Rigid thinking, in addition to control, is another way humans deal with anxiety. Since I was raised in a chaotic household and had no idea how to stand up for myself, it was my default mechanism. I had strong opinions about everything and saw most issues in black and white terms. I had strong unwavering political and religious beliefs and could not understand when people did not see the world as I did.
When you label anyone or anything, you are simply projecting your view of yourself onto the world. So this rigidity affected how I viewed myself. I applied endless labels; good bad, smart stupid, athletic uncoordinated, nice aggressive, enlightened unaware, motivated lazy, etc. The problems that arise from this kind of thinking are huge. Especially when my unconscious baseline standard for me and everyone was perfect.
Once you are labeled that person cannot see who you really are. When you label someone else, you also cannot truly hear their side of the story or know them. None of us like being labeled in any way, but we don’t necessarily see this issue the other way around.
Rigid thinking is a form of control. There are certain thoughts and patterns of thinking that you will allow yourself to experience and the rest is off limits. It is an extreme form of thought suppression, which unfortunately gives much more power to these thoughts. Some people have enough control to pull it off for a lifetime but most of us do not. When the wheels start coming off they can really disappear. That is what happened to me. I went from truly not knowing what anxiety was to full-blown panic attacks within two weeks. I had no idea what hit me. My battle with NPD
I remember talking to a friend who clearly had OCD, (obsessive compulsive disorder) but he did not realize it. I could see that he had mentally arranged his thinking patterns on a massive “internal grid”. As the conversation went on, I felt that I also was visually looking at a playground jungle gym with his thoughts arranged in neat patterns. Needless to say, his opinions on almost every topic were concrete and there was not much room for discussion.
Making the Solvable Unsolvable
Many problems arise from this pattern of thinking and I will focus on one. If you cannot see a given issue from multiple angles, it is unsolvable. This is true at every level of human interaction. Right now the political scene is just playing out our collective consciousness. We wring our hands and decry the poor choices that we might have. They are just a reflection of how our culture thinks and if it were not them up there, other candidates would reflect the same approach. The root problem is that we have a societal problem of rampant anxiety and anger. Effective treatments are not being systematically implemented. We feel somewhat calmer if someone portrays a sense of power and simplistic solutions, which do not exist. That is why it is so easy for politicians to prey on this diffuse anxiety. It is predatory in every sense of the word. But they are not the problem. It is you and it is me. We can blindly follow the rhetoric or sort out the real issues. It is each individual’s responsibility to look at his or her own anxiety and anger and understand its impact on our lives.
It is not dissimilar to many patients who do not want to take responsibility for their own care. They want to be fixed and will become aggressive when I do not offer them a single solution, such as surgery. I will often hear the phrase, “Even if there is only a 20% chance of a good outcome, I want to have surgery.” Really? Then I point out that the data shows that surgery can induce or worsen chronic pain up to 40% of the time. In other words, I have almost double the chance of making their pain worse than helping them out. That reasoning still does not sway them. It took me a long time to figure out that these are not rational conversations and it is much better for me and my patient to see them back after they have calmed down.
When was America Great?
Political rhetoric is another example of applying simplistic thinking to a complex issue. “Make America Great Again”. There are many aspects of America that represent greatness, but as a whole American history is one of racial and sexual intolerance. Women only were allowed to vote in 1929. We wiped out most of the American Indians. We fought a horrible civil war only 160 years ago and racial issues are still a problem. The KKK was extremely active without much local opposition in the first half of the 20th century. It is currently experiencing a resurgence. This list is endless. Exactly what era is being referred to?
The part of America that is great and has separated us from most of human history is tolerance and acceptance. There has actually been a lot of progress on this front. Although there is still a long way to go, we are more evolved in this arena than ever. For us to continue to move forward with these principles will take a commitment from each person to honestly look at themselves. What labels do you have on others? What labels do you have on you?
Rigid thinking plays out in many destructive ways. If this is the case with you, by definition, you have labeled, which is one of the cognitive distortions pointed out by David Burn’s in his book, Feeling Good. Anthony De Mello’s book, The Way to Love, eloquently and bluntly points out how judgment, whether it is positive or negative, is an absolute block to awareness.
Commit to becoming aware. The only person you can affect is you, but it is the only hope for deep widespread change.