Showing your “True Colors”


true_colors_header

I’ve been blogging for around 3 years now, and in addition to writing I try to follow a number of blogs.

One of the blogs I follow regularly is another relationship blog, written by a guy who went through a divorce a number of years back.  His divorce broke him; so he started writing about all the things he did both consciously and unconsciously that ultimately led to the breakdown of his marriage and his divorce.

It’s refreshing, and self-aware.  Like myself, the guy who writes it seems to believe most relationships can be improved by looking inward at the things you are doing as a person, and BEING BETTER.  And a big part of being better is gaining an awareness of what often goes wrong and trying to better understand and accept the other person.

Anyhow, his blog seems pretty successful, and has a really active community in the comments section.  Great group of people by and large, but like any “family” it sure has its own dysfunctions.  And a few months back the comments section broke down.

A new reader came along with a very different set of beliefs compared to most readers.  Beliefs that were frequently offensive and hurtful to others.  These comments started to disturb what had been a pretty happy/healthy commenting community, and many (myself included actually) became upset that this one commenter was, for a lack of a better term, poisoning the comments.

Some asked for this commenter to be banned, or at least something to be done.  But nothing was, and things became worse for a while.

Eventually, when multiple requests to do something to improve the comments section were ignored, one readers suggested that by not doing anything the author of the blog was “showing his true colors.”

Communication can be difficult and frustrating at times; so I can’t say exactly what was meant by that.  But my interpretation of that assertion was, in writing his blog the author talked about things like equality and improving relationships between men and women.  However by allowing dysfunction in the comments section he was showing inconsistency with this.  So perhaps the reality was, he really didn’t care.

This post really has nothing to do with the issue with the comments section story.  Similar to how my last post opened up with a story about renewing a mortgage, and then went on to actually be about how people can place differing values on the same thing; that’s just a backdrop to a larger idea (or at least that’s my intent).  And that’s the idea that in life, there are always nuances.  And things are rarely as straightforward as they may seem.

 

Patterns of Behavior 

I like to think I am a good person.  I have a strong moral compass, and I try to live my life with integrity.  Truly, I try to do “the right thing”, whatever that is.  And I would *like* to think I’m a fairly empathetic person, who does his best to think through the consequences of his actions before he does them.

But you know what?  Sometimes I hurt people.  And sometimes it’s a lot.  In fact, even for the people I care about the most, I PROMISE I will hurt them.

I hurt people in different ways too.  Sometimes by something I do, and sometimes by something I don’t do.  Sometimes I do things that get interpreted in ways I never meant.

Does that make me a bad person?

 

If I do 50 “good” things and 5 “bad” ones, do those bad ones show “the truth” about me?  Do they show that I’m actually a bad person?  That my “good” actions were just a show?

Yeah, I’ll acknowledge there are differing degrees of what good and bad are.  So yes, I suppose it’s possible that one bad action (particularly in the case of extreme behaviors, which again is subjective) can completely undo the good.  But by and large, I say no.

 

In statistical analysis, there is the concept of outliers.  Outliers are values that “stand out from other values in a set of data”, because they are aberrations in some way.

We are all going to have good days and bad days.  We are all going to do things that hurt others sometimes.

What REALLY matters is not each discrete individual action.  A bad action is a bad action.  A bad choice is a bad choice.

What matters is the PATTERN OF BEHAVIOR, and it is these patterns that speak to a person’s true character.  How you consistently act is a much more accurate measure of who you are than any specific action.

 

All or Nothing Thinking 

Cognitive distortions are broken thinking patterns that are often found in mental illnesses and mood disorders.  They are commonly found in anxiety disorders and depression, and are also believed to be part of why it’s so hard to break the cycle of anxiety and depression – these thinking patterns reinforce negative thoughts and emotions, “feeding” the issue (as an aside, one of the most effective ways to deal with/manage depression and anxiety is cognitive behavior therapy, which is intended to rewire the brain to correct these thinking patterns).

There are a number of different cognitive disorders found in anxiety and depression, and perhaps the most damaging is Splitting, or All or Nothing Thinking.

 

All or Nothing Thinking is kind of self-explanatory.  It is a form of thinking where we look at things in extremes, or as black and white.  You are a success, or a failure.  Someone loves you, or they hate you.  Something is perfect, or it is broken.

To be clear, we ALL fall into this sort of thinking once in a while (so when I reference the “comments” situation at the top I am in NO way suggesting anyone there is mentally ill).  But although we all do this sometimes, this type of thinking becomes a HUGE problem when it becomes a common or default form of thinking, or a pattern of behavior.

 

A while back I talked about the primal brain, and how the primal brain overrides reason and logic.  Well one of the big issues with all or nothing thinking is that it’s rooted in emotions, and normally extreme emotions.  It’s part of the automatic fight or flight response that you generally see with depression and anxiety.

