A CBT Answer to Limited Thinking
It’s 3:00 am … you are pondering an earlier unsuccessful attempt to reconnect with a former friend and you heard a response that was clearly (in your mind) a rejection to your invitation to ‘hang out.’ The 3:00 am thought that follows is ‘I am always rejected.’
This common thinking error keeps people stuck and is described as dichotomous thinking, that is, you view events or people in ‘All-or Nothing’ terms. Others might refer to this as ‘Black and White’ thinking. Extremes dominate – things are either all good or all bad.
The voices of these Black and White thinkers sound like this:
- “ I am either perfect or a total failure.”
- “ I have to be loved by everyone or else I am hated by everyone.”
- “Either the whole dinner party was fabulous, or it was a total disaster.”
The first step in moving to a more flexible thinking pattern is to acknowledge and be aware of how this type of limited thinking shows up in your day-to-day living. The next step is to make a determination as to how many times you use this thought distortion on a daily basis. Keep a daily tally of the examples of this thought and calculate the average number for the week. In subsequent weeks try some interventions to achieve more realistic thinking that reduces the definition of all events and interpersonal interactions through a Black and White filter.
Some interventions to try:
Rather than counting your thinking errors, just ‘notice’ each time you engage in the thinking error and speak to this acknowledgement with “Here I go again … I am viewing this as either Black or White.” Use this strategy for four days. On the fifth day count the number of times you notice yourself using Black and White thinking. Has it changed? If so, continue to use this strategy as you now have evidence that this kind of thinking can be changed … and your data would also suggest that a more flexible thinking pattern can become your ‘new normal’.
Another low-level intervention that could assist in gaining control over being stuck in Black and White thinking is to be aware of when and under what conditions you embrace shades of grey to shape your thinking. What are you doing during those times of more flexible thinking?
A more in-depth intervention would be to examine the quality and the extent of evidence that supports your extreme view on events and interpersonal interactions. Would a judge side with you as you present your evidence?
Another strategy would be to identify someone familiar to you who regularly engages in ‘Black and White’ thinking. What has been your emotional response to this person?
Try to identify people you enjoy being with – even under stressful conditions. Do they present with flexible thinking?
Just a Thought …
From Willow Grove Counselling, Inc.