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Danger Zone: Naïve Black & White Thinking

Everything in life is not Black and White. Some things are blue, orange, or grey. Black and White thinking is one thing I hope never rubs off on me. Folks who engage in or are so guided by only Black and White thinking, numerous red Black go off for me. Black and White thinking is dangerous and is many times not practical. People who only or mostly submit to this type of thinking, can have an unrealistic view of: life, norms, ideas, behaviors, and relationships. Some people use it too much, and it seriously impacts their quality of life. Sometimes, these thought patterns contribute to or are the result of mental illness, but anyone can have them. This thought pattern, which the American Psychological Association also calls dichotomous or polarized thinking, is considered a cognitive distortion because it keeps us from seeing the world as it often is: complex, nuanced, and full of all the shades in between.

Relationships happen between individuals, whether they see each other as family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, or something else entirely. If we approach normal conflicts with dichotomous thinking, we’ll probably draw the wrong conclusions about other people, and we’ll miss opportunities to negotiate and compromise. Worse still, Black and White thinking can cause a person to make decisions without thinking about the impact of that decision on themselves and others involved. For instance, you may think you are either always right or the world’s biggest failure. Psychologists consider this thought pattern to be a cognitive distortion because it keeps you from seeing life the way it really is: complex, uncertain, and constantly changing.

According to research done by Cognitive Behavioral Therapists, Black and White Thinking is caused by any of the following:

  1. Narcissism

  2. Anxiety and depression

  3. Borderline personality disorder

  4. Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Too much Black and White thinking begins to affect how we feel about ourselves because it tends to overemphasize negative qualities. If you find your internal critic screaming insults like "I am stupid" or "Nobody likes me," then you are heading toward dwindling self-confidence and lack of self-appreciation. These thoughts are dangerous because we're more likely to notice situations where we feel they are true while completing ignoring situations that prove them false.

Another problem with Black and White thinking is its provocation of naivety. This leads people to think that what their norm is (behaviors, conversations, personal experiences, interpersonal interactions) is the standard…is universal…and anyone different or against that becomes judged and/or viewed as wrong. There are two types of naïve people that exist. The ones who are overly trusting and the ones who lack various experiences. People are perceived as being naïve because their worldview is narrow or they have only limited life experience. Getting out and interacting with people who live distinctively separate lives can be a learning experience that helps you understand the world with greater nuance. This helps prevent the thinking that those similar to you or those that cater to your way of thinking represent the majority or is the gold standard.

Black and White thinking increases disappointment, frustration, anger, and anxiety in life. No-one can be all-good or all-bad or do everything perfectly. Life isn't all-or-nothing and most decisions, events, and relationships fall somewhere in the middle. When something doesn't go as planned, rigid people forget that the alternative result may turn out for the best.

According to research, there are some effective ways to modify or eliminate Black and White thinking:

  • Learn to recognize distortions in your thinking that create problems and counter your habits.

  • Gain a better understanding of the behavior and motivation of others.

  • Use problem-solving skills to manage difficult situations.

  • Get a greater sense of confidence in your own abilities.

  • Move from extreme thinking to a more flexible and adaptable mindset.


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