Are You Stuck In Black & White Thinking?

Is this you…….. “I can’t……”, “I always………”, “I’ll never..…”?

‘Black and White’ or ‘All or Nothing’ thinking is a common issue I see with clients. When a client is stuck in problem it’s often because they are looking at the world through this Black & White filter called a Cognitive Distortion.

Called what?

Well we tend to trust what goes on in our brains. After all, if you can’t trust your own brain, what can you trust? Right?

What can happen is, our perspectives we take on ourselves and the world around us can form irrational thoughts and beliefs that we unknowingly reinforce over time that distort a person’s perception of reality, usually in a negative way. Many occur as automatic thoughts. They are so ingrained that the thinker often does not realise he or she has the power to change them.

Many form a fixed mindset to believe that’s just the way things are, it becomes a story they play over and over in their mind and becomes their reality.

The challenge with Black and White thinking is that it forces a ‘Grey’ world full of possibilities, options and ideas into just two choices, ‘my way or the highway’, ‘success or failure’. It leaves only two possibilities.

This doesn’t consider other potential options like finding a new way forward, learning from mistakes to build deeper connections or discovering new insights and beliefs, and experiencing personal growth.

When engaging in this type of thinking, an individual tends to take things personally.

He or she may attribute things that other people do as the result of his or her own actions or behaviours and quite often this can trigger limiting beliefs and negative influences in the subconscious, AKA that inner critic which causes self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours.

What are some ways people can distort their perception of reality?


Often things are exaggerated or blown out of proportion, though not quite to the extent of catastrophising, however the old saying, “Making a mountain out of a molehill.” a person ignores the middle and possibly more reasonable ground.

“Should of”, “ought of” statements

Thoughts that include “should,” “ought,” or “must” for example: “I must lose weight to be more attractive and find love.” “I should be better …”. This type of thinking may induce feelings of embarrassment, guilt or worthlessness and a negative viewpoint. Instead start with “I’d like to…or I will…”

Mind Reading

Jumping to conclusions, making assumptions and predicting the future without confirmation on facts and truth, these assumptions are based on their experiences of their map of the world, their perception. Open and honest communication is a great way to add some grey to this type of thinking.

Mental Filtering

This is a form of all-or-nothing thinking, when a person filters out any positive information and aspects about events and experiences, they focus only on the negative aspects, ignoring compliments or positives he or she receives.

Emotional Reasoning

This is when a negative feeling is incorrectly assumed to reflect something true. For instance a person might feel frightened about a situation and assume it is dangerous. This is an opportunity to explore the emotions without judgement and remember emotions change quickly.

Categorising or labelling

This occurs when someone labels or tags themselves, a person or something on one experience or event, which sets up expectations and can often give a false sense of how things really are. Labels stick and this type of thinking can lead to always assuming the worst particularly with the unknown along with misunderstandings and underestimating. Challenge the label by reminding yourself that everybody is much more than one label.


When you hold yourself accountable and take all the blame, this causes stress and you want to fix things even though there were other influences, circumstances and other people that often play a part.


This is like personalisation only the blame is external, holding someone or something else 100% accountable.

There are many more that I can list for cognitive distortions, these are common themes and language I hear, you may fall into one or more of these or know someone who does.

Here are some questions to challenge black and white thinking:

Is that a fact that cannot be disputed or is it just your interpretation?

Suppose for a moment that you have all the money/ support/ time/ energy/ confidence/ health you need. What other options/possibilities are there of looking at this?

Am I assuming the worst? If I look at this positively how do I see it?

Do I have a trusted person who I can check these thoughts with?

Is it all someone else’s/my fault?

Do I really know for sure what someone else is thinking?

Am I attempting to predict the future?

Sometimes these thoughts can be confronting or confusing, remember it can be normal to experience these at times, it is unresourceful when these thoughts are constant and fuel anxiety.

Keep in mind these are exploring questions and working with a professional can be of immense help to change the way you feel about yourself by adding shades of grey into your thinking, to find the middle ground and get unstuck.

If you would like to know more about how to change your thoughts, so you can change your world, contact me for a complimentary no obligation telephone consultation, it could be a conversation that changes your circumstances and to see how  you can bring some grey into a black and white world.


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