This week's Bumper Sticker of The Week: Different doesn't mean Chaos.
And 3 related ones: Different doesn't mean catastrophic. Change doesn't mean disaster. Change doesn't mean danger.
The theme for these came out of a discussion this week about perfectionistic thinking and black and white views about the world- and why they are so hard to change.
In this particular discussion a client and I were talking about something that didn't even look like it was about black and white thinking. In fact, it looked as if it was about values, ethics, societal mores... things like that that seemed wholly unrelated to perfectionistic thinking. As we explored the topic, she could see it was fundamentally about black and white thinking which had greatly influenced her views on the particular subject she had wanted to talk to me about. (You know how eating disorders look like they're all about food and weight but they're really about other things that don't have much at all to do with food and weight? Same thing going on here- the values, ethics and societal/cultural things were just one level of the picture- at its core this wasn't about cultural values at all, it was about how she was devising structure, rules and containment for her life, using her beliefs about social things to do this)
Once we'd identified that sneaky, rigid, constricting thinking, we could go on to explore why it had gotten its claws so far into this area of her life. What we found is that, as usual, perfectionistic/black and white thinking, is a lot about security, predictability, safety.
She could see she didn't actually believe a lot of what she initially thought she did about the topic in question, but that she was very "attached" to these beliefs- because she was worried that if she made any changes to her beliefs "all hell would break lose," meaning she'd have no structure for living her life, no way to gauge "what's right and wrong," no way to figure out "how to fit into society," and no way to assess if she was "doing what I'm supposed to and what is right."
The black and white thinking was keeping her locked into views about the world that she didn't even particularly subscribe to. But she was so afraid that making any little change in her thinking would result in chaos in her thoughts and in her life. So she was stuck keeping her beliefs "always the same" (which meant never questioning them, never letting herself explore them or where they came from, never asking herself what she might really think and believe).
I bet a good exercise for us all is to practice changing the thought: different means (add whatever word you might usually use- Danger, Threat, Chaos, Helplessness, Anarchy, Fat ...) to different might mean (experiment with words that are more accurate, like, different but stable, different but neutral, different but safe...). This could be an anxiety provoking exercise, so remember that it doesn't mean you have to make any changes, we're just conceptualizing ideas here, just thinking about things...