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The Pitfalls of Black-and-White Thinking – Part 1

The Pitfalls of Black-and-White Thinking – Part 1

Black and white thinking, also called all-or-nothing thinking, is when an individual perceives situations, events or other people as either all good or all bad. Thinking in absolutes is a lose-lose situation. If one thinks of something as all good, they are bound to get let down and if they are thinking of something as all bad, then they already are. Do you think in black and white?

Black and white thinkers:

– Lack the ability to see shades of grey or think in a balanced, rational and stable way

– Blow things out of proportion

– Magnify and catastrophize situations and events by making generalizations instead of sticking to specifics (e.g. “my boss is a horrible person” instead of “my boss has been cranky the past couple of days”)

– Lack the ability to see multiple possibilities, outcomes, explanations or meanings

– Are prone to angry outbursts, anxiety, and depression because they think in extremes and absolutes with limited ability to moderate their thoughts

– Lack perspective

– Have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships because they see a single negative event as a never ending pattern

– Tend to think and feel in extremes and use absolute language like always, never, horrible, amazing, perfect, terrible, hate, and love

– Do not think rationally or experience emotion in moderation. They tend not to use balanced language like challenging, confusing, sometimes, and manageable,

Consider the following 2 vignettes:

Vignette #1: Liz, the black-and-white thinker

Liz is thrilled to be going on vacation. She and her husband are flying to the Caribbean for 4 days and 3 nights. Liz knows it’s going to be amazing. She can already picture the perfect weather, shimmering beaches and delicious food. She can’t wait to just soak up the sun and enjoy the alone time with her husband in a relaxed atmosphere. They make it to the airport with time to spare but after boarding, the captain announces a half hour delay due to air traffic.  “Oh great,” Liz thinks. “We aren’t even off the ground and something has to go wrong.”  Once in the Caribbean, Liz is pleasantly surprised by the hotel. The accommodations are luxurious, the beds comfortable, and there is a gorgeous view of the boardwalk. Liz thoroughly enjoys the food and atmosphere at dinner on their first night. “It’s about time something goes right”, she thinks.

When Liz wakes up the next morning, it’s raining. Liz is upset. “Of course it has to rain,” she thinks. “Why would I expect that anything in my life should actually work out for once?” Liz’s husband suggests that they visit the spa until the rain clears up. Liz agrees. She gets a massage and with grape oil and when she puts her shirt back on, the oil stains it. “First I can’t go to the beach and now my shirt is stained,”  Liz thinks.

The next day dawns warm and sunny and Liz is looking forward to working on her tan. Breakfast is excellent. Liz and her husband go back to their hotel room to change for the beach and she can’t find her favorite bikini. She settles on another one she packed that she doesn’t like as much “Is a pleasant day on the beach too much to ask?!?” Liz wonders. “Why does nothing ever go right for me?” The next day it’s time to head home. When they are checking out of the hotel, the clerk is rude. Liz is feeling miserable.  She thinks, “I had such high hopes for this vacation and just about everything that could go wrong, did. Why can’t anything in my life ever go right?”

Vignette #2: Liz, the balanced thinker

Liz is excited to be going on vacation. She and her husband are flying to the Caribbean for 4 days and 3 nights. Liz has been looking forward to this vacation for some time.  She can already picture the perfect weather, shimmering beaches and delicious food. She can’t wait to just soak up the sun and enjoy the alone time with her husband in a relaxed atmosphere. They make it to the airport with time to spare but after boarding, the captain announces a half hour delay due to air traffic. “That’s annoying, but no biggie,” Liz thinks. “at least I’m not at work and my husband and I can just sit back and relax together.” Once in the Caribbean, Liz is pleasantly surprised by the hotel. The accommodations are luxurious, the beds comfortable, and there is a gorgeous view of the boardwalk.  Liz thoroughly enjoys the food and atmosphere at dinner on their first night. Liz feels contentment and gratitude to be in such a beautiful place with the man she loves.

When Liz wakes up the next morning, it’s raining. Liz is disappointed. “I really wanted to go to the beach,” she thinks. Liz’s husband suggests that they visit the spa until the rain clears up. Liz agrees. “That’s a great second choice idea,” she thinks. Liz gets a massage and with grape oil and when she puts her shirt back on, the oil stains it. “Those will come out in the wash,” Liz tells herself.

The next day dawns warm and sunny and Liz is looking forward to working on her tan. Breakfast is excellent. Liz and her husband go back to their hotel room to change for the beach and she can’t find her favorite bikini. She settles on another one she packed that she doesn’t like as much. “It’s really no big deal compared to the luxurious hotel, fine cuisine and spending a day at the beach,”  Liz thinks. The next day it’s time to head home. When they are checking out of the hotel, the clerk is rude. Liz is feeling refueled and rested. “The weather could have been better,” Liz reflects. “But overall, this vacation has been great.”

Same person, same vacation, completely different reality. How can it be that the same person on the same vacation had such different experiences? The answer is perspective. The saddest part for Liz specifically and black-and-white thinkers in general is that the black-and-white thinker themselves are the ones who suffer the most. So, what’s a black-and-white thinker to do? Stay tuned for Part 2, “Overcoming Black-and-White Thinking”.

 

 

 

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