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How Black and White Thinking Limits You: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions

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In this empowering episode, we explore the world of black and white thinking and its impact on women's mental health. 

Join Randi Owsley, LMSW, and Jessica Bullwinkle, LMFT, as they delve into overcoming dichotomous thinking, managing rigid beliefs, and using cognitive therapy to navigate the complexities of life. 

Perfect for women of all ages, their partners and spouses and those seeking coping skills and support. This episode is a must-listen for anyone ready to embrace the gray against polarized thinking and transform their all-or-nothing mindset.

Get information on the signs and symptoms of cognitive distortions in women, and learn more about coping skills and tools you can use. Find resources to help manage dichotomous thinking in relationships. 

Things we talk about in this episode: An all-or-nothing mindset, Binary thought process, Rigid beliefs, Extreme thinking patterns, Black and white thinking examples, Overcoming black and white thinking, Impact of black and white thinking, Managing dichotomous thoughts, Black and white thinking in relationships and Cognitive therapy solutions for rigid beliefs.

#mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealthpodcast #selfidentitystruggles #womensmentalhealth #anxiety #depression #psychology #help #solutions #coping #narcissism #OCD #mentalhealth #blackandwhite #blackandwhitethinkingis #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealthmatters #mentalhealthawarenesscampaign #mindset #mindfulness #mindsetdrama #mindsetdisorder #mindsetchange #mindsetbeliefs #thinking #blackandwhite #blackandwhitethinking #blackandwhite #thinking #health #healthyliving #healthyhabits #healthandwellness #mentallhealth 

 Questions We Cover: 
 1. What is black and white thinking?
 2. What are the effects of black and white thinking?
 3. How does black and white thinking relate to mental health?
 4. What are some examples of black and white thinking?
 5. How can I challenge my black and white thinking?
 6. Can black and white thinking be treated?
 7. How long does it take to overcome black and white thinking?
 8. What are some self-help techniques for managing black and white thinking?
 9. Can black and white thinking be a sign of a personality disorder?
 10. Where can I find resources for learning more about black and white thinking?

More important topics we will cover in upcoming podcasts: Black and white thinking treatment, Cognitive-behavioral therapy for polarized thinking, Strategies to reduce extreme thinking, Online courses for overcoming black and white thinking, Therapists specializing in cognitive distortions, and Self-help books on black and white thinking.

Transcript – Understanding Black and White Thinking

How Black and White Thinking Limits You: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions

[00:00:00] Randi: 1, 2, 3, 4. Hi friends. It's Randy and Jess, and we're gonna cut the

[00:00:07] Jess: bullshit and let's get into women's mental health.

[00:00:13] Randi: Welcome to the podcast unapologetically All over the place with Randy and Jess. Two licensed psychotherapists where we talk about women's mental health issues, wellbeing and strategies for coping with life's challenges and how it's all normal. Find

[00:00:29] Jess: us and more resources on Randy and jess

[00:00:33] Randi: Today's podcast is on all or nothing thinking, also known as black and white. Think. In this

[00:00:39] Jess: episode, we will be exploring all or nothing thinking like she said, all or nothing thinking, or black and white thinking its effects on mental health and strategies to overcome it.

[00:00:49] Randi: So have you guys ever had these

[00:00:51] Jess: thoughts?

If I can't succeed, why even

[00:00:55] Randi: try? Why does nothing ever work out for. It's always

[00:01:01] Jess: or never going to be like this.

[00:01:04] Randi: It's either right or wrong. There's no in between.

[00:01:08] Jess: Why do some people think in black and white and why are some and gray?

[00:01:13] Randi: So also some examples is like you saying or somebody saying to you, You never do the dishes.

Ah, you never do the laundry. I always do all the cleaning like these. You're always late, right? So these extreme thinking, so words like always, never perfect, terrible, nothing. Nobody disaster, like these extreme words. Kind of lead into this. Okay, so what exactly is black and white thinking? So we

[00:01:49] Jess: call it in psychology, the polarized thinking, right?

