Could black and white thinking be hindering you from making friends, forging a career or finding a life partner? Many of us can get stuck in an old pattern of behaviour where a relationship or situation is seen as either all good or all bad and something that starts well may quickly end in hurt, upset and withdrawal. How can counselling and psychotherapy help?
Black And White Thinking Defined
Black and white thinking describes a simplistic and rigid way of experiencing the world; something is seen as either good or bad, right or wrong, true or false. When we think in a very black and white way we might miss nuances or different layers of meaning in a situation. Essentially, we are limiting ourselves to two opposing perspectives when what is actually happening might be much more complex.
All Or Nothing Relationships
A common pattern of relating is to allow people we have just met to get close to us without stopping to ask ourselves whether we really like this particular person and whether there is a good fit between the two of us. This might be in terms of our backgrounds, our likes and dislikes, what we want from life and so on. After a while, we might begin to encounter problems communicating, minor (or major!) irritations and general differences that feel insurmountable. If this is the case, our default position might be to make a sharp u-turn and drop this person by cutting off contact and generally becoming unavailable. Such a pattern might then be repeated with the next potential friend or partner to come along.
Black, White And Grey
In my experience of working with people who have become stuck in unsatisfactory patterns of relating to others, black and white thinking often goes hand-in-hand with an urgency to get close to others, a lack of (or a failure to communicate) personal boundaries and difficulty tolerating difference in others – especially in terms of conflicting needs.
A sense of urgency can either put the other person off or, if we have jumped in too quickly, make it more difficult for us to extract ourselves if the relationship starts to go badly wrong – for example, we might have allowed ourselves to become over-entangled sexually or financially. I define personal boundaries as the line between what we will tolerate in other people’s behaviour and what we will not. Implementing good boundaries involves deciding where our tolerance limits lie, communicating these limits clearly to others and, should someone fail to respect them, ensuring that there are consequences.
Rigid black and white thinking where we might have become overly immersed in our own point of view and what we see as ‘right’ can do serious damage to relationships or even prevent them from getting off the ground in the first place. Allowing ourselves to be more open to others’ points of view, their emotional needs, minor vices and passions that we do not share can not only be hugely liberating but also provide space in which a relationship can flourish. In short we might aim to:
- pace ourselves better
- implement good personal boundaries, and
- become more tolerant of difference.
How Can Counselling Or Psychotherapy Help?
How we see ourselves might be central to the way we conduct relationships and overcome difficulties within them. Successful counselling or psychotherapy gives us insight into how we approach the world and whether our own behaviour might be holding us back in certain areas of our lives. If we have a tendency to think in a very black and white way, therapy can help us to see the grey areas more clearly and appreciate perspectives that might not have occurred to us. There would also be space to consider whether our personal boundaries need to be updated or communicated differently. Finally, we might explore how we pace ourselves in relationship with others and be supported whilst we experiment with new and unfamiliar ways of being.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to psychotherapy and counselling interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation. Emailing in the first instance seems to work best.
Copyright Caroline Clarke, Counselling and Psychotherapy in Brighton and Hove, Sussex.
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