Right and wrong. Good and bad. Healthy and unhealthy. True and false. Rich and Poor. Perfect and imperfect. Healthy and unhealthy. Happy and unhappy. Black and white.
For the duration of our younger years we are raised to believe these extreme contrasts are all that exist in life. We label, categorise and box people and things into these categories, as if everything is black and white. But what are the implications of this ‘black and white’ thinking on our state of mind, our overall health and our happiness.
It is quite simple to participate in a two dimensional way of thinking. Life is simple that way. When there is just two opposite concepts to grasp; right and wrong, true and false, rich and poor, success and failure; there is far less need for analytical thought. But the majority of us spend most of our lives navigating this ‘grey zone’ between these contrasting ideas. As a result we never feel satisfied, we never feel like we are enough and we are often left feeling that because we aren’t one or the other- where do we fit in?
Interestingly we live in a world now where living a life somewhere between rich and poor- perfect and imperfect- happy and unhappy, is deemed average, mediocre or embarrassingly pedestrian. We are all consciously or unconsciously striving for this life of the perfect body, the happy home, the right car, the good partner, the wealthy bank balance, the restrictively healthy way of life, the job that reflects our true passions. Indeed we are all so perfect when we project ourselves on the inter web… but does this reality even exist outside of print media or the online environment?
I was fortunate to be raised by two loving parents who told me that I could do anything I wanted to do, I could have anything I wanted to have, provided I worked hard for it. These ideas were well intentioned. And they were all well and good until they weren’t helpful anymore. This black and white thinking served me quite well, until I entered the unforgiving real world when I left home. I worked hard, then harder still. I did all the ‘right’ things, I kept ‘healthy’, I ‘budgeted’, I made ‘good’ friends, and everything was going ‘perfect’. Until all of a sudden it was going less than perfect. I couldn’t understand- I did everything right, this couldn’t have been my fault, I followed the rules and I did what I was told? My falling short of success automatically became in my mind immense ‘failure’.
Did I fail? Not really. Simply put, I just didn’t succeed in the way I had envisaged. But it was definitive black and white thinking that was so detrimental to my mental health it eventually resulted in a serious bout of depression. I put myself in the box with a big label on it saying: “I’M A FAILURE”. I sat in that box for a long time trying to figure out how it all went so wrong. Along with feelings of being failure came perceived loss of influence, loss of potential income and wealth, loss of living the right life. I was miserable.
It took a long time for me to realise that all that had happened was that I entered the ‘Grey Zone’- It wasn’t that I did badly, it wasn’t that I did exceedingly well, it was that I was ‘good’. I had never just been ‘good’ before. It was heartbreaking. I think sometimes it’s easier to deal with complete failure or complete success than it is to be perceived as mediocre or run-of-the-mill. But you know what- most of us are living these wonderful ‘normal’ lives and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Most of us worry about money, most of us grapple with fears of not being enough, most of us sit between happiness and unhappiness on a daily basis, most of us eat cake and feel bad about it, most of us feel naughty if we don’t go to the gym, most of us tell white lies to protect the people we care about or relieve the pressure of an already hectic life, most of us feel failure at some point in our lives, most of us look in the mirror and think thoughts far short of perfection, most of us move through life in the middle ground- the grey zone- where we just deal with being a fallible human being.
I’m not saying don’t strive, I am not saying don’t bother working hard because you are never going to make it where you want to go. I AM saying, leave the self criticism behind, leave the comparisons behind, and leave the black and white thinking behind. When you can realise there is two dimensional self chat underpinning your behaviour, your thoughts and your feelings remind yourself that life is actually a journey in shades of grey; nothing is ever all black or all white.