It is what we call a cognitive distortion. It's characterized by like a tendency to view situations, events, and people in those extreme terms of either all good or all bad with nothing in the middle. Mm-hmm. And so, I know I just said cognitive distortion, so let's go and like explain that cuz a lot of people are probably going, what?

What did they say? Yeah.

[00:02:17] Randi: Duh. What the

[00:02:18] Jess: fuck? Yeah. Okay, so cognitive distortions. Um, we also call 'em, uh, cognitive biases. Uh, they're, it's an unhelpful thinking style. It's very much in which our thoughts can become biased. I mean, how would I even explain that? I just like did a double

[00:02:36] Randi: circle. So, yeah. So really almost like a negative thought pattern.

Yeah, I would say. But like you. When you say something over and over and over again, you start to kind of believe it. Mm-hmm. So I think then you kind of lean in towards this thought pattern and that becomes your norm. Does that make sense?

[00:02:57] Jess: That makes sense to me. Okay. Um, so yeah, so when you start thinking in black and white terms, it's hard to see things as they really are right.

Everything is complex and uncertain and we're all constantly changing,

[00:03:11] Randi: right? So it's like all good, all bad. You can be either extreme like so overly positive mm-hmm. That you don't see anything wrong at all or so overly negative that you see no good at all. Exactly.

[00:03:26] Jess: And so what outta curiosity, are you a black and white thinker or are you a gray thinker?

[00:03:32] Randi: I would say it depends on my mood, which, I mean this, that will lead into this right about it really is based off of kind of mental health, I would say. Like when I'm cycling and like I'm on my period and I'm hormonal, you're black and white. I'm very black and white because I'm very, um, emotionally reactive.

So this is also linked to that, you know, so it's hard. You're just. This is like the end of the world for me. This is never gonna get better like I ate my life right now. And then Well, you

[00:04:00] Jess: said right now, right? Normally you would just say, I hate my

[00:04:03] Randi: life. Yes. So it's like I am self-aware. Yeah. That I am feeling this way for a limited time.

Usually if you're stuck in this cycle, you're not very self-aware about it. Yeah.

[00:04:15] Jess: Okay. So as you had mentioned, it usually goes down to mental health. Mm-hmm. So like, what causes this? Or where do we see this kind of black and white thinking? Um, and normally it's in different types of mental health, right?

[00:04:28] Randi: So diagnosis is like

[00:04:30] Jess: narcissism. Ooh, that's a good one. Um, so let's explain narcissism in like, you know, a nutshell,

[00:04:37] Randi: right? So that's an exaggerated. Sense of self, like you just love yourself. So black and white is very much a part of this personality disorder because you think you know it

[00:04:51] Jess: all well, and you're perfect and nobody else is correct.

You know, everything is right. Mm-hmm. Um, and it's usually, I mean, obviously it's negative, um, but somebody who's narcissistic is also abusive, right?

[00:05:05] Randi: Because, and they, the themselves have. Uh, an all or nothing thinking about themselves, that they are superior to everybody else. And we talk about this a little bit more in depth in episode 13 when we talk about narcissism and gaslighting.


[00:05:21] Jess: The other one, we see it in a lot of times, uh, what you were mentioning a few minutes ago is anxiety and depression. Mm-hmm. Right? When people have anxiety or depression, it's pretty common that they think in these absolutes. Right. These extremes. Of, you know, nothing is gonna get better. Everything is awful.


[00:05:40] Randi: awful. Right. And that's normal. When you are in that thought pattern and you're feeling down or you're feeling anxious, you're always like, everything is awful right now. Mm-hmm. Like, or I'm saying right now, everything is awful. Period. It's not, it's not gonna get better and that's, it's not gonna get better.

Or like, I'm a terrible mother. Like, you have this. Yeah. Or like, my kids are gonna die today. When you have that cyclical thinking and you can't get out of it, and you start kind of like almost repeating, you know, these thoughts again and again, it's hard to pull out of that.

[00:06:14] Jess: Yeah. The, the other one also is the borderline personality.

The borderline, sorry. Border borderline personality disorder. Man, I can't say that. Um, That is a, um, mental health, uh, that has like intense feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, um, abandonment. Um, really, it, it is hard to diagnose. Um, it is, you know, treatable. Um, but they also have like the, the black and white thinking as well, right?

