Black & White Thinking

by Suffolk Mind Team | 16 Nov 2023

The way our minds react can be helpful or unhelpful, depending on the situation. An example of this is Black & White Thinking – one of the nine resources we are born with to help us meet our emotional needs.

During this type of thinking, our thoughts are narrowed and shades of grey are removed. It can be beneficial, such as when we need to act immediately in an emergency.

However, it can also have a negative effect on our mental health.

When is Black & White Thinking unhelpful?

Strong emotions can seriously affect the way we think. When we find ourselves feeling emotionally overwhelmed, our ability to think rationally can go out the window.

One way to describe this is ‘emotional hijacking’ – as our black and white thoughts overpower our Rational Thinking resource.

When our rational brain has been ‘hijacked’, we can find ourselves stuck in three ways of unhelpful thinking:

  • Personal: ‘It’s my fault’, ‘I am useless’ or ‘I’m the only one who can do this’
  • Pervasive: ‘Everything is wrong’, ‘Because there was traffic my whole day is ruined’ or ‘Because I did that wrong before, I’ll do it wrong again’
  • Permanent: ‘It’ll always be terrible’, ‘It will never change’ or ‘I’m always late’

These unhelpful thoughts can prevent us from thinking clearly and rationally, and from meeting various needs including Status, Achievement, and Meaning & Purpose.

While at the time they may seem harmless, these thoughts will eventually take a toll on how we feel about ourselves. And the more we are susceptible to Black & White Thinking, the less control we will have on unhelpful thoughts.

How can we think more rationally?

There are a number of ways we can prevent Black & White Thinking taking over our thoughts.

One way is to tap into another innate resource, Rational Thinking. While it may sound easy to think rationally in hindsight, there are ways we can help prevent irrational thoughts in the present.

For example, planning ahead with our rational mind can help us avoid circumstances which may trigger Black & White Thinking.

Meanwhile, using our Observing Self resource can help us to reflect on things which we may find emotionally overwhelming. In doing so, it might help in similar situations in the future.

Pay attention to the words you use – try to avoid words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ and instead use ‘maybe’ and ‘sometimes’.

Remember, we have all the skills and resources within ourselves to help balance Black & White Thinking.

If you think you need support for your mental health, take a look at the services we offer.

by Suffolk Mind Team
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