How to deal with all or nothing thinking.

Have a situation where people have told you that you view the world in black and white?  This is a common trap that many of us fall into.  It creates problems in dealing with others, and, indeed, dealing with ourselves in the form of irrational guilt, etc.

We get all or nothing thinking from the way we are raised, taking our values to an extreme, and other ways.   Of course, there are some things which should be more black and white than other things:  murder, child abuse, etc.  But the way you know that black and white thinking is problematic is that a) people consistently complain about it, and b) it is the predominant way in which you view the world, even on minutiae.

How to deal with it?

a) do a cost-benefit analysis:  is it hurting myself and/or others?

b) Own the issue.  It is MY black and white thinking, and not the church’s, political party’s etc.

c) Use a scale of 1-10, 10 being white, 1 being black.  For example, if you tell yourself that you can’t do anything right (a classic example), then ask yourself where you are today on a scale of 1-10 with regard to the issue, 1 being I can’t do anything right AT ALL, ABSOLUTELY, and 10 being I do everything right, ABSOLUTELY.  Some people may find it helpful to think of a scale between 2 and 9 instead of 1-10, to force themselves to acknowledge the fact that not everything is ABSOLUTE.

d) Ask yourself, “Why isn’t it worse?” when confronted with negative thoughts.

e) Try to be humble.  Humility is not the same as humiliation.  Humility, properly thought of, is the idea that you know who you are, not the ideals or anti-ideals of who you are.  If you know yourself as a flawed work of God with both good and bad properties at the same time, then you are close to being humble.

You never need to be trapped in all or nothing thinking.    It is painful for you and for others, and it doesn’t bring you closer to the truth which is better sought through humility.  Try some of these techniques.  They work.

About Nate Prentice, MSW, LCSW, CAS-PC

Nate Prentice, MSW, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Pastoral Counselor who maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Drexel Hill, PA.
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