Black-and-White Thinking

I am the queen of black-and-white thinking, but I wasn’t always this way. I wasn’t always the worst case scenario expert, and I used to be a lot more optimistic than I am. Then I became a social worker. I am kidding but not completely kidding.

Working with people did have a big impact, I think, on this all-or-nothing way of thinking, and a large part of that is probably having my own expectations on what others should be doing. That will set you up to fail, by the way. You’ll get burnt out.

Anyways, I can’t pinpoint what event got me to this way of thinking. I don’t think it was a choice, so that may not be the best way for me to put it. It is more like this is what makes sense to me based on my unique life experiences. I don’t mean to be a black-and-white thinker all the time, and it has sometimes gotten me into trouble.

For example, I am the type of person who believes that you either give it all or don’t bother. Anything you can imagine. Whatever you’re gonna be, be a good one or don’t bother.

I tell myself it all the time. That’s what got me through college, ending with all A’s in my major and a 3.85 in my minor. That’s what has pushed me over the years in my professions, where I have won employee rewards and honors before.

Too bad I haven’t been able to apply those principles to other areas of my life. I don’t think it is ALWAYS such a bad thing. I don’t think there is anything wrong with dipping your toe in the water before you dive in head first, so to say.

However, I am a BAD black-or-white thinker when it comes to my health. I tell myself, “If you’re not going to commit to eating better or running or whatever, then why are you wasting your time and getting your hopes up when you know it won’t end well because you’re not giving it your all, so why even bother?”

Ouch. Just acknowledging those thoughts kind of hurt.

Good ol’ Wikipedia says black-and-white thinking is also known as “splitting” and can be defined as “the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism” (click here for the page). 

Well, I am guilty as charged. What about you? Are there certain areas of your life where you’re either “go big or go home” about things?

So, if that is true (being a defense mechanism), what am I so defensive about? What has happened to me to make me be on the defense? Fear of failure? Fear of rejection? Actually failing or being rejected? Anxiety and depression? Unresolved trauma? An addiction to perfectionism? All of the above?

Probably all of the above and then some.

I think for me it mainly comes from the rejection. I’ve been rejected socially. I’ve been rejected with my writing. I’ve been rejected professionally. When you keep being rejected, over and over, unless you are just made of steel, it eventually wears down on you. Being rejected, and perhaps that rejection even turning into failure because I didn’t do what I sought to do, over and over can definitely make me put up a shield or two. So, I can see why now it can be considered a defense mechanism.

I need to work on finding that healthy balance of being “cautiously optimistic.” I wouldn’t say I am a negative person by any means. I just need to embrace the gray areas a little more. Or even better…lose all expectations altogether so nothing will disappoint me.

Expect nothing and appreciate all.

2 thoughts on “Black-and-White Thinking

  1. Hello,

    My name is Chris and I am a therapist exploring the topic of mental health and community in the age of social media. I started a podcast and website to motivate me in my exploration.

    I just came across your website and enjoyed your post! I would very much like to feature it on my “Reads” page on My goal is to maintain a space where people can share their thoughts and experiences and learn from each other. If you are interested in sharing, let me know and we can further discuss.


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