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Depression and Black and White Thinking

If you’re familiar with depression, you’re familiar with black and white thinking, or thinking in absolutes such as, “I can’t do anything right.” I find that even when I am not in a depressed state, noticing black or white thinking can be one of the first signs that my mood is starting to wobble. I’ve learned that with mood, I’d rather address a slightly low mood from the get-go than wait until I have to dig myself out of a deeper depression. And the key with addressing black and white thinking is to move from black and white to gray. Black and white is limited. Gray embraces the range of possibilities.

Black and White Thinking: When It Feels Like All Is Lost

I had the chance to try this the other day when I went outlet shopping with some friends. The day started out sunny, as did my mood. That is, until we got to the shops and everything I tried on looked funky. Either too tight or too big – one extreme to the other – and so went my mood, to black and white ruminations. According to my brain, all was lost. I would never find clothes that looked nice on me again. It was all my fault for not keeping in better shape. Why bother going clothes shopping at all?

Head off Depression by Combating Negative Thoughts

As the day continued, I felt an almost physical tug in my gut, a sure sign that my mood was ready to plummet if I didn’t do something. I took a few deep breaths and acknowledged that my brain was in the midst of a black and white thought-fest and that I needed to be gentle with myself as a result. Then I called on what I think of as “Captain Rational.” The captain’s job is to jump in and combat the negative thoughts by questioning them and applying rationality to them, thereby moving from black and white to gray. So, instead of assuming that I would never find any clothes that look decent again (black and white), I could acknowledge that I’m a little heavier than I would like to be right now, but it’s also within my power to work on losing the weight in a healthy way (gray). Then I went ahead and bought some costume jewelry and a pair of stretchy yoga pants – things that don’t matter much how they fit.

Part of the challenge of dealing with black and white thinking and moving to gray is thatBlack and white thinking can cause depression. Fight back with these coping skills. patience and perspective are two things that the depressive mind can be hard pressed to find at times. So we must be patient with ourselves and our brains too as we’re navigating our black, white and gray thoughts.

  • Notice the black and white thought.
  • Question/apply reason. How can you reframe the thought to make it more gray?
  • Give yourself credit for the effort.

Find Jennifer on Twitter and Google+.

10 thoughts on “Depression and Black and White Thinking”

  1. I understand what your saying and its good in theory until you actually do it.

    I always fight the negative thoughts with positive ones until I realize that Im having an argument in my head with myself and it feels ridiculous. It makes me feel crazy and leaves me feeling more stupid than before…

    1. Hi there,

      I often feel that exact way: ridiculous or crazy. Having a conversation with myself makes me feel foolish, and trying to hush negativity is nearly impossible.

      I found that re-framing the way I think of combating negative thoughts with positive thoughts really shifted my feelings of ridiculousness or craziness. I try to look at it not as a fight with myself, but as a moment of reasoning with my depression. The negative thoughts often appear on their own. Positive ones require effort. So when I reason with myself, I calmly and firmly pursue positive thoughts, rather than try to shut down the negative ones. That usually helps quiet the negatives, and it helps me feel in control of my brain, as opposed to ridiculous.

      What do you think?

      Tiffanie

  2. Hi, Thanks for your post. I’ve been dealing with the same issue for some time now. I have never consulted any professionals yet. Actually I don’t know how to start but I wanna be better. All I know is that I am sick. I feel so alone, unloved, invisible especially when I’m with people. I can’t really think of any good thoughts most of the time. I can’t think of anything good about myself. I even sometimes imagine hurting myself, thinking that it might ease the emotional pain I’m going through. Sorry for posting these here, I just don’t have anyone to talk to.

  3. Thank you all for posting your thoughts about this. I’m so glad that the blog was helpful. All the best, Jenn

  4. Such a good help today. When I practice “grey” thinking I find that it opens more options for me – some even that I may be able to control. THANKS!

  5. I never looked at it this way before. How interesting especially because I am always focusing on inner balance.

    I remember always thinking negative this took me a long time to overcome.

    I’m still becoming…

  6. Stephanie,

    I can relate so much to what you’re saying. Especially when I am in a depressive and/or anxious period I have an extremely hard time thinking good thoughts too. When I was first diagnosed (almost ten years ago) I didn’t know how to cope with my negative thoughts. But through a combination of medication, therapy and working at it on my own, I started to learn and change. I hope that you will find what you need to help you too. Healthyplace has great resources for learning too. All the best, Jenn

  7. Jenn I always have black and white thoughts. I’m dealing with a lot now and always have negative thoughts. I just got diagnosed with mild depression, general anxiety and body dysmorphic disorder. I can’t seem to think good thoughts. People think I’m happy cause that’s what I show but deep down inside I feel like what is my purpose here. I really try to think positive but then the negative is stronger.

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