WHAT IS BLACK & WHITE THINKING?
“My sister is beautiful, and I’m ugly in comparison.”, “I’m brilliant in this area of my life and a failure in this area.”, “My husband has broken me or is the best thing that has ever happened to me”. My wife loves me so much, she doesn’t care about me at all.
Black and white thinking can be described as a thought pattern that makes people think in absolutes, or extremes. The American Psychological Association categorises this kind of polarized thinking as a cognitive distortion that obstructs the way we see the world for what it usually is: complex, uncertain and ever-changing.
HOW BLACK AND WHITE THINKING ALSO THE SAME AS ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING AFFECTS YOUR LIFE (INDIVIDUAL)
You matybe thinking why is this seemingly simple act of thinking diagnosed as a cognitive distortion. For this we need to understand how thought, an internal activity, is connected to behaviour, an outward activity. The way we think about something has an effect on how we then feel about it.
- Thoughts are ideas or opinions produced when we think.
- Feelings are a state of emotion, or a reaction.
- As humans, we are hardwired with thoughts and feelings.
- And connected to our thoughts and feelings are behaviours!
- Our thoughts and feelings influence our behaviours, choices, and ultimately, outcomes.
Therefore if you think in black and white terms, all or nothing ways – it is going to influence your feelings and behavior and therefore your experiences and results!
Thinking of the world in terms of absolutes and may affect various parts of your life, especially areas like:
- Your relationships: NEW AUDIO HERE
- In relationships black and white thinking can cause a person to make rash decisions without thinking about the consequences. All or nothing thinking in a partner may look like breaking up a relationship, avoiding genuine resolution to issues, putting people into boxes. Labeling you or your behavior, Catastrophising situations.
I also see it where someone believes their partner loves them or doesn’t care for them at all, where they see their partner as the enemy trying to hurt them or loving them and they can flip one seeing them one way to the other.
- Your learning: For the longest time, scholastic grading has been divided into pass or fail, which naturally contributes to a success or failure mindset. One might feel they are bad at math or art or writing, and that alone will stop them from trying harder. On the flipside, with the progress of society in general, a growth mindset is now making waves, as it encourages students to acknowledge and choose the path of consistent progress towards eventual mastery.
- Your diet, health and well being: Black and white thinking can lead people to view certain items of food as good or bad, view their own bodies as perfect or revolting, and eat in binge or starve cycles. Sadly I suffered a lot with this in my past and it’s something many people suffer with dieting or going crazy, drinking loads or on a detox. Gym and working out daily or nothing for weeks or months.
- Your finances Black and white thinking in a job cause someone to quit or go with attitude towards their boss. Decide they have no money or plenty of money and cause pain for themselves.
WHAT CAUSES BLACK AND WHITE THINKING/BLACK AND WHITE THINKING AND MENTAL HEALTH
“Always,” “nothing,” or “completely,” often appears in the thought processes of individuals diagnosed with eating disorder (ED) and affective disorders such as borderline personality disorder. Understanding how people suffering from these disorders think, not just what they think, is an area of interest for cognitive psychologists.
While it’s normal to experience black and white thinking sometimes in life, it could be a sign of something more serious if it becomes persistent. All or nothing thinking is commonly associated with these conditions:
Narcissism is an exaggerated, excessive interest in oneself. Black and white thinking can be a symptom of this personality disorder. People who have it will often find it challenging to get help because they quickly dismiss doctors and therapists.
When people have anxiety and depression, it’s common for them to think in absolutes. More extreme emotions can cause black and white thinking to become worse.
Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that causes people to experience intense feelings of anger, anxiety, and depression. They often will have symptoms of poor impulse control and frequently display black and white thinking.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s common for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder to think in absolutes because it gives them a sense of control and comfort. This can lead to a lot of rigidity which makes it hard to change.
Unfortunately, there isn’t enough conclusive evidence to state that black and white thinking is inherited. However, it has been linked to childhood or adult trauma. Researchers believe upon experiencing trauma, we possibly develop black and white thinking patterns as a method to cope, or to try and protect ourselves from similar pain in the future.
HOW IT CAN SABOTAGE RELATIONSHIPS (interpersonal)
Take, for example a recent couple I worked with, Kala and her fiancé Adam. Kala is frustrated with Adam because “he never listens. She is not important to him.” In Kala’s unrealistic, all-or-
nothing vision of the relationship, Adam never listens to her. Yet Adam would say that he is always ready, willing, and keen to listen to her and sometimes he is busy or after an hour call needs to attend to work emails or errands but doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to listen to what she has to say. When expectations are not met—when Adam falls asleep on the couch or he can’t focus 100% because he is tired and run down, Kala threatens to end the relationship. This was a nightmare for Kala and Adam. Adam asked her to stop threatening the relationship or he couldn’t take it any more. So Kala booked the breakthrough intensive program with me to change her all or nothing thinking/ black and white thinking. In the process I discovered Kala was ignored by her father growing up, she felt unimportant and like she didn’t matter compared to her brother. It was clear that she was triggered by in any situation where she felt over looked, disregarded or couldn’t be heard. Both at school, in the work place and in her romantic relationships she could easily feel hurt, angry and annoyed – ready to walk out or protest. She took it as a sign, I’m not valued or respected and therefore to protect myself I need to leave this situation. In order to help her we needed to break this pattern and cycle of negative thinking.
If you can resonate with black and white / all or nothing thinking then I will share a few things to look out for and how it can affect a person’s love life.
1, If you are a black and white thinker, you may view your partner in an entirely negative light only when they make a mistake or a disagreement takes place. This can lead to hurt feelings on both sides, which can harm the relationship. You may judge or label them quickly like: there abusive, a narcissist, a control freak, have OCD etc. I believe labels are helpful only for awareness and solution purposes. Putting people into boxes traps them and you if you are in a relationship with them, with the right help, all behaviours can be changed.
