“Extreme Thinking: Black and White, All or None” Comments, Page 1

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16 Comments (4 Discussion Threads) on “Extreme Thinking: Black and White, All or None”

  1. My therapist has told me that I have black and white thinking. Does that mean I am a disordered character, or can black and white thinking be a symptom of something else?

  2. Hi, Harriet. Black and white thinking is not a definitive indication of character disturbance. It is seen in a variety of personality types varies in intensity and quality. Individuals with a disorder of character have a clustering of traits that prevent the establishment and maintenance of healthy social relations and the taking of social responsibility. A prior series of posts dealt with the most essential defining indications of character disturbance.

  3. Black and white thinking can be hard for there is no gray in between areas. I try hard and sometimes can find gray, but is hard when thinking is broken. I find gray areas when not understress, but when small stress comes then have trouble making right words and black and white thinking is all I have when this come out. It hard to do this for when I try make others understand it all sound like broken language I told. So understand how can be both ways. When stress not there I almost go back baseline, but not always with communication. I learn need Black and white to help keep strees down and keep words come right for speech and writing. It helps me to hold boundaries in some areas where I now know I cannot cross. It only way for me to continue to function to some extent, always before I try to accomidate and it make increase trouble, so for me this is black and white of what can and cannot do. I know maybe this not full black and white thinking for way you are talking.

  4. So the question really is, “how does this manifest itself in a relationship?” You would think that this would be no big deal but it leads to the spouse thinking that the disordered person doesn’t care about their needs. Whenever stress does come up (I’m sorry but life is always full of stress, especially with a disordered individual in the house) decisions need to be made. When the person shuts down due to black and white thinking, you can be left with a feeling of neglect and hurt that is unimaginable. After awhile you start realizing that your needs go unheeded. Then after years you realize that if you want to have a meaningful life you will need to be away from this individual. Eventually a need comes up that is so important that it feels like the straw that broke the camels back. Eventually a need comes up that you cannot fulfill alone but need the black and white thinker to think compromise. But when you wake up you realize that you are in a corner. They won’t let you have what you need, they won’t let you get what you need. They don’t want you to have your cake and they won’t let you eat your cake. And they won’t let you have your neighbors cake. And they say, “I’m sorry this is your problem and there is nothing I can do about it? What?? What are you to do?

  5. Karen,

    I loved your description of how black-and-white thinking manifests itself in a relationship. You were describing a spousal relationship, but your description perfectly described what it was like for me growing up with a personality-disordered parent.

  6. It’s so easy for all of you (and the doctor) to point the finger at “the disordered”. This must be the site for those who wish to complain (including the doctor). I see no compassion anywhere – very odd for a “psyche” site. “They” are like this and that – oh what name-callers. I bet the doc has some big problems – anger issues for sure. Maybe he’s sick of his job or was never competent. Reminds me of the type of psychologist that encourages patients to perpetually vomit up their problems. Easy to listen to problems; hard to know how to fix them. Come on you dopey doc! (Anyone seen his license?)

  7. Laura,

    I’m sensitive to your concern about what appeared to you to be evidence of a lack of compassion and therapy know-how. When I was first exposed to the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy for the treatment of character disturbance, I actually had a negative reaction myself. First, I thought the approach was cold and heartless because it was so focused on thinking patterns and behavior and appeared insensitive to feelings and emotional underpinnings. But it didn’t take me that long to recognize how much I had misunderstood the paradigm. It also became very clear to me eventually that individuals who unfortunately suffered from severe disturbances of character didn’t get any better with traditional insight-oriented or any of the other more traditional psychotherapeutic approaches. Moreover, the people in relationships with them continued to suffer and to solidify hostile attitudes toward them. It appeared a lose-lose situations. Besides, the dirty little secret in the “helping” business is that a lot of well-meaning and sensitive therapists pretty much wrote off people with character disturbance as people who couldn’t change and that the best we can do is to learn to tolerate and at least contain them and then complain behind their backs about what a pain they were to deal with. I couldn’t accept that.

