Black and White thinking – moving into the light

If you’ve ever looked into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy you may have come across this term it is one of the unhelpful or negative thinking patterns CBT helps people with. Black and White thinking can be defined as “Believing that something or someone can be only good or bad, right or wrong, rather than anything in-between or ‘shades of grey’” 

Oh boy is this me. This wasn’t helped as I grew up with the typical “correct answer / wrong answer” schooling many of us get and the “good behaviour / bad behaviour” that school, parents, church, society imposes on us. Now for many people early on they figure that these constructs are often just that – sex before marriage – is that wrong or not? Church says yes, your parents may say yes but you may not feel that way – actually the law is on your side once you are of the age of constent so… shades of grey. But I always thought everything had a right or wrong conclusion so I sought to be right as much as I could. This has in some ways been a good thing in my make-up to look at the positive in that I have great general knowledge my wife keeps telling me to go onto Mastermind or quiz shows on TV as I trot out this useless knowledge. So I research, I retain and I learn facts well which is a useful talent when applied correctly.

I left school at age 18 and entered the world of work. My brother had recently got a job as a computer operator and was on good money. I thought “Computers they are the future” so I applied for a trainee post at a local company. I trained as a software engineer/computer programmer with them and at the local college. This however didn’t help my thinking since… it was either 1 or 0 – there or not – right or wrong. I became known in some of my early jobs as the ultimate bug fixer. That odd bug that elluded others in terms of either recreating it repeatedly or just being able to find the error in the lines and lines of code – I was the man. I regularly fixed “unfixable” bugs. I tried to teach others as our Director then thought this a skill I could pass on. However as I showed people my techniques they glazed over – I really did relate to the problem as the computer did and blindly followed the computer programme logic not the intended action, they often missed the bug as they assumed an action that was implied not actually what was stated. I remember one female colleague asking whether I conducted relationships in the same logical manner and was amazed I was married if I did!

Old, wiser, and particularly being sober, I began to realise that rarely in many cases is there a black and white answer to many of life’s issues. Did I get all the shopping? Even then there may need to be a situation of “Almost, I had to get a different brand/flavour/size etc. of something”. Failure? In my old drinking mind Yes- I didn’t do it perfectly. I was the worst critic on this stuff as well.  Beat myself up on that as I’m not a good person as I’ve not succeeded 100%.

Recently I was talking to someone about this old aspect of my life and said that I’m much happier dealing with the plethora of shades of grey. They said – “Really, you still think it is grey?” I looked at them quizzically to which that replied “Black is absence of all light. White is the entire spectrum on full. Therefore you’re living in a world of infinite colour not drab greyness”.

What a great thought and insight. Indeed I believe they are right I’m thinking in a full spectrum of colour these days…

About furtheron

Music and guitar obsessive who is a recovering alcoholic to boot
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7 Responses to Black and White thinking – moving into the light

  1. sherryd32148 says:

    I really love this. Once upon a time I was a black and white thinker as well. The hubs (who is 13 years older than me) used to tell me that life wasn’t black and white…that there were many shades of gray but, at the time, I just couldn’t see it. Things were right or wrong…period.

    Now that I’m older (old?) I have to agree that there are many, many shades of gray in everyday life and I’ve learned to love the flexibility. No so much pressure to always be perfect.

    BUT – my computer genius son? He, like you, sees things as the computer see them. It’s nice to think about it as the entire spectrum rather than all or nothing.


  2. fern says:

    I can relate to this post. I tend to be an all or nothing person, too. I’m learning to see all sides. Thanks for the great post!

  3. Suburbia says:

    That’s a wonderfully insightful post.

    I love the freedom of telling kids ‘there’s no right answer’. They just don’t get it! It’s liberating when you can do it though isn’t it?!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. My mother is a very black/white thinker, and I find her extraordinarily frustrating. Well, maybe because much of what she believes is plum wrongheaded to boot. But I think she finds it easier to live with the extremes rather than the uncertainty of gray.

  5. Elsie says:

    Wow, that’s a great way to look at it rather than gray. Funny, I chose a career in bookkeeping, then over to property management. It it wasn’t in the book, it must be wrong. I also got a degree in accounting and one in IT. I remember when they introduced the IF ELSE statement. Very precise and logical. What I didn’t like was not being able to figure out some of the codes. “Just because it works” wasn’t an option I could accept at the time. Now, I live much more in gray. I mean colors!

  6. daisyfae says:

    This resonates strongly with me! i have long considered myself ‘gray’ — saying “the spectrum is 256 shades of gray, not black and white”. Explaining this to others, i will say ‘i celebrate the obvious ‘right or wrong’, because it is so rare that decisions are that clear’. But i’ve been limiting myself — and agree that i need to start to think in colour! Three dimensions, too!

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