Blame and Rigid Thinking: They’re Undermining Your Mental Health

February 21, 2018

If we look for commonalities in all the times we’ve felt blue, we’ll see blame and rigid thinking at the top of the list. We could even say that’s where the lion’s share of our negative thoughts originate.

Rigid thinking means an inability to change your mind when all signs point to a change of mind. It also implies an inability to see a situation from a different point of view. People with rigid thinking see life with blinders on, perceiving only one out of the countless nuances there are.

Their thinking is so rigid that anything that doesn’t meet their expectations gives them anxiety.

As for blame, there have been many studies done on what causes it. In certain Judeo-Christian societies, blame has become a way to process painful things that happen. Granted, there is a positive side to blame, since it forces us to reflect and look at the pain.

On the other hand, it turns negative when the blame doesn’t go away, making us feel like we’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. It keeps us from moving forward and really can be quite poisonous. In addition, when it infects everything, blame is a completely destructive feeling. It’s not useful, it doesn’t help us heal and it won’t inspire us to do anything productive.

Blame and rigid thinking distance us from painful thoughts

These two elements make us “ruminate“, a psychological concept referring to the inability to stop thinking about something. Excessive rumination has been associated with psychotic disorders, neuroticism, eating disorders, and more.

There’s a logical connection: if we’re unable to see things through a different lens and if all our preconceived ideas don’t fit with the life we’re actually living, we’re going to think that we’re letting ourselves down. We would do a lot of thinking but not solve anything. In essence, we’d be punishing ourselves mentally.

In addition, rigid thinking makes us feel like we’re constantly messing up because we’re not conforming to the ideas in our mind. Thus, we feel guilty. Frenetic, anxious, useless overthinking is a root cause of both of these elements.

A Victorian woman with winged masks.

How do I know if rigid thinking and blame are interfering in my life?

In order understand how these two elements are linked to your mental health, we’ll give you an example.

Picture a woman who can’t get one certain idea out of her mind because she’s been told it over and over: that when she becomes a mother she will be greatly rewarded in her circle of friends. Also, her brain is constantly thinking about one thing: that the birth of her daughter will be happy and amazing, free of any problems or doubt.

The ideas in her mind about motherhood are rigid, inflexible and utopian. She thinks, “Motherhood is beautiful because it’s instinctive and I’ll do it well because it’s beautiful and instinctive.” She sees it as the only thing that will make her happy. In her mind, having doubts about it is unacceptable and dangerous to her mental health.

Rigid thinking and unmet expectations

But after going through pregnancy, childbirth and life after childbirth, this woman may be upset. Her pregnancy was uncomfortable and painful. She’s not as happy as she thought she would be. And birth and postpartum aren’t as rewarding an experience as she thought they would be. So a deep feeling of existential emptiness takes over, completely opposite to her idealistic expectations.

If her rigid thinking doesn’t allow for other thoughts that would actually make her feel better, like, “these are hormonal changes” or “it’s normal to feel ‘strange’ after having a baby,” she can come to only one conclusion: “I am a bad mother for not being happy, and I am to blame for it.”

Then, she’ll do one of two things. Option one: she’ll keep punishing herself for not feeling what she should feel. Option two: she’ll loosen her rigid thinking to understand that motherhood is a complicated experience but that doesn’t mean it’s not amazing.

She needs to find room for those painful feelings and learn how to manage them. After all, they’re just as important as the happiness she feels. To do this, she needs to battle not the feelings she thinks she shouldn’t have, but rather her feelings of blame.

An upset, worried woman due to rigid thinking.

How to battle blame and rigid thinking

There are different ways to deal with these two aspects, ranging from theoretical to very practical. Here are a few of them:

  • It’s time to relax. This doesn’t mean lying in bed for hours on end doing nothing. Actually, having a calm mind means practicing mindfulness. Learn about what mindfulness is; you can start by reading things like this article about Eckhar Tolle.
  • Practice what you have learned. It’s not easy to start practicing mindfulness so help yourself out. Find easy, pleasant things, like going for a walk, painting or reading. If you start practicing mindfulness in these contexts, you will gradually be able to apply it in others, like when you’re in the office processing orders, or teaching a class in front of 20 children.
  • Get professional help. It’s important to work on your rigid, mistaken ideals. A cognitive orientation psychologist is someone who specializes in helping you strip down everything making you suffer unnecessarily. They’ll also help you build and deepen ideals you have that are good for you. They won’t brainwash you; they’re there to give you the help you are looking for.
  • Alter your beliefs. We can’t change our beliefs without having previously relieved some tension. If you’re already feeling more peace, you need to adapt your ideals. This means: figuring out which ways of thinking and acting are keeping you from peace.
  • Make progressive changes. Telling yourself that you’ll be less strict, more easy-going, and more open to new perspectives on life is a very encouraging attitude to have. However, it’s always better to work on more specific, concrete goals.
  • The work you put in will have results even better than you imagined. When you make a mistake, you feel anxious, confused or scared. There’s nothing wrong in asking yourself questions and working on your mind. Quite the opposite: the solid foundation will remain, the rest will crumble, and you’ll have the chance to build other, more flexible thinking patterns.

So take the leap and dig deep; you’ll be glad you did. If you do, you’ll see it in your relationships and all parts of your life. Are you ready?