Black and white thinking (also dichotomous thinking) is our tendency to look at the world in terms of “all or nothing.” We either find things to be “good” or “bad,” “beautiful” or “ugly,” “easy” or “hard,” “happy” or “sad.”
Black and white thinking might feel reassuring, at least in the beginning, but when pursuing this thinking we don’t acknowledge all the grey areas in life. The things we can’t fit into a box. Life’s paradoxes. Unknowns. The stuff that’s difficult to put into words. Instead, this illusion that we have all the answers to life when we really don’t, it limits possibilities and holds us back. And when we engage in this type of thinking, it can actually cause a lot of unnecessary unhappiness and problems in our life. It will ruin
important relationships and it will, eventually, isolate us.
Sometimes new information and new experiences tell us we need to adjust those lines we draw. And without this open-mindedness, we will always be trapped within those same limitations.
Thus, black-and-white thinking is a ‘cognitive distortion’: one of the many biases that can obscure our ability to judge and make good decisions. And when we erase possible choices, it becomes easy to feel angry or impotent, or maybe both at the same time.
This rigid way of thinking precludes creative solutions. The judgments are
unquestionable and the right path is one and only one, there is no room for the exploration of any new or better alternative. This type of thinking inhibits problem solving and makes life constricting, which may further exacerbate depression. What is wrong will become irreparable, what is ugly will become monstrous, what is scary will become terrifying, what is negative will become catastrophic.
There are a number of techniques which may help reduce and, eventually, eliminate black and white thinking:
Re-Frame Your Thoughts: try to give yourself the luxury of a few moments of time to take a deep breath and gently challenge your negative thoughts, actions or words.
Say goodbye to ‘never’ and ‘every’ and absolutistic definitions.
Is there evidence that supports my thoughts?
Am I considering all angles or am I leaving things out?
Does everyone else see it this way?
You CAN start to realize when you are giving-in to black and white thinking, and then make the choice to avoid those extreme cognitions in favor of healthier ones.
Give yourself time and lots of practice identifying and eliminating negative self-talk and seek support from others who can help or talk to a professional and enjoy the rich spectrum of the opportunities that life presents to you.
Counsellor, Psychotherapist & Transactional Analyst