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  • Writer's pictureChris Wingate

Everything You Need To Know About Polarized Thinking

Are you living in a world where everything is black or white? Everything is either good or bad, and there is no in-between? If you are thinking this way, you may be experiencing something called polarized thinking. Polarized thinking is a cognitive distortion that makes everything feel extreme.

As a Colorado Springs behavioral health center, A Cognitive Connection focuses on helping individuals with brain-related and behavioral needs find a more balanced life. We combine technology, different therapies, and a multi-sensory approach to help you find a meaningful and lasting solution to the problem at hand. Now, let’s dig deeper into the causes, symptoms, and impacts of polarized thinking.

What is Polarized Thinking?

Polarized thinking may also be referred to as black or white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking. It is when a person only thinks in extremes about their life. This cognitive distortion gives the person a distorted worldview because reality lies within the grey zones.

A person with polarized thinking will have a much harder time with motivation, self-esteem, and sticking to long-term goals. If an individual with polarized thinking creates a long-term goal of saving money and can’t keep their budget for one day, they are more than likely going to toss in the towel and stray completely from their plan.

What Causes All-or-Nothing Thinking?

All-or-nothing thinking is a common symptom for individuals who suffer from anxiety-related disorders, such as depressive disorders. However, those with negative thought patterns could also deal with polarized thinking. While polarized thinking may be a sign of a more serious problem, it is also common for most people to experience this way of thinking when they are under stress.

Impact of Polarized Thinking

Depending on the root cause of polarized thinking, the impact it makes on your daily life will be different. In many cases, relationships are greatly affected by this type of black or white thinking. When normal conflicts are handled with all-or-nothing thinking, you are more likely to misunderstand the other person and not leave room for compromise.

Romantic relationships may suffer from polarized thinking if you deem your partner a “bad person” due to a poor decision or mistake. This can lead to increased conflict, or even ending the relationship because you are not leaving room for human error.

Other types of relationships can suffer from this way of thinking as well. If you are an employee and you do not get a raise, that does not always mean that you must quit your job. When following this thought pattern, we tend to move people into different categories based on one event which can be costly to the relationship.

How to Stop All-or-Nothing Thinking

When all-or-nothing thinking takes place, reality is nowhere to be found. This way of thinking limits your success and ability to moderate emotions. For example, thinking that because you did not get a promotion at work, your job is on the line. It does not leave room for life and can be extremely draining. Some steps to help you stop this way of thinking include:

Be compassionate toward yourself.

  • At the root of polarized thinking is the idea that you must be perfect in every task you complete. You do not expect others to do every job perfectly, so do not expect that from yourself.

Focus on what you achieve.

  • Take a moment to reflect on the time, effort, and intentionality you have toward a task. Even if it wasn’t perfect, find something you did better than the last time and celebrate the little victory.

Do not allow mistakes to define you.

  • When you make a mistake, do not let that one mistake define who you are as a person. If you burn your food while cooking dinner, do not allow yourself to say, “I am a bad cook,” but instead acknowledge that it was a mistake and move on.

Avoid the definite descriptors.

  • When thinking about a task you completed or an interaction you had, do not allow yourself to use the following words. Always, never, all, every, everyone, success, failure, good, and bad. Instead, try to find some different adjectives to help more accurately define the situation.

Use the word And.

  • And is a powerful tool against all-or-nothing thinking, and you can use it to help break the vicious cycle. For example, you can say, “I never get what I want, the world is out to get me, and sometimes I am the winner and good things can happen to me.” That little word can open our brains to the possibilities of hope and reality.

A Cognitive Connection Is Here To Help

If you are dealing with polarized thinking and are ready to move into a more balanced life approach, A Cognitive Connection can help. We can help you move to a space that allows you to be more accepting of the mistakes and changes that are a part of life. We will walk beside you with our various treatment options, including behavior therapy, which has been shown to improve the symptoms of polarized thinking. Contact our team at A Cognitive Connection to begin taking control of your life.


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