Last week we learned a little bit about how trauma impacts our story as well as big T and little t traumas.  We also covered some categories or clusters of how these traumas present themselves.  Did you see yourself in any of the clusters?  Most of us can see ourselves in one, if not all of the clusters at some point in our lives.

This week we are going to take a closer look at a part of our stories that can be speaking louder than we realize; polarized thinking.  Whenever I hear the word polarized, I can’t help but think of magnets.  When I was a child, I used to love to play with magnets.  I have no idea why my dad had so many different types of magnets around but it was such fun to push them across the table with the opposite polarized magnet.  Polarized thinking is similar to this back and forth pushing.  You may have heard it as black and white thinking.  Byron Kehler, author and developer of Story Informed Trauma Training (SITT) states it best.  “Polarized thinking is a central issue in recovery, affecting a wide range of other recovery issue such as trust, self-esteem, control, boundaries, and decision making”

Polarized thinking or black and white thinking can leave us with only two options; good or bad, right or wrong, either/or, with me or against me.  We see this playing out in our relationships.  I have heard clients explain that they are one and done when it comes to relationships.  Walking away from a friendship or relationship if someone hurts them, there is no other option to stay and try and repair the relationship.  [please note: there is an understanding that there are in fact some relationships that need to end, we are not speaking about those relationships here].  Black and white thinking leaves us very little options for anything else.  To say it another way we don’t get an opportunity to experience the grey or what I like to call “Yes/and” thinking.  The idea that a relationship can be difficult AND not harmful might be a new idea.  Accepting ambiguity is difficult.  Living in the grey is difficult.  It can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed if we don’t take the necessary precautions to shore up our weaknesses so we aren’t exploited.  I get it.  Believe me friend I get it.

Unfortunately, what happens with this is we miss out on life.  If we take the precautions to ensure we are safe, or what we believe is safe, we ultimately miss out on living.  C.S. Lewis states it best in his book The Four Loves:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

The false sense of control can bred loneliness and loneliness can send us to some pretty dark places.  Friend, this is how our story is living us out.  In her book Hear All, Dwell Free, Gertrude Mueller Nelson tells us to “know and understand your story or your story will live itself out”.  Are you recognizing some places where polarized thinking is playing itself out?  Are you able to reflect on conversations or thoughts that put things into an either/or category leaving no room for discussion?  Have you said those words?  “There’s no room for discussion.” If so, you’re in company with many of us.  I encourage you to begin simply observing your thoughts.  With no judgment or harshness.  Simply observe them, what are they saying to you?  Where did you learn that way of thinking?  How was this way of thinking introduced to you?  Simply explore your thinking friend.

We’ve covered how trauma presents itself in our lives as symptoms.  We’ve covered how we might be thinking of the world.  Next week we are going to take a look at how to find a therapist to help with processing through what we are learning.  Thank you for sticking with me in this friend.

Next Steps:

What are your thoughts? Comment below

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The Mental Health Academy is here to take the mystery away, and give you the knowledge and the tools you need to have relationships that last! No more confusion or wondering how you’ll face the roller coaster of life with mental illness.

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