    After I adopted the approach that the last 20 years of research has validated over and over again as superior to other approaches, I began to change my attitude dramatically, not so much because the new approach was comfortable for me, but because my patients and those in relationships with them began to experience better lives. So, I’m forever calling attention to well-researched patterns of thinking and patterns of behavior that contribute to arrested or impaired character development. These are the things – among others – that I have written and posted about for many years and which I invite you to become more familiar with in their entirety. I have experience with literally thousands of individuals who have made significant changes not only their thinking and behavior patterns, but also their very characters in the process. I am always impressed by a human being’s capacity to LEARN and change.

    1. Doctor Simon I have found myself with the thinking error you mentioned “writing someone off in regards to change” when I have to deal with someone who fits the profile of “sociopth.” I work primarily with substance abusers, but due to the criminal justice system being the way it is, I have found myself treating sex offenders and others as well. I tend to be more optimistic in regards to helping sex offenders at least self-regulate and monitor their own behavior and impulses. But when I work with someone that appears to completely fit the criteria for sociopath, I often feel hopeless. For these clients there is no blacke or white. It seems to all be “gray” and their way. When I say it all appears to be gray, I am referring to the fact that no amount of logic or rationale appears to get through. Like a chameleon, they tend to adapt to the current circumstance and find a way to bend it to their benefit. Consequences for their poor choices only appears to present a new challenge and play ground for them practice more manipulation.

      I was glad to read your post and remind myself that although these clients present an enormous and exhausting challenge for me, I still need to maintain hope that they have the capacity to grow.

  8. Dr George,

    I can kind of understand why Laura feels upset.

    I do a fair bit of black and white thinking, and it’s very hard to get yourself out of it, sometimes when I get called to account for it (so to speak) I get outraged (when my therapist mentions it or a partner brings it up), so it’s easy to lash out and feel you’re being attacked. Unfortunately I have a habit of picking partners who have major issues or have personality disorders, so I spend a lot of time trying to work out whether I’m thinking in black/white or if my feelings are valid.

    It’s worth mentioning that black and white thinking can come from trauma (I’m pretty sure you do say this somewhere). For me I think it comes from growing up in an alcoholic family, it was my way of dealing with difficult situations. I shut down from reality, and it was easier for me to not deal with shades of grey.

    Do you really think cognitive-behavioural therapy is the best treatment? Just curious as I’ve had a lot of psychodynamic therapy (years of it), it’s really helped me but I have a very good relationship with my therapist. However, I do feel a bit stuck now, but I tried cognitive therapy and it didn’t feel right, but think that was more down to the therapist.

    Anyway, I love the site btw, am studying psychology and the work you have on here is really interesting, I have spent a lot of time reading your articles on not getting involved with the wrong people… some of it may sink-in eventually.

  9. Great questions, Ellie.

    Extreme thinking can be the result of all kinds of conditions. It is not unique to disturbances of character, but individuals with character issues tend to engage in it as well as the other thinking errors I’ve been posting about. It’s the clustering of those problematic thinking patterns that pretty well defines character disturbance.

    CBT is certainly the treatment of choice when character disturbance is the main issue needing therapeutic attention. Where other issues predominate, the treatment of choice may vary considerably.

    Whatever the causes of problematic thinking patterns, they have to be faced before they can be changed. Sometimes, I think therapeutic confrontation of relevant issues gets an unnecessarily bad name. HOW such issues are confronted (benignly and with empathic understanding) is a very big part of the therapeutic process. However, if the problematic thinking patterns don’t get recognized, challenged, and eventually modified, no amount of kind, supportive, “hand-holding” in therapy will improve the situation. There is a real art to addressing problem thinking patterns in a manner that is not only tolerable to the client, but also eventually welcomed and cherished.

  10. Extreme thinking, are you stating that this is a mental disorder disfunction of individuals who think outside the normal frame of the box? or a disorder contributed to what what type of personality traits who may be considered having a character disorder.

    1. George,

      What I’m saying is that this is just one of a cluster of thinking patterns common to individuals who have difficulty leading well-socialized lifestyles. Having one or two of these thinking tendencies would never be a problem for anyone. But when several less than optimal thinking patterns cluster together, they can pose significant obstacles to the socialization process.

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