Last week I wrote about the cognitive distortion called catastrophizing, and this week I would like to write about another many struggle with, including me. It’s called All-Or-Nothing Thinking. It is seeing your personal qualities such as your success or mistakes in black and white. Like if a student in school got two questions on a test wrong, that student would automatically see himself or herself as a failure. The student wouldn’t be able to celebrate his or her got a passing grade. Instead, the person would only see the situation in extreme black and white or in a negative viewpoint.

I developed all-or-nothing thinking in high school. In school I became obsessed with passing and proving to everyone I wasn’t stupid. I pushed myself to succeed at all costs. I spent hours finding ways around my learning disability to study for tests. I had a hard time remembering what I read, I was a slow reader, and I couldn’t keep up with the notes in class. So, I had to make notes from my textbook and put them on index cards. I read them over and over for hours to remember them. I had to pass all my classes no matter what. A low grade was unacceptable to me.

If I didn’t get an A on a test, I saw myself as a failure. I pushed myself hard. I gave up time with my family and had fits of anger when I couldn’t remember things well enough. If I didn’t pass with high grades, then everyone would be right about me. I would be the stupid, loser they all said I was.

This type of thinking followed me into my adult years. I had my future planned when I started college. I was going attend a two-year college to get a degree in journalism, then go on to a four-year college and become a journalist. College was much harder than I thought. Because of my disability, I couldn’t meet the requirements for a journalism degree and instead I got a humanities degree. Then mental illness and my disability made completing college difficult. It took me four years to graduate from a two-year college. My plans were destroyed.

For years I viewed myself as a failure for not being able to go on to a four-year college. I became a cashier, not a journalist. I was a worthless loser who proved that I was good for nothing. I didn’t succeed at my dreams. I let myself down. I dwelled on what I didn’t accomplish instead of what I did succeed at.

For years and even now I tell people I have a journalism degree when I have a humanities degree. I’m ashamed of myself for not getting the degree I wanted. A humanities degree is a basic degree that doesn’t really amount to much. I wasn’t good enough to get a journalism degree. I failed. I was and am a loser. I can’t admit to peoples’ faces that I am a worthless failure. If I tell people the truth, they will look down on me like they did in school. I’m just a cashier not a journalist like I planned.

Repeatedly I tell people I have a journalism degree and I am working as a cashier because I couldn’t get a job as a journalist. I couldn’t see past what I couldn’t do to what I have done. Right now, while I write this, I see myself in another light. For so long I have viewed my life as black and white, but now there is color in my life.

I didn’t fail when I got a humanities degree and became a cashier. I worked around my learning disability to be a cashier, I have written a book, I have a small woodburning business, and I have kept the same job for 26 years despite many illnesses. I didn’t get the degree I wanted, but I continued to pursue my writing. I didn’t go on to a four-year college, but I have touched many lives as a cashier. I have customers who have been coming to me for years. I advocate against bullying and for mental illness awareness through my writing. For so long I felt I had failed when I have succeeded.

It’s so easy to strive for perfection and when you don’t quite make it you look at yourself as a failure. It’s hard to see the small things we do in our lives as successes. We want to be on top, but often the best we have done is distorted into all-or-nothing thinking. We fail to see and celebrate the small accomplishments we make in our life. Instead, we see ourselves as losers when we are winners. All-or-nothing thinking clouds our minds and keeps us from celebrating the positive.

When you think you have failed or are a loser, take another look at the situation. Even though you didn’t get that promotion, look at how far you have come to get to where you are now, and celebrate that. Look for the positive. Write it down and celebrate it. Rejoice that you got a B on a test instead of seeing yourself as a failure. Be proud of that speech you gave, even though you stumbled over a few words. Stand with pride for the job you are working even though it’s not the one you wanted.

I’m standing in the light of recovery admitting I have a humanities degree and rejoicing in the success I am today.


  1. You are so brave! and I am sure that many journalists dreamed of writing a book but never have – yet you have succeeded where they failed… There are so many people with poetry or creative writing degrees who have never written or published any of their work. They have nothing on you!! So I’m standing off to the side and applauding your courage and dedication in getting a humanities degree!


    • Murisopsis,
      Thank you so much for the appluase. It means a lot. I now know I am a success. It took me a while to see it, but I now see it.


  2. Hi Aimee,
    Every week you surprise me! I love that you can admit how far you’ve come to accept yourself. Seeing yourself through that cloudy lens is like looking through life with sight loss. You miss so much that is right there. You have to FEEL i t. Only you have to feel it on the INSIDE, even though others clearly see your success on the OUTSIDE. We are each gifted in different ways and the stability you’ve achieved now in recovery is incredible. I’m so sad for the negative view you believed about yourself earlier but I’m thrilled you can see what you’ve accomplished over the years!
    You are a-mazing, girl! Don’t every forget ALL you have succeeded at!!!


    • Amy,
      Thank you so much. Your comment touches me deeply. Like sight loss mental illness blinds us from seeing things right in front of me. I’m now very proud of what I have accomplished and will continue to accomplish. Thank you my dear friend.


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