March 17, 2019
Have you ever found yourself thinking things like I’ll never be good enough, I’m a terrible person, or she’s so perfect? Let’s be honest; we’ve all thought something at least similar to one of these at some point in our lives. For some, we may think like this periodically, but for others, this type of thinking happens daily or even constantly, and there’s a name for it: black and white thinking.
The technical, psychological term for black and white thinking is dichotomous thinking, or “splitting”. Essentially, this type of thinking is when someone swings between two extremes. Things are either one way or the other without any middle ground. This means that things are either good or bad, perfect or a complete disaster, success or failure, possible or impossible, etc.
The idea of thinking in such extremes may cause you to believe that such a practice is rare. While extreme black and white thinking can be less common, general black and white thinking isn’t. In fact, black and white thoughts can often be quite subtle and seem like regular thoughts. Here are just a few examples of what black and white thinking looks like:
While many people may be able to see the variances in how life goes, those who practice black and white thinking often exasperate themselves and their mental health. In fact, black and white thinking is often linked to cases of depression and anxiety. In extreme cases, it can even be classified as Borderline Personality Disorder. Psychologists say that black and white thinking can lead to several negative behaviors, including:
Black and white thinking can be destructive to ourselves and our relationships with others. It can cause us to fail to experience the richness that should come from living simply because we refuse to see other perspectives in a given situation. When we start thinking that things should be one way or the other, but have them turn out differently, work and relationships and life in general can seem a million times harder. We are constantly thrown through ups and downs, which makes like just feel exhausting. Black and white thinking often leads to people thinking that life is going the way we want it to, or all hope is lost.
If you take a good, hard look at life, you’ll see that things aren’t quite so black and white. Instead, it is made up of a million different shades of gray. And by that, we mean that each situation has various perspectives, outcomes, and lessons. Life does not happen in absolutes, and because of that, thinking in absolutes can be detrimental.
The best thing you can do to overcome black and white thinking is to change your thought process to what’s called dialectical thinking, rainbow thinking, or thinking in shades of gray. Essentially, this type of thinking helps you practice balanced thinking, recognizing that there are different nuances and perspectives in each situation…and being okay with it. Instead of having two extremes, there are numerous options to choose from, and all have value.
Now, changing your way of thinking is easier said than done. But, it is possible. Here are just some of the steps that psychologists recommend doing to start thinking in a more rainbow-like way:
If you are striving to practice more mindful and rainbow thinking, it can be difficult to know if you’re on the right track. To give you an idea, here are some examples of what rainbow thinking looks like:
There are so many more ways that you can see your progress towards more rainbow thinking, but the biggest thing is that you take time to recognize your progress. Too often we forget that we are a work in progress, that we – and everyone else – are not perfect, and that can get us right back into the slump of black and white thinking.
Life is a rainbow, full of colorful and varying perspectives and lessons. Having the ability to recognize such diversity in life makes it more enjoyable and relationships more meaningful. So, the next time you find yourself practicing black and white thinking, try finding the middle ground and other perspectives. Once you find it, plant your fee there, and experience all that life has to offer.
“Black and White Thinking.” Practicing Mindfulness. http://www.practicingmindfulness.com/black-and-white-thinking/
“Black-and-White vs. Rainbow Thinking.” Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue. 11 December 2013. https://www.edcatalogue.com/black-and-white-vs-rainbow-thinking/
Gattuso, Reina. “5 Ways Black and White Thinking Poisons Your Perspective.” Talk Space. 31 July 2018. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/black-white-thinking-ways-poisons-your-perspective/
Hurst, Katherine. “How To Stop Black And White Thinking (Dichotomous Reasoning).” The Law of Attraction. http://www.thelawofattraction.com/dichotomous-reasoning/
Williams, Bryan. “Black and White Thinking doesn’t Work in a Gray World.” Huffington Post. 02 October 2016. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/byron-williams/black-and-white-thinking-_b_30747.html
Woods, Rachel Fintzy, MA, LMFT. “How to Stop Black-and-White Thinking.” Psych Central. 31 May 2018. https://blogs.psychcentral.com/cultivating-contentment/2018/05/how-to-stop-black-and-white-thinking/