But black and white is so neat and tidy with well-defined lines and boundaries. We know that black is black and white is white – there’s no uncertainty or vagueness. There’s no need for deliberating about making a decision other than choosing black or white. While that may be comfortable for some, it’s also boring, limiting, and constrictive.
It reminds me of black-and-white thinking. There’s been a lot written about it as a cognitive distortion. All you need to do is google the concept, and you’ll find a wide-range of articles devoted to the topic. While some black-and-white thinking is normal, constant black-and-white thinking – or thinking in extremes – can affect our health, relationships and mood and prevent us from seeing life the way it really is: complex, uncertain, and constantly changing.
Let’s take, for example, the concept of ‘always/never.’ That’s an easy one to fall prey to: “You never listen to me.” “You always leave dirty dishes in the sink.” “Everyone always gets really sick with chemo.” A good way to get past this cognitive distortion: eliminate ‘always’ and ‘never’ from your vocabulary. “Sometimes’ would be a good substitute.
How about the concept of ‘success/failure’ and ‘perfect/imperfect?’ I used to think that being imperfect was failure because perfection was then success. Making a mistake or being criticized was devastating for me back in the day. I remember my husband, Jay, responding to someone criticizing him when we were working together at the Cancer Center. His response: “I’ve never done anything I can’t improve on.” I’d never heard anyone respond like that before. He didn’t get defensive; he wasn’t devastated; he was honest. A good way to get past this cognitive distortion: don’t strive to be perfect because that’s not the definition of success. Everyone makes mistakes; nobody’s perfect, and you don’t need to be. Learning from mistakes is what’s important, not avoiding them.
Many people have trouble with ‘either/or’ and feel a need to categorize or label: determined or ambivalent? sick or well? happy or sad? A lot of times you may be all over the map and every place in between. You may not feel sick but now have a cancer diagnosis. You may be in the process of getting well. Not ‘either/or,’ ‘black or white.’ A good way to get past this cognitive distortion; be where you are without feeling the need to label it as one place or another.
The in-between places are some of the hardest, yet they provide opportunities for change and growth even in the midst of life-changing events. We are not destined to live in the extremes of ‘all or none.’ We can navigate complexities and uncertainty and change. If we really look, we can see more than black and white; we can see shades of grey and a myriad of colors.
Join us the 2nd Monday of each month at 1:00 PM (MST) for a discussion related to this Blog. Request a Zoom link below, to join the discussion.
SUE'S GIFT BLOG
Sherry Martin is the Patient Services Director for Sue's Gift, a licensed clinical social worker with over thirty years of experience in the field of oncology social work, and author of the book, Beginning Again: Tools for the Journey through Grief: A Step-by-Step Guide for Facilitators of a Grief Support Group. Sherry lives with her husband in Woodland Park, Colorado.
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