Why Your Black & White Thinking Makes Your Anxiety Worse

You’re a planner, maybe a bit of a controller.  You like to have things “known” as much as possible, and hope to achieve the “all” or else you feel like it’s a “nothing.”  You often define things into categories of “good” or “bad.”

Your mind is busy always planning, speculating, and trying to be prepared so to avoid the “bad.”

Sometimes, this helps you feel more settled and prepared.  However, most of the time, this kind of thinking and planning seldom works and leaves you feeling worse.


Why is it making my anxiety worse? 

When you approach your life in extremes, it either all works out, or it’s a horrible failure.  But even if it all works out, it’s fleeting and temporary.  You still fall back into the pattern of aiming for the “all” and fearing the “nothing.” 


This is an exhausting mindset that keeps your anxiety high. 


Typically, when you approach life this way, it’s likely because you are more of an anxiously organized person.  You may not be visibly anxious, but your inner experience is more wrapped up around an unsettled, worried existence in your life.  


In pre-planning and expecting things to go one way or another, we are usually trying to avoid and prevent things from feeling difficult or even unbearable.  Perhaps avoiding pain, rejection, being vulnerable.  Maybe trying to prevent shame, humiliation, abandonment, being exposed, or being judged.


Can’t trying to control things manage my anxiety?

The trouble with trying to control how something goes for you is that you are tightly wrapped around one correct idea of how it should happen.  And, most of the time this expectation is never met.  It may be met partially, but there were other things that didn’t meet the mark.  


And for someone who gets trapped in the exactness of black and white thinking, you will continually be let down and feel like you have to try harder.  This cycle keeps your anxiety alive and powerful.  It’s like feeding the anxiety monster.


It’s important to become aware of your anxiety and work to heal what contributes to it.  But trying to live in a way to avoid difficult feelings will just keep it more powerful.


A few reminders when you’re grappling with black and white thinking

  •  Life’s not exact

    • Everything is layered, complex and specific to the context it’s in

  •  Human’s aren’t exact

    • Like life, humans are also layered, complex, and we change according to the context we’re in

  •  It actually makes your anxiety worse

    • Striving for one right way doesn’t ward off difficult feeling experiences but keeps the fear and anxiety always present

  • Your unresolved issues will keep cropping up

    • Expecting to understand the world in absolutes will not keep you safe from things that had hurt you in the past.  Your mind will make you think so, but your pain and old hurts must be dealt with and healed for what they were.  


So, instead of getting caught in the concreteness of your black and white thinking:

  • Notice Your Absolutes language

    • Are you categorizing things into “always,” “never,” etc.  This will keep you defining things, people, foods, etc. into good or bad. 

  • Explore the spaces in between – the gray area

    • This is where all life happens!

  • Embrace your imperfectness

    • That’s the thing you can be most sure of.  We are all imperfect, and that’s a very human way to be.

  • Discover your true self 

    • When you accept the fact we are all imperfect, let this be an opportunity to discover who you really are.  What do you think, how do you feel, what do you need, how do you want to be known, what is private, what is public, what are your boundaries?  

  • Ride the wave

    • When difficult feelings strike, stay with them and become curious.  What has triggered this feeling?  What do you need when you feel this way?  Sometimes looking at these feelings rather than forcing them away will help them soften much more easily.

  • Know you’ll be ok

    • You will be ok.  You will learn and grow.  Best of all, you will be in charge of you

  • Work to heal your unresolved issues

    • Getting to know and heal old hurt from your life will be a more direct way to manage your difficult feelings.  There’s nothing wrong with getting to know all of your varied states of being.  Think of it like a kaleidoscope with a multitude of pieces all interacting and creating a different picture every time things shift.  We are very much like that too.  No one piece of the kaleidoscope is wrong or doesn’t belong.  Same with our feelings

rainbow path.jpg


Don’t get caught in black and white thinking.  Life happens in all the shades in between!


If you need help for your anxiety, leaving black and white thinking behind, or healing unresolved issues, please give me a call.  I have helped many of my clients and I would be honored to be able to help you through this process as well. If you’d like to talk about how therapy could be helpful to your own unique life journey, just click the “Get Started Now” button below or call me directly at (626) 836-2023.