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Strategies for Black or White Thinking

Black or white thinking is a thought process that occurs when we go from one extreme to another. We fail to see the middle, or grey area, rather we bounce from one extreme (white) to the other (black). This way of thinking is actually a defense mechanism, designed to protect us from discomfort. Maybe we view people as fitting into two categories, a “good” guy or a “bad” guy. If a person does something that's not within the good guy persona we've created, they become a "bad" guy. We lose sight of the fleeting moments and the humanity of people and focus our beliefs on the concept of all or nothing. If he did that, he must be bad right?

You're either with me or against me. All in or all out. Hell yes or hell no. Always or never. This way of thinking lacks the realization that not every person, decision, and action fit into one of two categories. Not everything is extreme, though we believe it has to be based on our thought process. With black or white thinking, all actions are either right or wrong. We leave no room for explanation, which could result in poor relationships, shame and low self-esteem. We view ourselves and others as having to fit into one of those categories, often resulting in being wrong much of the time because it's impossible to be right all the time. Take for example, the concepts of :good" and "bad." Without our awareness, these judgements can cause significant stress. If we believe an emotion is good or bad, we will constantly try running from the bad and reaching for the good. This is like an addict trying to chase the high. It doesn't work because it's not realistic. All emotions are important, that's why we feel them. Each emotion serves a purpose. They offer us messages and lessons, if we are willing to pay a little attention. If we only strive for joy, we may miss out on the beauty and lesson that sadness has to offer. If we view anger as bad, we may shame ourselves when we feel mad, even though it's natural to feel this way. We fight nature when we push away certain feelings, labeling them as “bad.” Black and white thinking can result in poor relationships due to our insistence that there is only one way, my way, the right way, of viewing life. Most people don't enjoy spending time with these type of thinkers because it can be shaming and unpleasant. So how do we stop?

First, we have to know what we're doing. We can invite consciousness into our thoughts and increase awareness of our thought processes. Ask yourself: How often do you think with extremes? Set up a reminder on your phone to remind yourself to be mindful of your thoughts. We can increase our awareness by catching ourselves when we use words such as good, bad, always, never, etc (more examples ⬆️) It takes practice if we aren't used to working the mindfulness muscle, but with time, it will become stronger. Realize that black and white thinking is typically run by emotion, thus stepping back to question it takes rational presence. Set the intention to be mindful. Breathe. Pause. Be aware. (Be patient).

  • Challenge

Next, we can challenge our thoughts by asking if they are true. This is simple but can be difficult. For example, if I am arguing with my husband and I say the words “ you never help out around the house,” I challenge this by asking myself, “is it true that he never helps out?” Probably not. In the moment, I'm just feeling angry and trying to make a point, but it's not true. I challenged my accusation and black or white thinking to realize that it is not in fact accurate, it was just based on my frustration.