It's time to banish all or nothing thinking!

Catherine Liberty's picture

This article is all about the importance of breaking free from all or nothing thinking. If you ever find yourself saying words like "always", "failure", "hopeless" and "never" then this one is for you!

Today I would like to talk to you all about the importance of challenging your all or nothing thinking. Sometimes this can be called “black and white” thinking.

Do you ever find yourself saying the words "always", "failure", "hopeless", "never", "impossible" or "ruined" when you have a less than perfect day on the road to recovery?

While it’s true that recovery can’t always be about the positives...

Epecially if you’re having a particularly hard time or have suffered a relapse, it is vital that you give yourself permission to admire all of the shades of grey that exist between the walls of your black and white thinking.

Our eating disorders and the depression that often accompanies them encourage us to stay chained to these black and white thought processes, to think only in absolutes, when the reality is very few things in this life are absolute.

Sticking rigidly to the confounds of your black and white thinking style can make recovery much harder...

You can never enjoy the small victories and skip through the unpleasant pitfalls if you are always seeking out a ‘perfect recovery’ because as we know, it simply does not exist.

Black and white thinking keeps us trapped in that all or nothing headspace, when in fact there is always so much more to see...

The amount of progress you will find yourself making will increase dramatically if only you could allow yourself see the truth that lies in-between.

There is no doubt that experiencing episodes of relapse in recovery or getting through stressful situations without turning back to old bulimic behaviours can be difficult. I know from my own experiences that those bad days really test your faith in the whole recovery process.

But when you take away black and white thought processes you realise that it doesn’t have to be all bad!

So onto the good news - there really are ways you can challenge your thinking and learn new thought processes.

Firstly and most importantly recognise that you do have the power to challenge all or nothing ways of thinking. It may seem like a small step but it can end up having a massively positive impact on your life.

Next look out for ‘warning words’ in your own thinking and writing. This is a great way to start to change your own outlook on life, maybe make a list of the most popular words that trap you in the black and white thinking processes so you can be brave and oppose them next time they come up.

An example of black and white thinking could be:

I relapsed after five days, it was terrible, recovery is impossible, I will always be that person who never gets better.

If you were then to go on and challenge those thoughts by removing the boundaries of black and white thinking you might actually start to believe something like this:

I relapsed after five days, I hated it and it made me realise how hard recovery will be sometimes but this was also a massive achievement. I learned a lot during those five days, I learned that I can make it though an entire day without bulimia, I just have to find new ways to build on this now.

When I look back on my own recovery I can certainly see times where I let my own black and white thinking overwhelm my progress...

For example when I first experienced an episode of relapse I remember thinking that I had ruined the entire day - in reality if I would have challenged those thoughts I would have realized that episode of relapse took up just a few minutes of an otherwise all together wonderful day in recovery.

With practice it really is possible to break out of that all or nothing mindset!

At first it can be hard, there can certainly be an element of ‘fake it until you make it’ - as in keep challenging those thoughts until it becomes a natural thing to do.

Keep breaking down your own boundaries of black and white thinking until challenging the unrealistic absolutes becomes a normality, keep telling yourself to look at the positives not just the negatives in bad situations.

I know what you're thinking, "positives in bad situations?" - But just like how we talked about the significance of relapses in recovery last week, it's important to accept that sometimes we really can take good things from less than pleasant situations.

Understand that challenging your thoughts in this way is never about trying to hide or replace those negative thoughts because it is important to accept them.

It's just about getting yourself to start looking at different situations from all possible angles.

Today why not start to think about your own all or nothing thinking traps. Make a list of your own “warning words” and remember to challenge them next time they come up. 


Pat Mary
Pat Mary's picture
I was feeling a little

I was feeling a little agitated because I had some yougourt (a trigger food) but after reading this I realised I could just change my thoughts and have another great day in
recovery. The agitation is niggling in the background and I accept its' presence.I can even
observe its' discomfort moving around my body. As I stop resisting it ,it stops antagonising me.we can co exist while I work towards recovery.i may even be able to use
the energy of negative thoughts to spur positive action-like today I am scribbling this because I read this article and am realising that agitation and cravings are OK .they are
good guys trying to help me! They are misinformed however so i can listen to them with kindness thank them for trying to help me and take action based on new infomation which I now have and choose recovery most of the time.


Acceptance9's picture
Pat - I love your comment

Pat - I love your comment about "misinformed signals" - that's an excellent way to discribe the emotions/sensations we feel!

flaumie's picture
I'm still in the 'trying to

I'm still in the 'trying to figure it all out' stage . . . since starting my recovery program I've only had one 'relapse' into b/p. However (a) it wasn't as major a binge, nor as major a purge as it's been in the past and (b) where I always knew that these attacks always led to a similar situation the following day - THIS TIME IT DIDN'T!
So I'm thinking - yes, there was a relapse. and YES, in many aspects it felt like I was 'coming home to a safe haven'.
But my logical mind kept repeating that this is NOT a safe haven. It was just a one-off thing - and maybe there will be repeats ... but I am on the road to recovery because I've learned so much in this past few weeks. I'm incorporating S.E. and it feels normal!! I overeat at times, but except for the one occasion, these have not turned into binges.
so, one day at a time, and I AM WELL AND TRULY ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY, although I acknowledge and accept that there will be setbacks and relapses. But the truth is that I am a strong and optimistic woman and I believe (hoping so hard) that I no longer need my ED as a crutch, and that I can face life without it.
Catherine, thank you for all your insights.

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