Thinking in Black and White

I have a tendency to view things as “all or nothing”.  Everything in my life tends to be good or bad, up or down, beautiful or ugly.  I love you or I hate you. Throughout our lives, we often inspire undue stress and anxiety by viewing our existence with a “dualistic mind”. This is called black and white thinking, or splitting, and it causes a lot of unnecessary problems in life. Black and white thinking is sometimes referred to as absolutist or dichotomous thinking.  When we fall victim to black and white thinking, we have mistakenly reduced an entire spectrum of possibilities down to the two most extreme options, each the polar opposite of the other. Often, those categories are of our own creation, and we are attempting to force the world to conform to our preconceptions about what it should look like. It’s common in those who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder and can lead to depression, anxiety and even anger.

Everything is seen as either positive or negative-there is no in between. This type of thinking colors all of our experiences and pressures us to live in the irrational realm of extremes. We do this because it gives us a (false) sense of security and control over life’s uncertainties. Black or white, no gray area. I feel uncomfortable with ambiguity, shades of grey and subtle distinctions. Unfortunately, a great deal of life’s situations are in the gray area, and since I can’t see things in that light, I set myself up for a great many disappointments and failures.

Before I got married, my relationships were all extremely turbulent.  I tended to idealize a person, put them up on a pedestal, and then of course they invariably made a mistake and tumbled down from that pedestal and then I devalued them.  I could be madly in love one day, and despise that same person the next day.  When we view the world in strict and over-simplistic terms, we are less likely to compromise and cooperate with others to meet common interests.  This is how my social life was from the very beginning of my dating career, and it continued in that manner until I got married just 2 years ago.  I’m still holding my breath, worried that my skewed view of things will have a negative impact on my marriage.  So far, so good. I believe everything needs to be a specific way, and I’m not willing to deviate from this narrow view of the world.  This makes us stubborn and frustrating to live with.  My husband is very, very understanding and patient with me.  I’ve explained to him that sometimes things come out of my mouth that are harsh and I don’t mean them (especially when I see something as black and he sees it as white),  that I blurt things out without thinking first, and that I can be an evil bitch. One of the K’s tells lies and tries to hurt people just for the hell of it. That K thinks in black terms only. On the flip side, I have me’s who are positive and always look for the bright side of things.  But there is no one in the gray area. I don’t know how to think like that.

I see things in absolutes. Black and white thinking causes me to choose either A or B, without ever considering that the correct choice could be C.  When we only see things in black and white, we miss out on alternative ways of viewing the world. These other perspectives may be just as good if not better than our current perspective.  At the end of the day, black and white thinking makes us less adaptive to our surroundings. This hinders our growth as individuals. It’s also what keeps us stuck in old habits and thought patterns.  Believe me, I have tons of experience in this department.  

I’m an open-minded person on so many levels, yet I cannot bring myself to deviate from the way I believe things are supposed to be in my life. Some things must be a certain way, and I find it impossible to be flexible when it comes to those things.  I can’t find a happy medium anywhere.  Things are seen as great or terrible. I lost a job once, and to me that meant I was going to forever be unemployed.  If I gain 3 pounds, then I’m on my way to being obese and no dieting will prevent it. I’m either a success or a failure, and this is only emphasized by my perfectionist nature. I simply cannot see that the answer could be something in between yes or no.  If I’m going to be 5 minutes late for a movie, I won’t go at all.  If someone says something hurtful to me, then that person will forever be associated with that negative thing in my mind, even if they never again hurt my feelings.  I can forgive a person, but I can never forget, and they will always fall into the category of either good or bad.  This, of course, is ridiculous, for no one can be all good or all bad; human beings are both good and bad, at different times, depending upon the situation.  

I can write these things down, and it all makes sense to me, but at the same time I can not bring myself to think like that, even though it is perfectly logical.  To me there is no viewpoint outside of black or white. Rising above our dualistic mind means learning to identify our cognitive positions as rational or irrational, as balanced or imbalanced. We need to learn to be reflective rather than reactive. If we are reflective during life’s difficult times, and we can use this new way of thinking, we are less apt to react negatively, and we decrease the probability of wandering off into extreme thinking, which can cause more distress.  For many, being reflective instead of reactive in these situations will feel like a leap of faith at first. But it means learning how to nurture the flexibility of our ego, that maybe we don’thave the answers to everything, and that life is not so black and white.  Ask yourself, “Am I looking for too much certainty in a world full of uncertainty?”  If you are like me, then the answer is a resounding yes. Regardless of how much I rationalize and try to open up my mind to new possibilities, it just never comes to pass.  I’m now and forever a black and white kind of girl, and that’s a shame. I’m missing out on a lot of things in life because of this, but I’ve always been this way and as far as I can tell, I’m doomed to be this way forever. Forever. I guess just by saying that, I’m proving my point. A regular person would say “sometimes”, whereas I say forever (or never). If only I could open my mind up to new ways of seeing things…I’d like to find out how it feels to be in the gray area for a change. I think I’d be a lot happier.

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