[00:06:44] Randi: And super kind of chaotic and really snap decision. No impulse control when you are borderline, and that goes along with this black and white thinking because in the moment you're thinking like, this is great. Let's do this. Like this is amazing. Or on the opposite, if you're self-harming. This is horrible.

Things are never gonna get better. My life is over. And so that's why it's important to, you know, pair these things with learning coping skills and going to therapy because when you are thinking all or nothing, that could be dangerous.

[00:07:24] Jess: Exactly. Um, and lastly, the other one we see this in a lot of times is obsessive compulsive disorder.

Mm-hmm. Right? When you, O C D, uh, obsessive compulsive disorder is when, again, those are extreme absolutes, right? This all or nothing, very black and white. Because it gives them a sense of control. Yes.

[00:07:43] Randi: Um, and comfort. Exactly. And that is the thing with black and white thinking, it makes us feel justified.

Mm-hmm. Like, why do we think this white, it gives you an excuse almost like an out when you are feeling triggered or upset or on a high. It's a way to kind of protect ourselves from these chaotic feelings and give us like, I am right. I am justifying this and making it okay. In a way. When, when you kind of come out of this cycle or that high or that low, you realize, Ooh, that though I probably should not have justified that for myself.

We do talk a little bit more in depth about O C D disorder and episode 32, if you guys wanna give that a listen. Mm-hmm. But let's talk about really. How this affects us, the all or nothing thinking on an everyday level as

[00:08:43] Jess: women. Right. Not just if you have these diagnosis or Right. Or anything else. And just because you have black and white thinking doesn't mean you also have any of these diagnosis sees that we just talked about.

[00:08:56] Randi: Right. Right. Like it is just something that can come alongside mm-hmm. With having a mental health disorder. But you can also just have. You know, black and white thinking by itself, and you don't have to be diagnosed. This isn't a specific diagnosis, you know, by itself. It's just a product of a thought pattern that you can have, right?

[00:09:18] Jess: So, and this black and white thinking, this all or nothing thinking it, it is negative. And it has on our, our, on our mental health and on our wellbeing. Um, this leads to, um, things like negative self-talk and. Self-talk and self-doubt and you know, a lack of confidence,

[00:09:35] Randi: right? And so those things can then snowball into feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, more anxiety, more depression.

Um, it also kind of can, creates a block and you become dissociated from your feelings. Mm-hmm. And actually acknowledging them and realizing what's happening around you.

[00:10:00] Jess: And, and when you are, when you are in this black and white thinking, this all or nothing thinking, it can be very overwhelming. Um, because, you know, you can't problem solve because it's either right or wrong.

Right? Right. It's, there's no in between. It has to be perfect. Mm-hmm. And so with this black and white thinking, y. It's easier to become overwhelmed with something cuz you, you know, it, it is, it's already

[00:10:25] Randi: done. Then you, right, and then you're like, I give up. Yes. I'm not gonna do this. I'm not gonna seek, seek help.

So for instance, you're like, I don't like, this is the end. I'm over this, you know, I'm failing at everything. This is a disaster. If you're thinking this. And you're saying this out loud, like as we're talking about it, I can see when I'm in that, you know, thought pattern, I don't wanna seek help, I don't wanna ask anybody for help.

I feel like it's the end of the road, you know? And there's nothing else. Why bother? Why bother? Yeah. And so that's why it is, you know, hard to get out of this thought pattern. Mm-hmm. And it's hard to reach out for help and it's hard to be aware that it's happening. And so what can we do? Well,

[00:11:10] Jess: and let's first talk about these impacts.

Yes. On, on relationships. Right, right. Because I mean, people who have this black and white thinking, right? You forget that everybody is complex and they all have their quirks or nuances. Mm-hmm. Right? Right. And so, you know, it leads to things like, you know, a lack of empathy for others. Mm-hmm. And that's a huge one, you know, which leads to misunderstandings or difficulties in communication.

