Finding Our Way Out of Depressive Thoughts: All or Nothing

I have attended over 200 depression support group meetings and more than 300 not so designated. Based on my observations alone, the depressive thoughts discussed in this 10-part series (of which this is the last) help to lead many people into darker moods.  

One of the most wide-sweeping is all-or-nothing. This extreme look at life holds us in a type of chaos even while we grasp for control. When do people and circumstances align to fit our ideal plans? Ever?  Yet we grow flustered when our expectations are unmet. 


Today’s mood will last forever. No one (or everyone) is trustworthy. It is bad (or fine) to change my mind, period. “Those people” are all the same. No other opinion is needed. Strive for perfection each day or it’s game over. Medication is enough; talk therapy is a waste of time (or vice versa). People always let me down.

We see this all-or-nothing influence in each of our previous topics. Notice the extreme language.  Self-Doubt:  I have no common sense; Hopelessness: Nothing will change; Toxic Shame: I cannot face people/myself; Blame: All my struggles are someone else’s fault; Jealousy and Envy: Happiness is impossible unless I have what others have; Dependency: This person/substance is absolutely necessary for me to function; Self-loathing: I am never good enough; Suicidal Ideation: My life is over; Anxious Isolation: Social interaction is not an option.  

There are Middles

Few situations are either-or. Throughout a lifetime, our decisions and understanding of the world fall into gray areas far more often than in black or white. As one therapist repeated to me for years, “There are middles!”

Psalm 119:96 (NIV) briefly summarizes this point:  “To all perfection, I see a limit…”

These middles are where compromise and flexibility dwell. They are also home to hope, forgiveness, and humility.  Unless we take the time to look for these middles, we are blinded to options and our minds remain closed.

Case in point  

William* was turned down when he applied to work on the Empire State Building project in 1931. He was too young, and construction was almost complete. All-or-nothing thinking told him it was useless to try again for his dream of working on tall buildings. 

His years were filled with grumbling and discontent. If William had changed his “useless” to “possible,” he may have experienced a more triumphant life. 

Doable priceless trade-offs

Permanent change takes practice and brings multiple rewards. These belief trade-offs change our worldview for the better. Trade:

  • should for could or it’s an option
  • can’t for it is difficult 
  • never for unlikely; always for often
  • I’m useless for I do a few positive things
  • I’ll tough it out for I’m fragile now
  • Beware giant leaps like hopeless to hopeful. Maintain manageable goals. Instead, change hopeless to it is challenging

I believe the premise in 1 Corinthians 13:12 which says, “…All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

“Then” is our future in heaven if we give our lives to Jesus. By accepting the fact that only God understands what is permanent and necessary,  we can humbly admit not knowing enough to decide extremes on our own merit.

Our thoughts can change from that’s all there is to it to there’s room for growth.

Proverbs 11:9 With their words, the godless destroy their friends,
but knowledge will rescue the righteous.

*Name and other identifying factors are changed

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