I love a good Frank Sinatra song. They will encompass just about any emotion or situation in your daily life, and “All or Nothing at All” came to mind when I considered this subject: All or Nothing Thinking and Parenting.
(Please enjoy the song and then come back).
Parenting and Cognitive Distortion
I struggled with All or Nothing Thinking when I was a young adult, and to this day, I still find myself tempted to fall back into this black and white way of thinking. It all started with something my mother told me off the cuff, “Val, you always ruin everything!”
Wow, really? EVERYTHING?
Parents tend to throw words around without thinking through the consequences of what has been said. “Why do you always do that?” “You have ruined our entire day!” “Why must you always be that way?”
With my own kids, I realize now things I said or did are still brought up. We need to realize as parents we have an awesome responsibility to watch what we say. Those kids will grow up and those words will be replayed in their minds.
And those easily said words will come back to bite us with our kids carrying a self-view that will affect them as they enter adulthood.
Why am I writing This?
I had to write an article recently on a cognitive distortion called All or Nothing Thinking. There are at least 15 common cognitive distortions and you can read about them at PsychCentral in an article by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
Cognitive: of, relating to, being, or involving conscious intellectual activity (such as, thinking, reasoning, or remembering).
Distortion: the act of twisting or altering something out of its true, natural, or original state. Ex. “A distortion of the facts.”
So, a problem with cognitive distortion would mean you are twisting or altering a conscious intellectual thought. Your reasoning is being distorted.
All or Nothing Thinking means you are seeing the world in black and white, with no subtle tones of gray. You will self-talk with phrases like:
“I’m always blowing it!”
“I am always such a loser!”
“I’ll never get this right.”
“I can’t do this because I never complete anything!”
It is very self-defeating. It’s when one hitch in a plan makes EVERYTHING get unraveled.
This is common with perfectionist thinking: “I didn’t get 100% – I’ve failed!”
It’s distorting one thing and making it encompass everything then and after.
[This is where I place the DISCLAIMER: I am not a psychiatrist or doctor. This can be a sign of anxiety, panic disorders, and depression, or other comorbid factors of mental illness. And so, what I’m writing is a good starting point to think over your own problems with cognitive distortion; but first and foremost, if you feel you, or your child, are having this problem consistently, and it is affecting your life in a negative way that keeps you from functioning, then please see a professional that can help.]
It’s All in the Words
There are subtle words that you can pinpoint to see if you are having problems with this type of thinking. Dr. Andrea Bonior gave a list of the most common words used in her article at the Psychology Today site. She did a much more in depth explanation there. I’ll list the words from her list here:
*Everyone or No one
Think over if you use those words either with yourself or with others. Are they used often in your daily life? Stop and think the next time something happens. Are you using these types of words to attribute end results consistently in your life?
My Funny Childhood
Remember when I said I struggled with this type of thinking? What happens in childhood can have adverse effects later in life.
When I was possibly eight-years-old my mother took me and my siblings to a circus. She was young and had five kids, and so I understand now in retrospect why she would speak in such “all or nothing” thinking terms.
I wanted the show to begin and so I asked, “When is it going to start? Mom, how long is this? When will it be over?” and various other questions. I was an impatient and inquisitive child, like most children are, but this time it upset her and she grabbed my hand and said, “You always ruin everything!”
She then led the five of us kids out of the circus and back to our home.
My siblings blamed me for us having to leave the circus. I blamed myself. Many years later, I found out it was because of an entirely different reason we left the circus. She and my dad were having problems and my questions were the tipping point of her flustered day.
That moment affected the remainder of my childhood and teen years, up until I was an adult and began to see who I was in a more normal and clear way. I had thought I was the one who always ruined everything. That was my All or Nothing Thinking for a long time.
But realistically, that makes no sense. How can one person ruin everything all the time?
The Absurdity of All or Nothing Thinking
When you see life in black and white terms you are going from one extreme to another. You are never seeing life as a balance between sometimes this and sometimes that. It is always this, or never that. It is totally wrong, or completely the worst. It is this type of polarized thinking that distorts what is the fact and what is real.
You’ll see this with racism and bigotry. It’s the “us” and “them” mentality. You find one stereotype and believe it to be the “only” way something is, and therefore “they” are “always” that way. “Those people are always this way.” You know what I mean?
This polarization is very damaging to a soul in the long run, and it’s very damaging to your self-image, and extremely damaging in how you perceive others.
Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. wrote on how to expand your thinking out of this rut of All or Nothing thoughts, again at the Psych Central site.
“To go beyond is as wrong as to fall short.” – Confucius
In life, things happen. There is chaotic movement as you walk through life because much of life is out of our control. If something bad happens and you just sit down and don’t move in fear of another bad thing happening, then life will pass you by.
“I blew that interview. I will NEVER get a job. I am always such a loser.”
And then… you just stop trying.
If your self-talk is, “this always happens to me,” or, “I will never be good enough,” “I’m just a loser,” then you are self-prophesying bad things to continually happen. Or, you just give up and stop moving forward in your life.
Life is to be enjoyed. Life is to be lived. Life is to be balanced.
We must take good things with bad things and accept the eventuality of both.
It is understandable if every so often you feel you have failed at something – that is human and that is normal. But if you continually see your life in such a definitively positive or definitely negative light, then you are having a cognitive distortion in your perception.
I obviously didn’t “always” “ruin” “everything.” That would be absurd. No one, on the other hand, can “always” “ruin” your life, either. Remember that when you start to play the blame game.
Mostly, what are you telling your kids if things don’t work out? Parenting is an awesome responsibility, but it is the greatest and most blessed responsibility you will ever have.
So, you just need to accept, “That’s life.”
And that reminds me of another Frank song.
That’s life, and I hope you can move forward thankful for the blessings, enjoying your friends and family for simply being, and accepting the person you are deep inside.
Please enjoy the rest of your day and sleep well with good searching! 🙂
Goodnight BP! 😉