Right. You know, and it makes it hard to compromise if you're saying, you know, black and white and somebody's gray. It's that whole, we need to agree to disagree. Right.

[00:11:46] Randi: Exactly. Which, which

[00:11:48] Jess: is such a bullshit statement. I'm sorry, is I'm like, I hate, we need to agree. You don't need agree to disagree. No, no, I don't

[00:11:53] Randi: need to.

No, you don't. But that's the thing. When you are having those, Extreme thoughts, they lead to extreme emotions. Yes. And then it's going to affect your relationship, your friendships, your, you know, work, your work relationships, your work per se. You know, just wanting to do work. If you're thinking like, this sucks, or like, my boss doesn't help me with any of this, or they don't listen to me, and it's like, you can't see.

The other thing. So maybe there are some good things about your job or there are good things about your relationship, but because you are so, you know, stuck. Stuck, yeah. In this thought pattern that everything is terrible, it that's gonna create conflicts for you.

[00:12:36] Jess: Yeah. So let's go over some strategies. If you notice that you are a black and white thinking thinker, if you are the all or nothing, it's good.

Or. Right. There's no, you know, okay. Or gray in between. The first thing to do is to recognize when this is happening, right? Mm-hmm. Recognize when you're thinking like this, I don't expect you to fix it at first, but just recognize it because that's how you start to make the changes. Yeah.

[00:13:03] Randi: And even to like jot it down like in a notes like in your phone or like a journal or something, take a note so you can start recognizing is something triggering you about this?

What's happening? Is it a relationship? Is it an outside thing? Is it work stress? Is it harm Sunday nights?

[00:13:21] Jess: Right? Because you don't wanna go

[00:13:22] Randi: to work on Monday. Yeah. Like, are you tired? Have you not been sleeping well? Did you not get water? Yeah. Like all these things. Because how are you really supposed to get to know yourself and pinpoint these things if you don't turn inwards and break down the things that are happening to you and around you?

It's just so hard if you can't be self-aware. To understand yourself and thus help yourself. And especially as women, we help everybody else, everybody all the time. We have an answer for everybody else. We have a solution for everybody else. We have a strategy for everybody else, but when it comes to ourselves, we ignore ourselves.

[00:14:03] Jess: Right. So first thing is to recognize when you are thinking like this. Mm-hmm.

[00:14:09] Randi: And be honest with yourself. Yeah. Be honest, because that's the thing we can ignore, push down. And it's very hard when you're thinking black and white because you're thinking, bitch, I don't need nobody. Like, I'm right. Everybody else is wrong.


[00:14:24] Jess: or it's an all or. Right. They never help me. They never participate.

[00:14:29] Randi: They never, right. So why? And I catch myself, you know, when I am hormonal too. Like you guys never help me with stuff around the house. And my husband's like, okay, girl. Like, but yeah, so, and I'm not being honest with myself because if I was, you know, like they, okay, they do help, you know, they can

[00:14:48] Jess: participate.

One way to recognize it, Randy would be go through and it's the never, always those keywords that you said mm-hmm. In the beginning. Mm-hmm. When you catch yourself saying, never, always, you know, any of those other kind of definite Yeah. Kind of statements. Yeah. Write those down. Catch 'em. Yeah. So,

[00:15:07] Randi: and then challenge them.

[00:15:09] Jess: Yes. Challenge 'em with something that contradicts like what you just said. Mm-hmm. You. They never help. Well, okay, that's not true. They do help. They do participate.

[00:15:19] Randi: Yeah. Right. So what I do with, I visualize things. When I catch myself saying things like this, I visualize a red stop sign in my head and I go, wait, stop.

I need to pause. Take a deep breath and think, and I challenge myself. Is this the reality? If I break it down, do they never, ever, ever help me with anything? No.

[00:15:53] Jess: Well, it's even not even never. And it's so funny you say, red stop sign. It's whatever you guys see for me. I say hand. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Because when I visualize a red stop sign, it reminds me of that time when I was driving in Mexico and the sign to me said, Alto, which is tall, it also means stop.

