We all see the world in black and white sometimes. For example, we close our eyes to the faults of our loved ones or constantly blame ourselves for a small mistake. The brain’s tendency to interpret the world in black and white has a profound effect on our lives and relationships. Fortunately, we can put aside black and white thinking and try to see the world as gray. In the following, we will explain what black and white thinking is, what harms it does to us, and how we can get rid of this type of thinking.
What is black thinking?
Have you ever said to yourself “I am the best” or “I am the worst”? When someone praises you, you say in your heart that he is amazing, and when he criticizes you, you think he is a terrible person. All or nothing thinking, splitting, and dichotomous thinking are other letters of black and white thinking in psychology. This thinking is a special kind of Cognitive distortion Which causes us to have an extreme mentality. In its most severe form, fragmentation can be a sign of mental illness borderline personality disorder.
The reason for using the term “black and white” is to indicate the bipolar nature of this thinking and the existence of two opposing points without considering the classification between them. In black-and-white thinking, complex realities are simplified into two opposite poles, and one sees one side of the spectrum as perfectly good and the other as utterly bad, leaving out all other perspectives.
The difference between people with mental disorders depends on the extent and degree of the disorder, and the same is true of black and white thinking. We all have this kind of thinking sometimes, but some of us always think bipolar or have very black and white views on very important issues. Bipolar thinking is often involved in important life problems.
Injuries to black thinking
Simplifying everything into simple, dual combinations deprives us of the nuances and complexities that enrich life and relationships. This thinking affects our judgment and makes it impossible for us to see the facts. In addition, bipolar language reinforces bipolar thinking, and bipolar thinking can negatively affect how we feel. For example, if we are anxious, the use of extreme words magnifies our thoughts and feelings and makes us more anxious. In the following, we have examined some of the harms of black and white thinking in more detail.
1. It negatively affects our relationships
Is your spouse the most amazing person on earth and suddenly becomes the worst person? Well, that means that when your spouse does something that you do not think is good, you put him or her in the wrong half. Black and white thinking can affect your emotional relationship with each other and prevent a deeper connection based on accepting each other’s positives and negatives.
This kind of thinking in family relationships and friendships also destroys intimacy and trust. When you see your loved ones, good or bad, you can no longer see them as they are, ordinary people who may sometimes make mistakes.
۲. They hurt our perception of ourselves
Are we bad or good? In fact, most of us are somewhere between the two and have both good and bad qualities. For example, we may be funny, creative and smart, but we do not do our work on time. When thinking is black and white, you either criticize yourself too much or you do not see your flaws. Negative thinking makes us think we are not good at anything, and it makes us feel hopeless and depressed.
Perfectionism is another cognitive distortion that gives rise to black and white thinking. Perfectionists in areas such as work and education accept only two levels of performance: excellent and awful. As a result, any flaw in their work, no matter how small, puts their performance in the awful category. In eating disorders, the person recognizes only two types of organs: beautiful and ugly. As a result, any defect in her body, no matter how small, means that she is not beautiful!
3. It prevents us from succeeding
Work, like all aspects of life, has its ups and downs, and many days are somewhere between the two. If we look black and white, we can easily magnify any failure and have unrealistic expectations of any success.
Bipolar thinking causes us to be discouraged by any bad event. For example, you love your job, and the arrival of a new partnership, which you think is terrible, makes you hate your job and think that the only solution is to quit your job.
Black and white thinking can make us sensitive to the opinions of others and difficult to accept their criticism, and thus hinder our growth and development. We can grow when we accept that our professional life is as complex as any other aspect of our lives and can have both positive and negative points.
Ways to deal with black and white thinking
The first step in dealing with bipolar thinking is to accept it. Consciously examining our thoughts and doubting extremist thoughts can be effective. To get rid of bipolar thinking, we have to turn to gray thinking. Gray thinking teaches us to use the wide range between black and white. Here are some helpful exercises to help identify black-and-white cognitive distortions and transitions to gray thinking.
1. Practice mindfulness
We have to face our thoughts without judgment. Regularly practicing mindfulness makes us more sensitive to our thoughts and feelings and more easily able to overcome problems. When we try to get rid of cognitive distortions, they come back with power. Mindfulness helps us to overcome our thoughts without getting involved.
