Learning to See the Gray

by Crystal (Trevino) Rodriguez

“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

-William Shakespeare

Black and White thinking, also known as either/or thinking may be defined as an extreme way of thinking where a person can only see one possibility.  Finding the gray may be defined as being able to find more than one possibility or solution.  Our world is multifaceted and complex, which makes our ability to find the gray essential to our health.  In a world where we are encouraged to make final decisions, it is challenging to find the gray. From an early age we are taught to think in terms of wrong or right and good or evil.  What if there is more than one possibility? 

              Black and white thinking may cause us to believe that if we experience something negative, then the rest of our experiences will also be negative.  For example, we may experience betrayal in a relationship and from that, we may conclude that all people will betray us. This can cause us to withdraw and disengage in our relationships, which can be damaging to our overall health and growth. 

           In addition, black and white thinking may cause us to set unreasonable standards for ourselves and others. This type of thinking over time can lead to a form of perfectionism, which can leave us feeling disappointed with life, ourselves and others. Our disappointment can cause us to become rigid in extending grace to those we love, causing both our relationships and overall health to suffer. 

           So how do you know if you are struggling with black and white thinking? You may use words such as “always and never” and may have difficulty extending yourself and others grace.  For example, someone may become impatient and say, “I am a terrible person because I am always impatient with people.” Statements like this can be dangerous because they are extreme and do not acknowledge the gray. We know we will get impatient sometimes because we are imperfect human beings. We can practice rephrasing these black and white statements in order to help train our mind to see the gray.  For example, instead of telling yourself that you are always impatient, you may rephrase this by saying, “today I was not as patient as I wanted to be, but I have a deep desire to continue growing in this area.” By doing this, we acknowledge an area for personal growth, while also giving ourselves credit for the good we are doing. When we do this, we are able to see that occasional impatience does not make us terrible.

Let’s try an activity to practice finding the gray by rephrasing our statements! Below are a series of statements.  I invite you to practice rephrasing them in a healthy way.

“Bad stuff always happens to me.”

“I am always late.”

“I am a selfish person.”

            The ultimate goal in finding the gray is personal growth and awareness, so if this activity does not work for you, that is okay.  Everyone is wired differently and there is no one size fits all when it comes to searching for the gray.  Having said that, a good rule of thumb may be to ask yourself, “Am I thinking in a way that is helpful and healthy?”