Black-and-White Thinking

You might be interested to identify whether you have a tendency towards emotional black-and-white thinking - that is, on the basis of rather limited evidence, taking a viewpoint that excludes wider possibilities or greater options.

Below are some common examples, take a moment to read them through. Do you ever have any thoughts like these? 

  • All-encompassing

Making a broad assumption based on one, possibly trivial, fact.

"Alison is a better person than I am: she makes better cakes/ has a higher degree/ is always smiling."  

"Anyone who thinks that must be an idiot." "If something can go wrong, it will."  

"Eating Chinese food is risky. It made me sick once." 

  • Self-focusing

Believing there must be a personal significance behind what are actually random events.

"That's the third time this week the bus to work has been too crowded for me to get on. I must have done something bad to deserve this."

"The computer doesn't like me. It keeps going on the blink."

  • Jumping to conclusions

Reaching a judgement on the basis of one, often insignificant, fact or event.

"My husband/wife is late home. He/she is having an affair!"  

"When I came in to work this morning, the sales director was talking to Sarah. He's going to give her the promotion!"  

"My neighbour's milk is still on the step. He must be dead in his bed!"  

"My mother suffered from anxiety. So I'll always suffer from anxiety too."

  • Blaming

The tendency to look for someone or something specific to carry the can when things go wrong - very often oneself.

"It's all my fault that my husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend has left me.  

"Trust me to go and work for a company that went bust six months later."  

"I think parents are to blame if their children turn out badly."  

"I put it all down to the weather." 

  • Exaggerating feelings

Sensations and emotions are misconstrued as much more negatively meaningful than they really are.

Feeling a bit sad: "I must be depressed!"  "I might as well kill myself."

Anxiety makes the heart thump a bit: "Am I having a heart attack?"

Feeling a little nervous: "I can't cope!"

Having a nasty headache: "I might have a brain tumour!" 

  • Taking a position

Being unable to countenance that someone else might have a different but equally valid viewpoint or that there is a middle way.

"Helping a terminally ill person to die is always wrong" / "Helping a terminally ill person to die is always right".  

"You are either a winner or a loser."  

"If you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem."  

"If you don't do it to the best of your ability, it isn't worth doing it at all." 

  • Catastrophising

Assuming the outcome of an event is going to be personally disastrous.

"If I mess this up, I'll never get another chance!"  

"If I don't get this report in by tomorrow, my boss will kill me!"  

"I can't start the car. I'll lose my job if I'm late!"  

"If he/she dumps me, my whole life will be ruined!"  

  • Having to be perfect

Imposing impossible or restricting demands on oneself.

"You can't be seen out not looking your best."

"My essays have got to be absolutely brilliant before I'll give them in. Trouble is, I keep missing the deadlines."  

"I got graded 'excellent' seven times and 'good' once. Oh dear, why did I only get 'good'?"  

"I'll have nothing but the best for my children. I'd rather they went without than made do."

  • Obfuscating

Jumping on convoluted, psychological explanations for events that might be more simply explained in a different way.

"You don't like me because you've got a thing about men/women."  

"I failed because I have a fear of success."  

"You continually put down my efforts because you have an unconscious need to sabotage whatever I do."  

  • Putting oneself down

"I only won the competition because no one really good entered."  

"I can't blame anyone for not picking me. Why should they?"  

"Anything I do is likely to turn out badly." 

Continued in this article: The three pertinent Ps