• Sammy Jo Diffendaffer, M.S., LMFT Associate

When Black and White Meet Gray: Tips for Coping with Unexpected Life Situations


Black and white thinking, also known as "either/or" thinking, serves us well when we are first establishing an understanding of the world and the way things work. When we are toddlers, for example, categorizing things, such as shapes and colors, allows us to establish an organized process by which we are able to learn more quickly and efficiently about an individual subject and, thus, its related co-subjects. The better we are able to master this skill and carry it through to organizing and synthesizing other, more complex, subject material, the better we fair, even as adults. This works well until we unintentionally apply the same categorizing (otherwise known as labeling and stereotyping) to family, friends, co-workers, or other "un-categorical" events.

Here are five helpful tips when you find yourself relentlessly trying to fit gray back into the black or the white:

1. BREATHE - Breathe into the situation, the stress, the conflict, or other troubling event. A technique often used in the practice of mindfulness or yoga, physiological changes such as calming (deep inhalation and exhalation) breathing exercises are known to have a positive, calming impact on our psychology and overall management of stress.

2. EMBRACE - Find a way to welcome the unknown, or the difficult life circumstance. Regardless of how strong our tendency to ruminate about, change, or continually seek to "control" the situation, our most stressful situations are often those which we simply cannot control. Instead of trying to change the situation, we can instead take back our sense of self by doing our very best even when there seems to be no perfect (black and white) solution.

3. CREATE - Instead of staying stuck on a particular (negative) black or white label, find creative meanings to put in place of whatever negative thought process, or category, you may have previously placed on a person or situation. Again, because of our natural tendency to categorize, sometimes these negative categories get put on people or situations unintentionally, and by means of more easily making sense of people or things (unaware that we sometimes end up surrounded by negative labels as a result).

4. PRAY - Handing over our struggles to a higher power is often a liberating experience that creates a space that is free from the problems and worry that we are incapable of fixing for ourselves. Whether you identify as a spiritual person or not, adopting the practice of trusting a greater power with things outside our control can make a huge impact on how we manage stress.

5. CONNECT - When we feel overwhelmed, jaded, or angry at those close to us, it sometimes feels easier to shut down and cut off from situations or people that have brought about negative feelings. However, this is not what is best for our mental health. Rather than distract or ignore from the problem, we can learn, grow, and gain so much more by staying connected and seeking an understanding of the people or situations that have caused us pain.

I hope you have enjoyed these tips for enjoying life amidst even the most unique or unforeseeable challenges. For more support in your relationship, life-goals, or simply managing the unknown, contact me at sjd@northtexascoupelandfamilytherapy.com, or by phone at 469-322-9389. Keep growing!

#CouplesCounseling #marriagecounseling #FamilyTherapy #FriendsandFamilyLife #selfhelp #relationships #IndividualTherapy #CenterforMarriageandFamilyCounseling #relationshipadvice #PersonalGrowth #FriscoCouplesCounselors #MckinneyCounselors #ProsperCounselors

© 2016 by Sammy Jo Diffendaffer @ NTXCFT

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon
  • Google+ Social Icon
  • YouTube Social  Icon
  • Instagram Social Icon

All services supervised by Monica Marterella, LPC-S, LMFT-S  (Lic.#201119  Exp. 03/31/19)