 

Impacts on Relationships

Hopefully it’s clear that an automatic form of thinking, which overrides rationality and is rooted in extreme emotions is unhealthy.  But just in case it’s not, here’s a common way it impacts relationships:

In the early days of relationships, we all have a tendency to idealize our partners.  We see them as we want to see them (not as they actually are), and are often blind to their flaws.

This is normal, and science has shown that in the early days of love, brain chemicals are actually altered, contributing to this.

Eventually though (generally between 6 months and 2 years), this altered chemical state goes back to normal and we are able to see the person more clearly.  Normally we see a few rough edges, but are still able to accept the other person for who they are.

With all or nothing thinking however, these “flaws” often become proof that “something is wrong with the relationship”.  And if something is wrong, then this person is not “the one”.

 

All or nothing thinking has a perfectionist view of relationships; where there is a belief that if you can just find the right person, everything will be perfect and you will be happy forever.

But no one is perfect, and not being perfect doesn’t mean someone is a failure.  A relationship isn’t good or bad, rather it will have good and bad elements.

 

Popular dating site eharmony even talks about this thinking pattern and what it can mean to relationships:

Rather than seeing people as having both positives and negatives, overly critical people hold their romantic partners to an unrealistic expectation of having no faults whatsoever. Sadly, this type of “all-or-nothing” behavior can repeat over and over in one relationship after another until a person realizes that they themselves are the problem.

 

Basically, all or nothing thinking does a lot of damage to relationship.

 

And in addition to doing damage, it also makes is so people fall into a sense of hopelessness and a belief that things can never get better.

I’ve talked about loss of hope before and how destructive it is to improving a relationship.  With all or nothing thinking, the mere existence of problems shows that the relationship is flawed.  And if it can’t be perfect, what’s the point?

It makes it hard to see or appreciate incremental improvements, as the relationship is all or nothing.

 

 Seeing Shades of Grey

All or nothing thinking puts tremendous strain on relationships.  And unfortunately, people who suffer from it usually don’t even realize that their way of thinking is unusual and damaging.  It’s a thinking pattern, so for them, that’s their reality – or just who they are.

A question to ask yourself is, do you often think in terms of extremes?  Do you get caught up in thinking that things have to be perfect, and if they aren’t they are ruined?  Do you give up on things easily because you “know” you can’t do them, or you feel they are impossible?  Do you think in terms of “always”, or “never”, “terrible” or “awful”?

If those sorts of thoughts are common, you may deal with all or nothing thinking.  And it may be doing a lot of harm to your relationships, and your personal life in general.

 

Life isn’t all or nothing.

You can love some parts of your life and not others, and still have an amazing life.

You can be terrible at something, but still be able to improve it.

Your partner can love you, but still be a bit of a jerk sometimes.

 

And nothing in life can ever get better, until you can accept that it doesn’t have to be perfect.

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16 thoughts on “Showing your “True Colors”

    • Agreed. As you said, it’s exhausting for all involved. And I would guess it’s also exhausting and confusing for the person who is actually dealing with it.

      Thing is, they react from an “in the moment” standpoint, so often they don’t even see/realize what they are doing.

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  1. I spoke to a psychiatrist years ago about clients who had A OR N thinking and he said in his practice he had his patients break their days up into 10 segments. One for early morning, one for commuting, one for work etc. and at the end of each segment they had to grade it from 1 to 100, just like school work. He said they were always surprised when, at the end of the day, they added up the grades,and divided by 10, that most days had passing grades.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds a lot like cognitive behaviour therapy. And yeah, that is one of the best approaches to having people take a different perspective on things.

      Unfortunately people in that mental space often don’t want to put in the effort to really look at their behaviours and examine them.

      They are real in the moment, and that is enough for them

      Thanks for the comment.

      Like

  2. My ex accused me of all or nothing thoughts/behavior early in our relationship. I started second guessing my instincts on the relationship. I twisted myself all up making sure I was looking at all the shades. Looking back I can see projection and possibly even gas lighting. Hindsight. Thank you for this blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gaslighting, deflection, blaming. All characteristics you often find in unhealthy relationships.

      Truly, I don’t know why real honest communication is so damned hard, and hard to find. It should be obvious that honesty, vulnerability and authenticity is the key to healthy and rewarding relationships. But for some reason people seem ruled by fear instead, and act in ways that are completely counterproductive to long term success.