And to me I'm like, oh, it's tall, so I can't do the stop sign. Okay. But I can do a hand, right? Like a, yeah, a stopping hand,

[00:16:14] Randi: um, whatever visualizes. And it doesn't even have, if you're not a visual person, Whatever, you know, you can create something like a word or something, but for me, you know, I'm visual. So if something red that was like, no.

Or like an emoji sign, no. With the X, but yeah. So,

[00:16:34] Jess: so another strategy is we're getting squiring off here. Yeah. Uh, is to practice mindfulness. Mm-hmm. Which is being present in the moment and non-judgmentally observing, you know, your thoughts and feelings. Right. Right. It, it is saying, How am I feeling right now?

What is happening right now? Taking your deep breath, doing your triangle breathing right, and, and sitting there saying, why am I feeling like this? Where does this feel in my body? Mm-hmm. What is going on around

[00:17:05] Randi: me? And doing box breathing, which you can find on our YouTube channel. Mm-hmm.

[00:17:09] Jess: And I think we should be recording of some triangle breathing, which is very, it is very similar.

Okay. We'll put

[00:17:15] Randi: that up for anxiety too on our YouTube channel.


[00:17:19] Jess: Um, and then another thing is that, You know, once you become more aware of your thought patterns, you can start to notice when you're engaging in it, right? Mm-hmm. Like once you can catch it, you're like, oh, I'm doing it again. Oh, I'm doing it again.

Right? And just like you said, put it in your calendar, write it down, journal it. You can start to figure out when is it, do you start to use this all or nothing feeling when you feel flooded, right? Like right, you're overwhelmed and flooded, so now you're doing this

[00:17:47] Randi: kind of thinking. Mm-hmm. And that's part of holding yourself accountable then?

Yes. And becoming more self-aware of. What's causing this or what's leading into this and doing all these steps will bring you much more peace. Mm-hmm. About that type of all or nothing extreme thoughts and emotions, which then lead you to feel more out of control. Mm-hmm. When you're feeling so extreme in a way, you're trying to control the situation, but do you really feel in

[00:18:21] Jess: control of.

Absolutely not. Right? Absolutely. And then lastly, a strategy is going to therapy. Mm-hmm. It's, it's doing what you were just talking about, which is cognitive behavioral therapy, right? Yes. C B T mm-hmm. Is challenging that thought. You know, with your stop sign again, I put my hand up, you can't see Yeah. You know, the, the hand and learning to, to recognize and change those situations.

[00:18:43] Randi: Right. And that's what I specialize in is C B T therapy. And so Me too. I am all about that. You can. Rewire your thought brains and your your thought brains. Your thought brains. I'm sorry, I have no brain this morning. I have not finished my coffee. You can rewire. No, no, I like it. You can rewire your thought brains.

That's, I'm gonna, I'm gonna coin that. Yeah. Thought brains, um, we can rewire our brains to think differently. Mm-hmm. If we put the work in and we learn the skills to do it so that we don't feel so out of control. Mm-hmm.

[00:19:17] Jess: I do a lot of analogies in. Uh, for whatever reason, because I'm visual. I do, I, that is kind of how I've learned to kind of portray it to people, um, to change that.

Right. Just like the visualization is to have like a, a story with it as well, or analogy and that seems to help with a lot of

[00:19:35] Randi: it too. Yeah. Yeah. I think it's easier when we break down things like that so people have a better understanding. Of how they can utilize it. Mm-hmm.

[00:19:47] Jess: And it feels better. It's like in, uh, equine therapy.

Right? The re the whole part of equine therapy is that the story is the horse's story. Mm-hmm. It's not yours. It's not the person that you're working with. You don't have to say you, it's. It's always about the horse. Right. And so sometimes it's better to do it that way, to kind of make it so it's not so personal, which I know.

I don't think it's kind of cool that way. It

[00:20:08] Randi: is. I think sometimes it's easier if we take ourselves out of the equation. Mm-hmm. When we're working on things so we can look at it. Um, Objectively. Objectively. Yeah. So it's like almost like you're, you've taken yourself out of it and you can see it from a different perspective, and then you're able to put yourself back into the situation and go, okay, I see now this work works because since we're so good at helping everybody else and giving everybody else suggestions, think of it as if you are the best friend.

