Living and judging the world in flat black and white is not only limiting by closing yourself off to the possibility of new experiences and awareness, but it is also a dangerous way of viewing and understanding the world. Not all life events are absolute disasters or complete success stories, because life is full of color and contrast, it contains elements of both the good and bad. ‘Black and white’ thinking is dangerous because people only deal in absolutes.
‘Black and white’ thinking is basically all or nothing. It’s a destructive thought pattern that allows us to react with a ‘flight or fight’ response to dangerous situations or possibly hurtful experience. It may still be necessary in some aspects of the world today, but not many times a day in relation to non-life-threatening stress, as so often happens with recovery from drugs and alcohol. Because all or nothing ‘black and white’ thinking is emotionally arousing, it causes over-dreaming and maintains other less effective moods such as depression.
Black and White Thinking and Emotions
‘Black and white’ thinking is very commonly found in depressed people all over the world. This is because it is part of the most primitive of human responses. This type of decision will create an emotional reaction to allow us to act on our impulses at the most extreme levels to the maximum of our ability.
There is a great deal of importance of tolerating uncertainty in life. ‘Black and white’ thinking is the exact opposite. When we think in terms of ‘black and white’, we do not allow for open-minded learning and growth. Looking at life in flat ‘black and white’ context it is as if we think that any answer has to be fact and that opinions and room for ideas to evolve does not matter.
Strictly confining ourselves to ‘black and white’ thinking also takes us to the most drastic extents of our emotions in relationships. We view our intimate relationships as all or nothing, like believing someone either loves you completely and endlessly or not at all. This puts our relationships at risk because ‘black and white’ thinking means we are putting up extreme expectations and demanding that they be unquestionable truths.
Giving our power and perception to ‘black and white’ thinking creates conflict in our life. It gives power to our differences and focuses on the disagreements in our relationships. Arguments become less about a resolution and more about proving someone else less than or wrong in their beliefs. This is a counter-productive strategy in personal development and emotional sobriety because it fuels the negative ego and sabotages humility.
Signs of Black and White Thinking
‘Black and white’ thinking can be spotted when the following words show up all too frequently in our vocabulary and every day conversations:
Restricting life and the way we handle or understand it to terms like these, we cut ourselves off from growth. In recovery that is so dangerous because it creates thoughts like:
- I will NEVER be able to stay sober
- I will ALWAYS feel this way
- It is IMPOSSIBLE for me to change my addiction
- My entire life is RUINED thanks to addiction
These are all ways in which we take away our own self-worth and the essential motivation for recovery is undermined by our need to be absolutely certain one way or the other. It could even go the other way, with thoughts like:
- My life is PERFECT this way
- I will NEVER use or drink again
- Relapse is IMPOSSIBLE for me
When we put ourselves in this frame of mind we are endangering our sobriety by undermining the simple truth, which is for an addict or alcoholic to have lasting sobriety they must remain vigilant and work a program of recovery KNOWING that you can never say never.
Recover in Shades of Grey
Since the idea of ‘black and white’ thinking is another mind-state and perspective strongly linked with depression and other negative emotions and behaviors, learning not to always think in ‘black and white’ terms but to see ‘shades of gray’ is immensely helpful in enlightening your perspective on life in recovery. Looking at the world in more of shades of grey with compromise and open-mindedness greatly reduces, or even completely eliminates the emotionally traumatic thoughts that create and compound the states of stress addicts and alcoholics find themselves in.
The more we divide our thinking into extremes the more likely we are to become depressed or discontented, because extreme ‘either-or’ thinking fuels the negative emotions much more. Statements such as the terms and ideas like those that were listed in this article regarding ALWAYS, NEVER, PERFECT oversimplify life and cause massive emotional swings. Life in itself is not black and white.
I feel to take it even further some have gone as far as to say how do you PROVE what ‘right and wrong’ are and draw that line? You may be very firm on almost every point in life as to what is RIGHT and what is WRONG, but sometimes you consider a ‘necessary evil’ like revenge or punishment for a crime. These can also be dangerous energies to use when making decisions. Thinking in terms of punishment or ‘necessary evil’ are just a corruption of our nature to be just. But thinking outside of the ‘black and white’ shows compassion.
The life we live is colorful, with so many different hues and tones to enjoy. Personally, my favorite color is grey! To me it represents the duality of life. When thinking in a ‘grey area’ we can create the space and the climate for emotional and mental growth. For a healthy emotional life, it’s not more extreme happiness or sadness we need, but a balance of emotions. Life is not meant to be perfect, and you will not always be 100% happy, but ‘black and white’ thinking puts a choke-hold on your sobriety. Once in a while step into the ‘grey area’ and find some breathing room.
All or nothing is not a safe way for anyone to view the world. Recovery is not always ‘black and white’ like most people may think, there are always grey areas in life where we find ourselves as independent individuals who have our own beliefs, opinions and values. What is important is realizing the dangers of thinking things MUST be one thing or the other and that there is no chance for change or transformation. When people refuse to get help, or believe that their addiction is an absolute certainty, it can become a fatal flaw in perspective. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135