black or white situation. What are the other possibilities?
  • Ask yourself if you have to be right. Is it possible that others have equally valid opinions and solutions to a given problem?
  • Ask yourself if you are reflecting or reacting. Are you thinking flexibly or judging?
  • Ask yourself if you are trying to over-simplify a situation in order to avoid feelings of anxiety. Are you trying to create certainty where it doesn’t exist?

So now, if we go back to the scenario at the top of this post let’s see if we can paint a happier picture by adopting what we have learned.

Picture the scenario…the sun is shining and you are having a lovely time with your other-half.  You are walking by the river hand-in-hand, drinking your favourite coffee-to-go, laughing, talking, kissing and LOVING your day!

Now this is all great…make the most of days like this because life has ups and downs and days like this create great memories that will make the down days less down.

You pass by a crowd of tourists and you notice your other-half glance at one person in particular.  This person is clearly the centre of attention, they are charismatic, so easy in their own skin, and they ooze confidence and magnetism.

Okay…so you’ve noticed how charismatic this person is…so is it any surprise that your partner did too?

In an instant your sunny, beautiful existence has transformed into dark clouds and thunder. Your muscles tense as you battle with the conflict within; how could your partner want to be with this other person and not you!

You start to think ‘How dare you…’but you pull yourself up and make yourself think about the other possibilities.  You looked at this person too…what made you look?  Should your other-half be concerned at your commitment to your relationship?

You continue walking and notice your other-half smiling and you decide they are thinking about this person.  But then you notice the negative feelings around this and you remind yourself to reflect rather than react.

So you say ‘What are you smiling about?’

And they reply ‘Oh, nothing really, just feeling so happy today’ squeezing your hand.

For a moment you feel reassured but very quickly you tell yourself, that squeeze of the hand wasn’t meant in a loving way, it was just for effect…to make you believe you are important when really you are not.  Then you ask yourself how you know this…where is the evidence?  You then think of all the things your other-half does for you and you realise there is no evidence at all.

By the time you get home later that day those negative thoughts are in the past and you cuddle up on the sofa and decide to have an early night 😉

Listen, we are only human.  We cannot eliminate all negative thoughts but we can challenge them and seek alternatives. In doing this our brains will gradually become accustomed to our new reflective approach and begin to adopt it as our default position.

If you haven’t done so already please download my Top 3 Negative Thoughts Cheat Sheet.  You can download it here. It will help you combat negative thinking further.

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