All Or Nothing

I really hate it when I repeat myself, but the truth is I do it all the time. As much as I try to stop myself from telling the same stories or writing about the same topics, I catch myself doing it frequently. At least with what I’m about to write here, I realize I’m doing it, and I acknowledge it freely.

I know I have written here about dichotomous reasoning, but when I did it before it was in reference to that also being recognized as “black-and-white thinking.” Things were either good or bad, right or wrong, and there was no in-between. Dichotomous thinking also refers, however, to “all-or-nothing thinking.”

All-or-NothingAll-or-nothing thinking can manifest itself in a number of different ways. For example, there’s perfectionism, where a person might insist on knowing a project will turn out perfect or just not start it at all. My issue with all-or-nothing thinking is a pass/fail mentality. Either what I do or have done is a complete success or it is a total failure. There is no “pretty good” or “acceptable,” and there is no room for the possibility that an outcome I haven’t seen yet could come true. I either succeed or I fail, and that’s that.

I have sort of a big week coming up, and I am trying my darndest to realize that the outcomes of upcoming events are not going to define me or lock me into an irreversible future I won’t be able to escape from. I’m also trying to remember that even if every plan I make this week goes awry, it does not mean that I am a complete failure, and it does not mean that I am doomed forever. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?

I wish it were that easy. The more I come to learn about dichotomous thinking, the more I realize it is one of the more insidious aspects of depression. It terrifies a person, mainly because they constantly feel as if they are on the brink of falling into utter ruin. Anytime I have lost a job or been passed over for an opportunity or gotten a poor grade on an exam or struck out in a baseball game, I felt like my life was over. It obviously wasn’t; I’m still here. But I live in this uncomfortable place most of the time, where it feels as if the knockout blow is just around the corner.

Tomorrow, I will try to kick off a week of keeping dichotomous thinking at bay. It’s already tugging at me, and it almost makes me want to just pass on some things out of sheer terror. I won’t know the results unless I try, though, so I just have to put one foot in front of the other and take things one step at a time. I need to repeat those words over and over and over…

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Oppressing Myself

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about multiculturalism and how being a part of a race or ethnic group other than Caucasian can foster feelings of tremendous inadequacy. These feelings can lead to those in these groups seeking to dull the pain of their experiences through any number of means, including denial, assimilation, and even outright hatred toward their own heritages. Indeed, there is a desperation for some people to not only escape their situations, but also to escape who they are in general.

This is not light reading I have decided to pick up for myself on a whim. It is part of two college classes I am taking this summer. The prevailing opinion I seem to be picking up on so far is that white people – whether they realize it or not – are part of a privileged race. This privilege is not even necessarily evident; it simply exists because white people (white males, in particular) have traditionally been the dominant cultural group in America. As a result, many Caucasians have never experienced the type of prejudice and even hatred directed toward other ethnic and cultural groups. Therefore, they have less of a reason to loathe themselves because of their cultural station.

I’ve been turning this idea over and over in my mind, and I have come across a feeling of self-hatred for myself. It has not come from a sudden realization that I have acted in a racist way toward anyone, although I do not rule out the possibility that I have. I also do not mean that I necessarily feel as if I have been wronged by some other ethnic or social group, although specific incidents where this may have happened certainly spring to mind. If these two variables have been eliminated, then, where exactly does it come from?

Here’s what I have concluded: I have discriminated against myself.oppression-fists

How is this possible, you might ask? Well, it has to do with my depression and my lack of self-esteem. By result of my never believing I was very handsome, talented, skillful, or desirable, I denied myself many opportunities. It’s not that I didn’t want to succeed; it’s just that I didn’t particularly think I was worthy of it. Of course, external factors may have had a role in this as well, but the driving force in my desire to change myself came as much from inside myself as it did outside. Any barb or slight directed at me was not deflected by a sense of self-worth, but was rather taken to heart and assimilated into my personality.

I have reached a sort of crossroads in my life. I am starting to believe I am worth more, but I am concerned that I have spent so much of my life believing I was less that no one will give me a chance to prove otherwise. This is a hopeless feeling, to say the least. It almost describes the tree falling in the woods: If a person changes but no one takes notice, do they really change? Just as the answer to the question about the tree is affirmative, however, so is the one to this question concerning change. A member of an ethnic or cultural group who makes a lifestyle change does it as much for themselves as for the society around them. Perhaps that is the truth I need to focus on.

I Am Death

John James Rambo is dead.

No, I mean, seriously. Rambo died, like, a long time ago.

Most people are only familiar with Sylvester Stallone’s portrayal of the muscular Vietnam vet from the four Rambo FirstBloodRambo_021Pyxurz
movies he starred in, but fewer realize John Rambo actually made his first appearance in a book, David Morrell’s First Blood, which was first published in 1972. The book differs quite dramatically from the First Blood movie that hit theaters in 1982, most notably in its ending. SPOILER ALERT: John Rambo does not walk away in the book; he is shot and killed by Special Forces Captain Sam Trautman. In fact, an alternate ending of the movie has Trautman (played by Richard Crenna) killing Rambo as well.

Of course, it would have been extremely difficult to make Rambo sequels if the title character was deceased, so he did not meet his demise at the end of the first movie. I haven’t seen the fourth movie, Rambo, but I did notice a common theme which emerged from the first three films: John Rambo was not particularly keen on fighting and killing. He could rise to the occasion when he had to and leave an impressive trail of carnage behind him, but he generally tried to keep to himself and avoid violence whenever possible.

Rambo didn’t remove himself from the presence of people because he was shy or was really into meditation or anything like that. He got the heck away from everyone because he knew every time he was around a bunch of people, somebody was going to die. It might be part of a mission or it might be a misunderstanding between he and the locals, but whatever the case, wherever John Rambo went, death came with him.

There was a time in my life that I honestly believed I was cursed. I believed that anyone who came into contact with me was not going to successful at whatever they were trying to accomplish. If I was involved in what you were doing, it was not going to go well. If your life was going pretty well when you met me, you could be pretty sure it wasn’t going to stay that way. I wasn’t even sure where this curse came from; I actually just thought it was me somehow. Wherever I went, bad stuff happened.

I don’t have quite as fatalistic view these days, but there are still definitely times when I remove myself from situations because I believe I would be a detriment. I believe a lot of people do this and don’t even realize it. They become so convinced that nothing good can come out of them that they begin to project that onto other people and situations as well. If a normally healthy person gets sick, it’s because they came into contact with them. If a normally successful person falters, it’s because they drug them down. If someone who is usually happy becomes depressed, it’s because they altered their mood.

Now, Rambo was always forced back into action by Trautman or some other situation which demanded him to re-engage, and probably each one of us who has felt the urge to run away and hide have faced similar moments of truth. With Rambo, though, everyone knew he was going to deliver once he got out there. With us, eh, not so much. We might succeed, but we might also fail spectacularly. When we try to tell someone this, however, they tell us how silly or melodramatic we’re being. They don’t understand that we have totally lost our confidence in ourselves, and that we believe we are carrying death with us wherever we go.

I’m sure the John Rambo who went on to be featured in three more movies after First Blood wished sometimes he could have had the fate of the John Rambo who died at the end of the book. That way, no one else gets hurt because of him. Without him, though, an awful lot of positive things would never happened. That’s what I and everyone else who has ever struggled with this feeling fight so hard to grasp: We really do serve a purpose and function, and we really are capable of doing good in this world.

The John Rambo in us doesn’t have to die. He sure may want to sometimes, though.