“Just stop thinking like that.”
Ever shared that you’re struggling and got a cheap response from those you love and trust when asking for help?
You are not alone.
Feeling like a failure, not worthy, smart, strong, holy, brave, strong enough is suffocating.
People often describe it as a weighted blanket holding them down, hiding who they are and playing it safe.
Others go in the opposite direction.
They dive right into the feelings of failure and embrace it as their identity.
Take Greg for instance…
Pastor of a growing church, he struggles with binge eating.
He has tried several times to change his eating habits but still struggles with late-night snacking. After a stressful day, Greg finds himself in front of the fridge after everyone else went to bed.
Instead of acknowledging his mistake and trying to move past it, Greg overindulges because he feels like he has already blown it and this is now who he is.
Wendy is excited to present a new idea to her leadership team.
She has researched, practiced and ensured that it’s flawless. During the presentation, Wendy is asked a question she does not know the answer to but responds by agreeing to get back to the person.
The team compliments her on the presentation, but Wendy walks away feeling like a failure because she missed one question. Wendy has lost her passion and drive for this new project.
It’s so common these days to get advice from family and friends who sincerely want to help but do more harm than good.
Their answers of “get over it” or encouraging you to “look on the bright side” don’t help the guilt and shame that is beginning to overtake your thought life.
Your thoughts determine your truth
The devil’s age-old tactic is to manipulate and distort your thoughts so that his lies become so ingrained in your mind, they become a part of your identity until you can no longer separate the truth from the lies.
God has created you with a powerful mind and your thoughts impact your emotions which in turn influences your behavior.
Proverbs 23:7 says “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” and Romans 12:2 confirms that “you will be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Your thoughts have the power to dictate your life
Science is now catching up with what the Bible has taught us for centuries.
Psychologists have identified cognitive distortions as the negative thoughts that develop into patterns and bring emotional pain, which impact our behaviours.
Cognitive or thought distortions are biased beliefs that are irrational thoughts we unknowingly reinforce over time.
There are many types of distortions but they all have three things in common:
- A habitual way of thinking and believing becomes a part of your identity or personality.
- They’re false or inaccurate, not in line with the Word of God, or even facts known to be true about our situations.
- Can potentially cause damage or long-term suffering as they separate us from the truth of who God is and lead to mental-health issues, e.g. depression or anxiety.
All or nothing thinking
All or nothing thinking, also known as black or white thinking, is when a person is unable to see in shades of gray and this quickly becomes a habit.
Greg and Wendy’s situations were examples of this “all or nothing” thinking as well.
Thoughts like not feeling worthy or good enough linger behind every situation and unless everything is perfect a person does not feel loved or accepted.
Black and white thinking is a lie that perfection is possible.
All or nothing thinking begins with unrealistic expectations of yourself and others.
The bar is so high that it is impossible to measure up.
You are on high alert for any deviation from the perfect plan and when that happens you are left feeling disappointed, agitated, angered and as if you’ve failed.
Freedom is found in accepting that you are not perfect.
Expose your unhealthy and distorted all or nothing thinking for what it is – a lie and build healthy patterns of thoughts.
4 Steps to changing your thinking pattern
- Recognize the pattern: Be aware of when and how these thoughts creep into your daily life. Look out for the key trigger words like “always”, “never”, “every”, “nothing” and “should”. When you hear yourself saying them stop and take note of the situation. Imagine an alarm bell ringing each time you hear these words. (1 Peter 2:9)
- Practice thought stopping:It’s like changing the channel of your thoughts. Just as you would intentionally decide to change the channel on the TV, so you can stop your thoughts. Whether it is to say, “stop” out loud or thinking of replacing it with a better thought or distraction. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
- Analyze your emotions:When things don’t go your way you’re inclined to give into familiar feelings instead of the ones that may be more appropriate. For example, when you run into unexpected traffic on your way to work, you can struggle with feelings of failure because you “should” have remembered seeing the signs telling you that construction starts the next day. But a more appropriate feeling may be a disappointment.
Download the sheet below to get a better idea of what feelings you’re dealing with. Sometimes it’s hard to identify common feelings because often times it’s hard to name feelings when they aren’t familiar.
- Practice thinking in shades of gray: As adapted from David Burn’s book “Feeling Good”, try evaluating the situation that is forcing you into black and white thinking on a scale of 0 to 100 percent. You will quickly realize that there aren’t many things that can be marked at a 0 percent; we are most often somewhere in between.
Perfect standards are only shared among unhappy people.
It’s time to step out of the vicious cycle of unhealthy thinking. It’s time to embrace life’s imperfections.