I missed her 3 month bday, on THE actual day. New mom fail? No apologies here; she keeps me busy. She’s growing. Haven’t taken her to the pediatrician this month, but I think she’s right on track growth wise. Maybe even a little big for her age!
As much as I enjoy getting my thoughts out of my head via writing, it is one of the first things to go when I have a ridiculous backlog of work. Sunday mornings are the most magical mornings of the week. I lay in bed all morning, ok, like all day, with my laptop, pups, and coffee. My struggle the last few times that I’ve tried to write is that my head has been *SO FULL* of thoughts that it feels impossible to focus on something more leisurely. Today, I’m telling mySELF to “Keep it simple.”
So, black and white thinking. What is it? Well, in the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) world, the clinical term would be dichotomous thinking – NOT – to be confused with dialectical thinking.
When I’m seeing a client, I refer to dichotomous thinking as “black and white thinking.” It’s a thought process that us humans have that basically has your mind split an idea into two opposite categories. Yes or No. Small or Large. Nice or Mean. Good or Bad.
With this type of thinking, there is no gray area; therefore, I instruct my clients to “see the gray” when addressing black and white thinking. The gray may offer some flexibility… Where in this situation is there compromise? What space can be made to accept that there is truth in both of the “opposites”?
When you can see the truth in both, that is dialectical thinking. Dialectical thinking comes from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) by Dr. Marsha Linehan. She is a Roshi which is one of the highest levels of teachers in Zen Buddhism. Given her studies, DBT is naturally rooted in eastern philosophy. The yin and yang symbol is an excellent way to illustrate dialectical thinking and it helps my clients to “see the gray.”
What is important here?
There are two opposites. Light and Dark; however, we can see that the light has a dark spot and the dark has a light spot.
How to start moving your thinking from dichotomous to dialectical?
Let’s look at two opposites that people often use as descriptors of themselves or others:
Lazy & Productive
- Dichotomous / Black and white thinking:
“I’m lazy because on Sundays I don’t want to get out of bed – so I
- Dialectical Thinking / seeing the gray:
“I lay in bed all day on Sundays, because I work really hard throughout the week.”
Folks, this is such a game changer for relationships. When there are two people who are on opposing sides… Where can you see their truth and where can they see yours? In what ways do you see dialectical thinking offering a softer and more balanced approach towards yourSELF and others?
How does this apply to me, a specialist in CBT? Someone who knows better as I have studied the mind and human behavior with 8 years of formal education, have spent thousands of hours of practicum, internship and professional clinical work relating to mental health and substance use disorders. In addition, I’ve been a yoga practitioner for about 10 years (semi-consistently), have had 9 months of in-depth training at *THE BEST* yoga teaching program that Raleigh has to offer, The Blue Lotus. I *SHOULD* have a handle on my thoughts, feelings and behaviors, right? Don’t I wish!
This year has brought about several expected and unexpected life events. Often times, as a result of these life changes, I have operated in the world as an ultra stressed out human. On the outside I’ve probably looked very tired, annoyed and/or frustrated but guess what? I WAS/AM! Surprise!!!
In addition to some pretty heavy *expletive*, opening a new business has turned out to be a much bigger undertaking than I anticipated. Imagine that! Let me tell you, I’ve had some genuine full-on FREAK OUT moments! I have felt beyond my breaking point countless times but I have been somehow managing to get up every day and face it all over again.
Have things been all bad? Heck no! That would be some black and white thinking!
Thinking dialectically, my year has been both blissful as I have seen a dream of mine come into fruition before my eyes, and it has also felt insurmountably unmanageable, and chronically stressful at times.
Add on being a mom of *TWO* teenage humans that has had no break pretty much all year long? Fun times, folks! I’m just peachy to be around.
Where is the black and white thinking?
The beach. My body and soul craves to hear it, see it, smell it, taste it and feel it. For over two decades we have gone to the same beach several times per year because that place feels like a second home. We are only two hours away from the closest beach, but the one we like to go to is 3 hours away.
We don’t even consider going to the beach anywhere else unless we are away from the Carolina coast. What was that? Black and white thinking! We go to _________ beach when we are in the Carolinas or we don’t go at all. Black and white thinking means that I’m not considering that there are alternatives.
Going to our preferred beach is pretty much out of the question for a day trip or even an overnight trip. What does that mean for a black and white thinker? We cannot go to the beach unless we can find 3 consecutive nights; ok, I’ll stretch and let it be a minimum of 2.
In the past, we would go to the beach for an entire week. Over time, we dialed it down to going for long weekends spread throughout the year. Now, as I look back, we haven’t been to our preferred beach all year long; therefore, I guess we have even stopped the long weekends!
