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Trusting your own perspective can be a trait people work to achieve. What happens when this perspective however is associated with a dysfunctional way of thinking? All-or-nothing thinking is the thought process that pushes one’s perspective to dichotomous thinking. Also known as black and white or absolutist thinking, this thinking pattern translates each scenario into extremes. These extremes block a person’s ability to see the “shades of gray” or the “silver lining,” especially in negative situations. For example, during an interview, messing up on one aspect might lead you to think the whole interview was a failure, despite there being evidence otherwise. A bad day will not just pass, it is the most devastating day ever.
The risk of this thinking process can be psychologically damaging, increasing the risk of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. Continued all-or-nothing thinking can lead to chronically processing one’s environment in an oversimplified and most commonly, negative way.
Identifying whether or not yours or a loved one’s thought process is blurred by dichotomous thinking can be helpful in finding the tools necessary to break this thought pattern. According to research, the use of words such as “always” used in a negative context, “never,” “totally,” “can’t,” “ruined,” “everyone/no one,” and “anymore” can be indicators that you or someone you know is engaging in all-or-nothing thinking.
When attempting to overcome all-or-nothing thinking here are some Do’s and Don’ts:
- Recognize your strengths
- Understand that setbacks happen
- Find the positive in situations
- Be mindful of this pattern and name it when it happens
- Focus on your faults
- Dwell on self-defeating thoughts
- Use unconditional terms such as "never" or "nothing"
According to Ashley Thorn, a licensed marriage and family therapist, considering these questions can also be helpful:
- What are my values? How do those values fit into my thoughts, questions and decisions?
- What are the pros and cons to both sides of the argument?
- What are the facts, and what are my assumptions?
- What are the emotions I feel or felt? When you list an array of emotions, it’s easier to see the situation isn’t black and white. For instance, “Throughout my job interview, I felt confident, nervous, embarrassed, proud and excited. Therefore, the interview wasn’t all good or all bad.”
All-or-nothing thinking is a rigid mental trap that is anything but helpful. Try practicing evaluating your thoughts by assessing their validity. If self help is not doing the trick, it might be time to enlist the help of a professional. Cognitive Behavioral therapists can help lead you into a less painful life.
Written by: Rudairo Segbeaya, who received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco. She is currently working as the Office Manager at Pacific CBT while undertaking a Master’s Degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University.
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