Seeing your partner in a negative way over time can cause the two of you to grow apart and even lead you to resent your partner so much that the relationship fails. It’s not big mistakes that lead to divorce, I help thousands of couples a year to save their marriage after betrayal it’s the negative habitual thinking that breaks down a marriage, which is why it is essential to clear out the negative destructive resentful thoughts for inner peace and relationship happiness.
- When you think in black and white terms, you may begin to view yourself negatively because you will not forgive yourself for mistakes. You may either see yourself as all good or all bad. When you lose your own confidence, this can be off putting to your partner. It also is not good for you to succeed in any area of life. Do take action to work on your self-esteem if you find your thoughts spiraling into unhelpful thought patterns.
- You’ll set unreasonable goals for yourself. Because black and white thinkers can be highly perfectionistic, they expect their partners to meet all of their requirements and comply. Are you expecting your romance, sex life, relationship to be perfect all the time. How about yourself. In one of my first serious relationships I tried for example to be the perfect girlfriend, always easy going, understanding but hurt myself as I was not truly expressing my real needs.
- Compromise will not be an option. Black and white thinkers have a hard time reconciling because they see the world as “all or nothing.” This means that if you and your partner have a disagreement, you may fail to meet their demands or preferences because you are so intent on having things your way.
- Your spouse may believe they are being misunderstood. Another effect of black-and-white thinking in relationships is that it might make it difficult to see your partner’s perspective. They may believe that you never understand their point of view or that you dismiss their feelings, resulting in continual conflict and stress in the relationship.
- Black and white thinking can lead you to label the relationship as a failure after one disagreement or one bad day. Or as being incompatible, not right for each other. This could lead you to impulsively end the relationship when it otherwise would have gone well if you had learned to work through conflict.
A common mistake I see many people make is to end a relationship to go and work on themselves first, right? They say maybe I am not ready, maybe I need to fix myself which is not a bad thing but to end a relationship to do that can be. Because it’s only when we are in a relationship that we grow the most.
- You may not be able to forgive. Having a successful relationship requires you to see your partner as a human who will make mistakes from time to time. When you are a dichotomous thinker, it can be difficult to forgive mistakes because you will begin to view your partner as inherently flawed for making a mistake in the first place. This lack of forgiveness does not make for a healthy relationship. I used to end relationships very quickly because of this it’s so important to forgive, to let go – get my free meditation on my website to help you do that.
8. Conflict resolution will be difficult. Seeing the world in black and white makes it challenging to resolve conflict. You may be so convinced that your viewpoint is the only correct option that you are unwilling to consider your partner’s point of view in order to move past the conflict and arrive at a mutual understanding.
TIPS TO ERADICATE BLACK & WHITE THINKING
- Pay Attention to your Words
Words have the power to alter your thinking! Ditch words like all, always, never, nothing, ever, everything, and should. When these words are in the mix, some black-and-white thinking is probably going on!
More optimal words: better, worse, some, sometimes, often, and frequently. When making decisions it can be good practice to say – I am thinking XYZ
- Look for the Good in Everything
Focusing and zooming in on the one negative aspect of a situation rather than on the seven positive facets. Challenge yourself to find the good; make it a habit. People and situations are rarely all good or all bad.
- Create more Alternatives
Train yourself to explore the gray! What are other possible explanations for someone’s response? What are other innovative solutions?
- Question Your Assumptions
It takes a healthy amount of self-awareness to notice when you’re making assumptions! It also entails the ability to constructively confront those assumptions. Many assumptions are so firmly embedded that you aren’t even aware of them! When this happens, asking to see the assumptions in your daily affirmations, meditations or prayers can help. Having a coach to highlight them to you, can also be really beneficial! You can challenge your assumptions once you’ve identified them.
For example one couple were stuck because Sara kept making assumptions and her husband Hamid was frustrated at her judgmental conclusions. For example because they weren’t having sex as much Sara had assumed one Hamid is not a sexual person, two he had body issues and this caused their sex life to dwindle. 2 dangerous assumptions that had no basis in reality because she never asked him just labeled it as his problem and his fault and that was the issue. In our joint session when Hamid was asked to discuss on the sex he said the only reason they weren’t having sex was because Sara was always on her phone running her two businesses, even at the dinner table she was texting. 2 nights she was out a week, one night after dinner she had a massage lady come over, another night had her nails done, so in reality she was not giving enough time in the relationship for the couple time to happen. She admitted this was all true, never thought of it before. So it’s important in relationships to ask the person, don’t assume anything ask your partner in a loving not judgmental way.
- Practice Empathy
People who think in black-and-white terms prefer to think the worst of others or see them as wonderful. Empathy permits you to make allowances for others. You never know what others are going through or what may be driving their actions, which have nothing to do with you. Always be gentle to yourself and others.
- Mix It Up
Being rigid is one of the characteristics of all-or-nothing thinking. Encourage yourself to occasionally deviate from the standard by changing your routine or how you do things. It will make you more open to new ways of thinking and accomplishing more essential things as they emerge. For example if you are an all or nothing eater, drinker, worker, exerciser, saver aim for balance. Great a balanced plan. I love to help with this in my breakthrough intensive programs for one, it’s so great when couples both do the individual work with me and then together, such a buzz of happiness, peace and freedom flowing after.
If you have any questions for me do join my facebook group, I’d absolutely love to connect with you in there J If you liked the show today do give it a rating or review, I’d be so grateful as helps it stay more visible from my heart to yours always Nicola