The Problem with Black and White Thinking

black and white thinking

Black and white thinking can be the cause of many problems in our lives.

I remember a time when I was very depressed, and looking back, I can now see how my absolutist views were a big reason I couldn’t get out of the rut I was stuck in for so long.

Black and white thinking is our tendency to look at the world in terms of “all or nothing.” We either find things to be “good” or “bad,” “beautiful” or “ugly,” “easy” or “hard,” “happy” or “sad.”

We don’t acknowledge all the grey areas in life. The things we can’t fit into a box. Life’s paradoxes. Unknowns. The stuff that’s difficult to put into words.

Instead, black and white thinking is the illusion that we have all the answers to life when we really don’t. And when we engage in this type of thinking, it can actually cause a lot of unnecessary problems in our life.

Black and white thinking limits our perspective

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.

Black and white thinking often creates a false choice between “A” and “B,” when “C” is the more accurate and helpful view. Unfortunately, if we only think in black and white terms, then we are unlikely to even consider “C” a possibility in the first place.

Black and white thinking increases depression

A black and white viewpoint often creates artificial “needs” in our life that lead to disappointment and depression.

The cognitive-based psychotherapist Albert Ellis called one example of this “musterbation.” This is our tendency to think that we must have something, or we must do something, or life must be a certain way – or it will be awful.

Black and white thinking doesn’t open us up to the possibility that even if life doesn’t work out exactly the way we think it should, we can still find happiness.

Black and white thinking makes us less willing to compromise

Black and white thinking doesn’t just hurt ourselves, but also the relationships we try to build with other people. 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.

Again, it’s because we don’t acknowledge the grey areas in life. We believe everything needs to be a specific way, and we aren’t willing to deviate from this narrow view of the world.

This makes us stubborn and frustrating to live with or work with. People are often turned off by those who think they are always right and hold dogmatic views about the world. If you want to build stronger relationships, then try being more flexible.

Black and white thinking makes us less adaptive

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.

Once we acknowledge that we don’t know everything about the world, we can begin to learn new things and change our ways.

Black and white thinking comes with the assumption that we always know where to “draw lines in the sand.” But the truth is we don’t. Sometimes new information and new experiences tell us we need to adjust those lines we draw. And without this open-mindedness, we will always be trapped within those same limitations.

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