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      • Drew you said “people seem ruled by fear instead and act in ways that are completely counterproductive to long term success.”…
        Simply put- we learn early to hide in order to survive. Children absolutely need to be “raised”-( taught and disciplined ect. to become whole functional people), but a lot of times we humans put the value of love and belonging on our ability to learn and become the people are parents hope us to be. If our love and belonging is at stake we will likely try to contort ourselves a variety of ways just to fit what is being asked of us. That’s then what we do when we hang out with friends, or with a romantic partner- we put on the mask that will at least gain us admission , but it does prevent any real knowledge and acceptance of each other as people.
        I think this happens in various degrees between people.
        But, yeah- just being who you are in the world and in relationships really cuts through a lot of red tape. Its a heck of a lot easier, and it is the thing that will allow for the real connections we humans were built for.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Lindsey, first off – I adjusted the intro to this post a bit. I realized that it came off in a way I hadn’t intended (understandably upsetting some people). Hopefully the change allows the intended message to be seen more clearly. Who knows though, communication can be hard so I may have even made things worse. But I DID listen to feedback, and I tried.

        Anyhow, you say something that I think is really important when you say we put on a mask of what we believe is being asked of us as part of the “price of admission” to friendships and relationships.

        I think that correct, and natural. But also terrible. I think doing that sets people up for unhappiness and identity issues. And I think the people who are happiest are those who learn to love and accept themselves, and start presenting the authentic version of themselves to the world.

        As you said, doing that allows for real connections to be built.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “Life isn’t all or nothing.
    You can love some parts of your life and not others, and still have an amazing life.
    (snip)
    And nothing in life can ever get better, until you can accept that it doesn’t have to be perfect.”

    Another great post, Drew.

    I can see, I know, that I have trouble with this…accepting that things (starting with myself, but certainly not ending there) don’t have to be perfect.

    This is part of my focus now: observe non-judgmentally, examine/inquire, and accept. It can be really hard to accept things that aren’t where you want them to be, but as you say, I think it’s hard to make things better if you don’t. This just takes a lot of effort and internal change…thank you for distilling the thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jack,

      I think there’s a big difference between perfectionism (things have to be “perfect”) and a desire for continuous improvement. I think continuous improvement (where you want to be better, but believe that what you have/are now is always “enough”) is healthy, while perfectionism is an example of all or nothing thinking, and is very unhealthy.

      I think sometimes people believe they just want to improve, but they’ve really gone down the perfectionist/all or nothing rabbit hole.

      I think it comes down to your level of contentment with what you have (well, not YOU, but people in general). If you are largely content but are open to the idea that things can be better, then you probably accept yourself. If you really can’t stand how things are and NEED things to improve, then there’s a good chance you’re approaching the world from an all or nothing/perfectionist viewpoint.

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  4. “You can love some parts of your life and not others, and still have an amazing life.”…that’s absolutely correct!

    Drew, it’s been three years? And I think we’ve followed each other’s blog for that long now. Time flies

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, crazy that it’s been that long Boots. And both you and I have gone through some personal trials and tribulations during that time period.

      I’ve learned all to well that life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to. But that’s alright, because no matter what it throws at me I know that I can overcome it, stay steady, learn, and hopefully continue to become a better person each and every day.

      Hope you are well. In the fall/early winter you seemed pretty down, and I have to admit that I’ve been worried for you.

      Think back to my “waves” post from October – we never know what the next wave will look like. Some are big, some are small. Some pass easily and others threaten to pull us down. But eventually they all pass.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s true, I may never know how big or small the next wave is but one thing for sure, regardless of the size, they will all pass! Just how I survived every trials and tribulations that crashed my life. But I feel much stronger despite the pain, tears, and loneliness.

    I’m getting better now. Thank you for your concern! Wishing you the best, always!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have been married to a Narcissist for over 23 years now. It has not been a easy 23 years, as you can imagine. But even still, knowing what I know now, I STILL try to improve my behavior, especially when dealing with him. I think we all need to realize that we ALL have our hang ups and short comings that we bring into all our relationships. WE are responsible for our own actions and reactions, regardless of our circumstances.
    My husband can be rude and hurtful and try to bully me into submission, but how I react to it even though HE is in the “wrong” is ultimately MY choice. I can bite back which I know will escalate things, or I can make the decision to be better and not react. Sometimes I am able to rise above his BS and not take the bait, but sometimes I swallow it whole. It is a struggle, but I face it head on, either way. I am not ashamed when I let him get to me. It’s okay to lose a battle once in awhile, as long as you learn from it, so you don’t lose the war.

    Liked by 1 person

    • One of the ideas that I believe in and like to think about is, we have little to no control over what happens to us in our lives. We can do our best, and sometimes good things happen – sometimes bad. We may be able to influence things, but never control them.

      However, we ALWAYS can control how we respond to those things.

      As you said – we are responsible for our own actions and reactions regardless of circumstances.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes correct nobody’s perfect and everybody is an individual the reason why we are all different in many ways otherwise it will be too boring. Accepting the fact may be easier though sometimes it is easier to be said than done.

    Liked by 1 person

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