۲. Make a list of possibilities
Black and white thinking usually comes from not paying attention to possibilities. So one way to counter this thinking is to list all the possibilities. For example, you may have arranged to go to the cinema with a friend on the weekend, and he canceled the show at the last minute. “She does not want to be with me this weekend,” says someone with a black look. But there are other possibilities, including:
- Is sick;
- Something happened to him at the last moment;
- A family member came to see him.
The best advantage of making this list is that you can shift the focus from one person to another. Usually in black and white thinking we imagine the worst possible situation. So one way to challenge this thinking is to imagine “the best possible state.”
3. Trying to understand reality
When black-and-white thinking has influenced your judgment, ask questions from the other person to see if you are right. Ask questions in a way that does not make him defensive. For example, when you have a problem with one of your co-workers, do not say, “Do you hate me?” Or “Why so immoral?” You may ask, “Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when I talk to you. “Are you upset with me?”
Of course, you can not control the other person and may be defensive or may not answer your questions correctly, but by asking these questions you may find out what caused his behavior and find a way to improve your relationship.
Of course, you can not always understand the reason for the behavior of others, because you only have control over your own behavior. But if the other person is willing to listen, cooperate, and try to reach a solution, asking a question can be helpful.
4. Use gray words instead of black words
Instead of “always” and “never”, say “sometimes” and instead of “all” or “nothing”, say “somewhat” or “more or less”.
Another trick is to correct the way we express our thoughts and feelings. Instead of saying “he’s a disaster”, we should say “I feel he’s a disaster” or instead of saying “he’s great” we should say “I think he’s great”. When you change “this… is” to “I have this thought / feeling that…”, you accept what is real, that is, the thought or feeling.
5. Pay attention to the pros and cons
This method helps you identify your weaknesses and strengths by identifying specifics instead of vague black and white perspectives. For example, when you have trouble with math at university, black-and-white thinking says, “I should not have come to university at all.” But if you look at the pros and cons, you say, “I have a problem with math, but I got a good grade in English,” or when you have a problem with your coworker, you say, “I don’t like my job anymore.” You have to say, “I have a problem with my co-worker, but I like my job and I have a good relationship with my boss.”
In fact, not everything is great and there are always problems, but identifying problems and negatives and paying attention to what we enjoy helps us not to deprive ourselves of good things because of bad things.
6. Use a 10 degree scale
We can use the middle of two opposing words to get rid of the black and white mentality. For example, the hot and cold middle is “warm”, “warm” or “moderate”, or the old and young are “middle-aged”.
So what if you tell a friend you are anxious? You may be sure you are not calm, but how far are you from being calm? Are you really anxious (your heart is pounding, you are breathing fast and your palms are sweating) or are you in a state of calm and anxiety? There is no word to describe the middle ground of anxiety and calm.
In this case, you can use a 10-point scale, that is, with numbers and words, show two opposite poles and moderate medians on a scale that describes the dimensions of feeling, thinking, behaving, and personality. With numerical scales we can visualize personal issues and move from black and white thinking to different and more balanced forms of cognition.
In the example of describing anxiety, if the worst anxiety you have ever experienced is 10, public speaking anxiety 7 and the anxiety of delivering a project on time at work is 5.
Both poles have advantages and disadvantages, and the advantages of the word middle are a combination of the advantages of two poles without their disadvantages. For example, the advantage of “surrendering” is respecting the rights of others and the disadvantage is ignoring one’s own right, and “aggression” is the exact opposite of “surrendering”, but the “decisive” person respects both the rights of others and his own.
This scale makes us think more precisely. Of course, we should not be obsessive and strict about numbers. Our goal is to have a balanced view instead of a bipolar one.
7. See a therapist
If you do not follow the above recommendations, you may need more guidance and advice from a professional therapist. If you can not see a therapist in person, you can search the internet for a mental health coach or online therapist.
The last word
Awareness of black and white thinking is the first step to achieving gray thinking. Remember that replacing bipolar thinking with gray thinking, like other mental health problems, requires practice, patience, trial and error. So practice, and if you go back to the old patterns, forgive yourself.
Black and white thinking is a very common problem, and you may have valuable experiences and solutions in this area that you can share with us and other friends in the “Post a Comment” section.