Return to site

1. "All or nothing" thinking. Black and White Thinking

Dr. Elizma van der Smit (April 2019)

· Mind

This is when you think in words like "always, never, no one, everyone, every time, everything".

Thinking in black and white terms is a tendency to view things at the extremes with no middle ground (e.g., things are right or wrong, good or bad).For example: our partner is the most wonderful person in the world — until they’re the worst. This cycle of love/hate, down/up, good/bad can be seriously stressful for any relationship.By seeing your loved one as either all good or all bad, you’re not letting yourself see them for what they are: a normal, fallible human just like you.

Other examples include: I made so many mistakes. If I can’t do it perfectly I might as well not
bother. I won’t be able to get all of this done, so I may as well stop right now.I’m a terrible person. My sister is so beautiful and I’m so ugly. My boyfriend is the most attractive person I know, and I’ll never be as into anyone else again.This job is so bad…there’s nothing good about it at all.

Sometimes, when black and white thinking takes over our political, religious, or social views, we can fall into the trap of thinking that those who disagree with us are not worth our time. This can limit the enjoyment we get from family members, friends, and co-workers who have viewpoints that are different than our own.

Black and white thinking can make you hypersensitive to others’ opinions and make it difficult to accept criticism without deep insecurity. Black and white thinking in our professional lives can make us abandon projects as mere bumps in the road, due to a feeling that they are inevitably doomed to fail.

Perfectionism is often a sign of black and white thinking. It causes us to think of everything we do in terms of success or failure. This may make us obsessed with ensuring failure does not happen to us. We may unrealistically overwork ourselves to achieve only the highest amount of success possible. Sometimes, we may not work towards a goal at all out of fear of not doing it "right." No matter which path we choose to avoid failure, this black and white thinking eats away at our motivation and our sense of self-worth.

Like all aspects of life, work will have good days and bad days, and many days that are somewhere in between. But if you think in black and white terms, it’s easy to internalize every failure and have an unrealistic expectation of every success.

What to do?

  • Catch yourself the next time you say to yourself “I’m never going to lose weight,” “You’re alwayslate,” or “Everyone understands this but me.” You are most probably trying to make life simpler and to create a feeling of control.
  • Ask yourself for proof that “you can never do anything right”.
  • It is very unlikely that any one person or one thing never changes. Just as some days can be sunny, turn rainy, and then return to sunny again, your thoughts, beliefs, and actions can shift in and out of phases too. You can be organized and still lose something. You can be smart and still make mistakes. It is important to take time to see balance and change happening in your everyday life.
  • Here’s a good exercise:

Think of a middle word between two extremes:

Good … Bad
Strong … Weak
Simple … Complex
Fat … Skinny
Pretty … Ugly
Calm … Hyper

I bet you can think of many more.

The next time you’re stuck in black and white thinking, think of a middle ground. There is almost always a middle ground. It’s there that you want to plant your feet. That’s where possibility and creativity lie.

This post is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered therapy.This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental Health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.

All Posts
×

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!

OK

blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.