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What’s Black & White and stuck all over?

You guessed it, it’s not referring to the black and white sneakers and bubble gum. Although the title rings of a classical joke, truth be told, black-and-white thinking is no laughing matter. Black-and-white thinking comes in so many different presentations and can have some rather serious repercussions. 

Before discussing the implications of black-and-white thinking, let’s take a closer look at what it actually is and why so many of us struggle with its thought process. 

The human brain, which is composed of forty percent gray matter, is a truly unique and phenomenal organ. See, most of our hearts beat very much in the same way. The same can be said regarding our respiratory system and most other bodily functions. The brain, however, defines our individuality through its thought processes. 

The human brain is constantly learning, creating, and changing. Our environment, experiences, and DNA are all variables that come together to form our individual opinions, styles, and personality. Thinking patterns are no exception. Different thinking patterns prioritize concepts differently. Emotion vs logic, overall picture vs details, and concrete vs abstract. These are just a few of the processes that go into forming a thinking pattern. 

For illustration purposes, let us oversimplify. 

Black and white thinking by definition is when one’s thought process tends to be, well, black and white. Plainly put, ideas and concepts are structured and more understood in absolute terms. Categories are either good or bad, hard or easy, all or nothing, right or wrong. There is less room for the undefined, abstract, and gray middle -ground. Usually, individuals that favor logic, details and the concrete are more likely to process information through highlighting stark contrasts and comparisons- resulting in black-and-white thinking. 

Black-and-white thinking in of itself can be a virtue. There is little room for wavering on individual priorities and belief systems. Sometimes, the black-and-white thinker can prove to be superior in dependability and integrity. 

However, like most qualities, black-and-white thinking can bring challenges. Let us take a closer look at how these patterns can potentially wreak havoc.  

Anxiety, Depression, OCD, and social issues are just some of the prevalent challenges of which too many of us face. For the black-and-white thinker, these struggles can become an even greater nightmare. Let’s take an anxiety sufferer. He or she can be very dedicated to their therapy process, yet, therapy is often a two step forward and one step backward reality. Learning to tolerate and live with the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety can be one of the many skills to combat anxiety. However, with this skill (as well as many others) can be extra difficult for the black and white thinker. He or she may find themselves lamenting, how can part of anxiety treatment be learning to live with it? I’m trying to get rid of it! Or how about the black and white  individual struggling with social skills.  “How am I supposed to figure out all the social subtleties if I can only categorize the actions of others as either right or wrong”? The same goes for the depression sufferer. In black and white terms everything needs to fall under a label of either good or bad, exciting or boring, productive or stagnant. If something isn’t perfect then the only other option would be “bad”, no?  

This is how black and white can get a person stuck all over. Just because past experiences in therapy didn’t get you the results you were hoping for, does not mean they are out of reach! When progress plateaus it is often a result of being stuck. The great news is that you can retrain your brain to adjust your black-and-white tendencies while increasing flexibility. Let the “gray matter”!


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