That you're trying to help and how would you help a best friend in this situation? How would you help your sister in this situation? How would you help your daughter in this situation? And then apply it to

[00:20:48] Jess: yourself. Right? And that way you can have, you know, you can learn and develop more balanced and a realistic perspective of what it is.

I, I like gray. I think, you know, shades of gray is a great place to be, depending. 50 shades of gray, right? I know I went there too. A great place to. Right, because it, it isn't black or white. It isn't all or none. It is, everything is so complex that it is th those 50

[00:21:15] Randi: shades of gray. Right? Well, it, and when you find that you have this more complex thoughts, it leads to deeper emotions, more empathy.

Better relationships, a better relationship with yourself, more self care instead of like this all or nothing. You have this rainbow, you know, of colors that you can dive into. Think of it, you know, and that, that you're not like necessarily taking away, but you're gonna be adding, you know, and it's not in a

[00:21:44] Jess: toxic positivity kind of way.

No. We're not, say flip it, find the rainbows. Um, you know, we've, we've talked about toxic positivity before and so in one of our previous podcasts, and so I wanna make sure we're not saying to make it, you know, all sunshines and sunshine and rainbows, cuz sometimes it still sucks. But it doesn't have to be.

It always

[00:22:05] Randi: sucks, right? It can be layered. You can enjoy all the different depths and layers. Of these emotions and we talked about toxic positivity and episode five, if you guys wanna, ah, okay, listen about that. It's kind of that all or nothing thinking in a way, but like the good vibes thing. Anyways, so no, it's the good

[00:22:23] Jess: vibes only, right?


[00:22:25] Randi: Only also extreme, you know, extreme positivity, which is, you know, in the same all or nothing. This and it even. You say like, somebody's so positive all the time like this with this all or nothing. Thinking. If you go to somebody, if you have a friend that's always like, it doesn't matter, or tomorrow's a new day, or like it's beautiful outside or somebody else has it worse, I hate that.

You know, like, You're not gonna wanna talk to them about your problems, you're not gonna wanna go to them. That can almost make you feel like worse and like backfire. Well, it is

[00:22:59] Jess: because it's not validating what you are saying. I mean, and we just got done doing a couple podcasts on validation. Mm-hmm.

Because when somebody D doesn't validate that, yeah. I'm sorry. Today's. Sucked. Yeah, right. Tomorrow might be better, but if they like, oh, look at the bright side. There's no bright side when your day sucks. Right?

[00:23:16] Randi: Right. So if you're that person, listen to episode 25 about validating feelings, because you might also need to have a little bit more empathy for somebody else, and sometimes for yourself too, because we also are very hard on ourselves.

[00:23:28] Jess: So again, I think gray is a great place to be. Mm-hmm. I don't think black and white always has a, has a place. I think it's just different shades of gray. So hopefully y'all can, uh, see if you can catch yourself doing the Yeah. All or

[00:23:41] Randi: nothing thinking. Yeah. Learn to recognize when this type of thinking is happening.

Practice it, practice mindfulness, utilize these strategies and a few of the skills we've given you. Go

[00:23:53] Jess: to therapy. I mean, if you need a link for therapy, go to our podcast. There's a, there's a link on the bottom to help find you some

[00:23:58] Randi: therapy. Yeah. And we're gonna do an episode coming up. S. Soon too, about how step by step, how to find a therapist.

Yeah. For you, a step is hard because that itself can just be, even if you're not having any type of mental health crisis or disorder or upheaval, it can just seem like a lot to do. That kind of stuff. It is a lot.

[00:24:19] Jess: It's a lot to have to do that, so. Okay. Well, Have a wonderful day.

[00:24:24] Randi: You guys are never alone in how you're thinking and feeling, and we will talk to you next week.

Okay, bye. Thanks for listening and normalizing mental health with us.

[00:24:35] Jess: Don't forget to check out our free resources and favorites on our website, unapologetically, randy and,

[00:24:42] Randi: like and share this episode, and tune in next week.


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Ep 36 Embracing the Gray: Overcoming Black and White Thinking