Home Anxiety The Tricks of Anxiety – It loves when we use Extreme Thinking
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The Tricks of Anxiety – It loves when we use Extreme Thinking

by Matt Pappas

Continuing on with our Beating Anxiety series, the next trick that Anxiety loves to use against us, is to cause us to use extreme thinking. Sometimes also referred to “black and white” thinking. Also, if you would like to check out the Periscope Video on this particular trick, click here!

This is the mindset where every decision, every part of our life has to be either “all this or all that”. It’s an extreme way to live because Anxiety wants us to believe that there is no gray area, no middle ground.

Some examples of this type of thinking that can be invalidating to our self-esteem:

  • You are either all Good or all Bad
  • Totally Healthy or Completely Unhealthy
  • Completely Normal or Totally Abnormal
  • Absolutely Perfect or a Complete Screw up.
  • You are either fully Healed from Trauma or You’ll Never Heal from Trauma.

Living in these types of extremes in daily life is like being on a roller coaster. You are so up and down, constantly trying to make the right decision and over thinking everything that no matter what you do or don’t do, you can’t win. Anxiety has its grip on you and it’s beginning to assert its power and keep you in a constant state of never being good enough. Also a constant state of second guessing yourself.

It’s  trying to tell you there is no happy medium, no middle ground, and there is absolutely no room for error. If you make one mistake, you are doomed, worthless, and a complete failure. Youanxiety only has the power that we allow it to have - anxiety quote - surviving my past can’t possibly recover from even the most minor daily decision because one seeming failure just builds on the next one, and the next one, and you end up in this constant state of questioning yourself and everything you do.

Think about it for a minute; if Anxiety can make you second guess yourself on even the most simple of every day decisions: dinner, a birthday gift, where to get gas in the car, what can it do when there are major life decisions that come up? Financial decisions, long-term relationships, career decisions; it’s a constant struggle because you have to make  the right decision or you are doomed to fail and consequently repeat every previous wrong decision again.

That’s an invalidating and miserable way to live for anyone, let alone survivors of abuse. Which is of course what I focus on with this blog and everything about it.

As a survivor, this black and white thinking means that Anxiety wants us to believe that we will never heal. We are not worthy of healing. We are too screwed up. Insert your own phrase _______________ that is unique to you and it’s easy to see just how much extreme thinking keeps you stuck.

This road of healing is full of trial and error; you are going to have setbacks, it’s just inevitable. I say that not paint a grim outlook, but rather for us to set the expectation of knowing that we are going to have tough times, make poor decisions, and question why we are doing all of this. That’s the key right there, realizing that things are not going to be easy, but to give ourselves permission to make mistakes, be okay with not being perfect, and realize that it’s all a learning experience.

It’s a learning experience because you are in uncharted territory, traveling down a road that you’ve never been. Even with the help of a mental health professional, we are still ultimately responsible for our own decisions and our own actions. They can teach us and help guide us; equipping us with every book, video, and coping skill imaginable; but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to struggle at times.

So since we are learning as we go, navigating this healing journey as it comes, we can’t possibly try to feel like we are going to make the right call every single time. As soon as we start thinking that way, Anxiety has us right where it wants us and just like every other trick it uses, it feeds on that and grows.

The more we allow Anxiety to grow stronger, the weaker we feel.

Here’s some examples of how extreme thinking has affected me and some ways that I have used to counteract it:

  • Mindfulness: Oddly enough while this is a great coping strategy for Anxiety, it’s something that I struggled with early on. When I first began exploring mindfulness and being fully present, I would get frustrated with myself if didn’t work perfectly all the time. This led to a lot of self-shame because I wasn’t giving myself time to learn the skill and understand what being fully present really entails. If I didn’t have it down pat right away, I might as well just give up. This black and white, all or nothing thinking nearly caused me to stop trying all together.
    • In reality, the very fact that we are trying to be mindful shows that are willing to accept ourselves in our imperfect state and be okay with that; not having to be anyone but ourselves.
  • Flashbacks: Early on in my healing, I would get flashbacks 5+ times a week. They would usually happen in the morning, and try as I might to either accept them or fight them off, they came continuously. New memories of the abuse, pictures of places that it happened, and the feelings of helplessness fueled self blame and poor self-esteem. After all, if I can’t stop I must be even more broken than I thought, and no chance to live a life free of constant memories.
    • In reality, using skills like mindfulness, examining the flashbacks and how they made me feel, breaking them down and looking at them with Wise Mind, gradually decreased their intensity and frequency over time. Now, I can go months without a single morning flashback.
  • Enforcing Healthy Boundaries: Boundaries are essential to recovery. When I first began putting up healthy boundaries with my mother, and others who were a source of invalidation for various reasons, I went into the “all or nothing” mindset in that, if I couldn’t enforce them perfectly every single time, I was screwed and might as well give up. I was not worth enforcing these boundaries, they weren’t necessary, and maybe things were not all THAT bad.
    • Once I began to celebrate each small victory, in this case each time I enforced a boundary and put myself first, I was able to build on that success and cheer myself on. This gave me confidence for every time after that.

There are countless other ways that extreme thinking can fuel Anxiety, and I encourage you to explore them within yourself. Remember, the key is, Anxiety only has the power that we allow it to have.


Jodi Aman approves this series on Surviving My Past and the weekly Periscope Videos. I encourage you to check out her book and get your copy via her website or on Amazon

Pictures courtesy of Pixabay. Social Media images created by Matt Pappas.


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J M Campos February 27, 2017 - 10:47 am

Thanks Matt for your post! Very relatable. I have totally suffered from this way of thinking. I am getting better at accepting my less than perfect situations but I still find myself beating myself up or falling into pity parties sometimes. Progress is slow. Two “mantras” I have learned really help me to shift my mind set:

“Progress not perfection”
“slow progress is still progress”

needless to say patience is not my strong point but its nice to know that I am not alone in this. God Bless!

Matt March 1, 2017 - 12:16 pm

You are sooooo not alone in this JM 🙂 Slow progress, baby steps, is indeed progress and every step we take towards healing and understanding is so important. I am honored to be on this journey with you and I hope you will always know that I’m on your side and I’m encouraging and cheering you on with each step.

Sheryl Chan February 28, 2017 - 10:12 am

Am guilty as charged on this kind of black and white thinking. Never really linked it back to anxiety but everything’s always linked. Thanks for this post!

Matt March 1, 2017 - 12:13 pm

You are so very welcome Sheryl. I’m glad you found it validating and hopefully encouraging as well. It is indeed true that so much of our Anxiety is linked to our past and that things like Extreme Thinking are all part of Anxiety’s tricks. I hope you continue to enjoy the series and I look forward to your future comments anytime you feel up to sharing. 🙂

Emmi Scott March 1, 2017 - 8:21 am

Matt, thank you for this post. it put into words a lot of things that I struggle with. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your series on anxiety and sharing it with others.

Matt March 1, 2017 - 12:12 pm

Thank you so much Emmi! I appreciate your thoughts and I am so glad that this post was able to validate and encourage you. You are definitely not alone. I look forward to your insight anytime you feel up to leaving a comment. We’re all in this together 🙂


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