So, with two adults, and two teenagers going in four opposite directions throughout the summer, none of our calendars seemed to line up to visit our favorite beach spot for at least 2 consecutive nights! And in Casey’s mind, clearly it’s just not worth it to stay less than 2 nights! And of course, it is out of the question to go anywhere else…
The other layer of black and white thinking – other than just the minimum night stay was – we all have to go *together* because we all want to go! Ummmm, that type of thinking doesn’t work with my new reality of having one child starting 8th grade and another starting 10th grade.
The kids are becoming more and more independent, as they should be, and sometimes I find myself supporting their desires above my own and/or to my own detriment. That’s what we’re supposed to do when we are parents, right? Put them first? Give them what we didn’t have?
Woah! What about modeling SELF-care? Don’t we want our kids to know what it looks like to be a well adjusted adult human? Balance folks. It’s seeing the truth in BOTH!
I started to feel like I was drowning but there was no ocean to be seen. Or water of any kind – not even a pool. All while living in a muggy, hot place on the planet. I noticed how I felt both happy and jealous of all of my friends going to the beach. I decided that I would try to take the children somehow because they were starting school soon and summer break was practically gone!
Thankfully I started to expand my thinking and looked at places to stay only 2 hours away. I expanded my view to even being excited about staying at a new place. A friend of mine has spoken very highly of a place that fit the bill and in all of my excitement and expansive thinking, I booked a room right away and the kids and I hit the road!
My husband couldn’t go because of his work schedule but I promised him that he could take the kids to the beach in two weeks when he had more time. Woah – now my expanded thinking gave me 24 hours at the cutest boutique hotel that I can’t wait to go back to, and a quiet home for a weekend while my husband took a turn taking a mini vacay with the kids. Whaaaat! Wonderfulness!
Black and white thinking had me living in a small box. I consider myself to be reaaaaalllllllllyyyyyyyyyy good at CBT and yet, I had some of the boxiest thinking that resulted in me not taking good care of mySELF. I wasn’t slowing down to tune in, and listen to mySELF. I stayed in reaction/survival mode all day every day for waaaaayyyyyy toooooooo loooonnnnnng.
The beach was short but wonderful. The idea of me getting to spend time with my two kiddos was so exciting; however, when we got there, they darted off by themselves immediately and only came back to see me for food and/or money. They were happy which made me happy. I was able to relax in a lounge chair under an umbrella with the most incredible view and sounds. Still working, but I had one heck of an office!
Two weeks later, here I sit, in a quiet house and loving every second of it. My kids went on their second mini, partial family unit, vacay of the summer in a matter of a few weeks. I’m glad that their mom started thinking outside of the box before summer break officially came to a close!
Time is precious and all we truly have is right NOW! These kids are on their way OUT! Even if they weren’t, I want to be intentional and mindful of the time I spend with them, which includes being more chill.
Dialectical thinking is SELF-care for me. I have a very analytical brain that loves to question, doubt, and overthink to unnecessary and unhealthy lengths. Taking care of my brain allows me to be more gentle with myself which lends itself to me being more functional in the world.
I need to be sure I’m slowing down enough to listen to mySELF. I all to easily get run down while making everyone around me miserable in the process. I’m looking forward to scheduling in even more alone time, taking trips to beaches that are only 2 hours away, and challenging myself to notice when those black and white thoughts are flying under the radar.
The moral of the story:
If you’re a human, you don’t get to skip through life without having any thought distortions. I don’t care what kind of education or training you’ve had. There are glaring, obvious thought distortions, those that are more subtle, and countless ones in between. Getting a handle on them lends itself to gentleness and ease with SELF and others.
Want to learn more about CBT?
I’m holding a CBT 101 workshop on 9.7.19 from 9-12 for adults and from 1-4 for teens. The cost is $90 per person. You must prepay to hold your spot. 12 spots max per group.
I use CBT on myself. It keeps my brain in check and I love teaching others how to get a handle on theirs. This is a skills-based workshop. I am a therapist and we will be using examples from the group; however, this is not a process group that is meant to deal with anyone’s deep issues.
The objective of the group is as follows:
*Teach basic concepts of CBT showing how our thoughts impact our emotions and our emotions inform our behaviors.
*Be able to identify types of negative thinking.
*Offer three ways to address negative thinking.
*Learn how to apply CBT tools to think, feel and behave more positively in the world.
Call, text, email or stop by to sign up!
Let’s set up a time to chat for a free 20 minute phone or in-person consultation.
Looking forward to meeting you!
MA, LCAS, LPCA, NCC, RYT
Clinical Director, Mental Health & Substance Use Disorder Therapist,
and Registered Yoga Teacher
firstname.lastname@example.org // 919-880-4078
6330 Falls of Neuse Road Suite #104 Raleigh, NC 27615