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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Black & White Can Be Sneaky

Sometimes unexpected discoveries pop up right in the middle of something else. Today my alcohol counsellor and I were discussing some of the things going on in my life at the moment, and in the midst of explaining my concerns over something nice someone had done for me, I came out with something very similar to "I'm worried because she annoys me sometimes, but she has done this really lovely thing for me. Now that she's done this, I'll feel guilty if I get annoyed."

Instead of agreeing with me, or testing me with what skills I can use to deal with the guilt, my counsellor looked at me for a moment and asked me what kind of thinking I was using. As she reminded me of what I know about thinking styles/patterns and how some are helpful & others aren't, the cacaphony of thoughts in my head ran something like:

Does this mean she thinks it's an unhelpful thought pattern? Why is it unhelpful? Of course I'll feel guilty if I get annoyed - I should! If someone does something nice to or for me, I owe them. Having any negative feeling around/about that person is clearly a sign that I'm not grateful enough. It would be extremely rude of me to be ungrateful after such a lovely thing was done for me. Knowing that doing that will make me a Bad Person makes these thoughts helpful because now I know I have to banish all traces of annoyance and override them with the more appropriate response of gratitude.

"I think it's helpful thinking," I answered her, and went on to repeat my thoughts on the matter. My counsellor paused and I could feel her gaze centre on me.

"Did you know," she began, "that if what you just said to me were true, we would ALL be in trouble? Even me!" I laughed and she added some more thoughts. "You've just told me that because someone has done something nice for you, feeling annoyed would make you a bad person and that if you feel annoyed it would mean that you are not grateful. Do you recognise anything about this thinking?"

Suddenly, it hits me. This is all-or-nothing thinking!

And it's been sneaking in and camping out unnoticed in a lot of places lately.

I don't know why it is, but for some reason, this style of black&white thinking still doesn't show up on my radar. I've got better, I think, at recognising that style in general, but it continues to elude me when it pertains to interpersonal skills.

I can't seem to find a better way to end this, but it's late and I need to start finishing up for the night. See you all later for Sanguine Saturday!

This is a good step and I can build on it.
It's okay to not be perfect.
Being offered something (or given something, or making a mistake, or loving somebody, or...) doesn't mean I have to give away all my rights.
Just because I can find a way to justify something as helpful doesn't mean it is.

Take care of yourselves until next time, and may we all find our own small fences along the way.


  1. Fairly new reader/lurker here! I just wanted to say that I struggle with identifying black & white thinking a lot of times. When I was first diagnosed w/ BPD (Jan 2010), I refused to believe I had b&w thinking because I could see areas of gray when it came to certain arguments. Your example in this post is something I do VERY frequently and I did not realize it's b&w! I've come to learn there are also other ways of thinking that are considered b&w. This has definitely been a learning process for me & this post is helpful. I hope you find ways to recognize it more.

    BTW - I love your Cheerleading Statements!

  2. Hi Sleeping Beauty,

    Welcome. :) Thank you for your comment. I can relate to denial of b&w thoughts based on seeing grey in some areas -- I used to argue that I didn't have b&w thinking, as far as I was concerned my problem was that "the world is just too much more b&w than me"!

    I'm glad that reading my post was helpful to you - it came as such a surprise to me when my counsellor said it.

    I'm glad, too, that you like the cheerleading statements. They've been one of the most helpful things for me, especially now I'm using them more!

    Anyhow, welcome, it's good to have you along, and thank you for reading and commenting! :)

  3. That all or nothing thinking is sneaky, isn't it? I've found it one of the hardest things to shake in my recovery process. I'm so happy to know I'm not alone in this (-: Thanks Chrysalis x