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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Leigh

Dichotomous Thinking

Do you ever catch yourself thinking in extremes?

“He never listens to me!”

“I always mess up.”

“Well, that was a disaster.”

It is so easy for us to become overly polarized in how we perceive events, ourselves, and others and get caught in this kind of thinking trap, otherwise known as a cognitive distortion. This is just one of the many ways we overly invest in a thinking strategy that tends to cause more problems than it solves.

We can’t be too hard on our minds, though. Our brains are brilliant short-cut makers, and this is just a shot at being more efficient in our thinking, something ALL of us do. Our mind is just trying not to have to evaluate every single person and situation that arises in extreme detail. Unfortunately, when overly applied, we find ourselves omitting important information or completely misevaluating situations.

This can lead to several very real issues. We might misjudge people and their intentions, which can result in volatile relationship patterns. We might misjudge ourselves and limit the pursuits we are willing to explore because they seem out of the “this or that” dichotomy in which we are used to seeing ourselves. It can negatively impact our health in determining that certain foods or activities are categorically “good or bad”. We might drain ourselves in unhealthy ways in taking “all-or-nothing” approaches to certain goals or dynamics.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one way to approach this type of cognitive distortion to learn how to better identify when it’s being employed and create realistic alternatives that allow the nuances of life to come into the picture. When polarized thinking is abandoned, things do become more complicated, but more importantly, they are more accurate, which is often much less upsetting! There is a freedom in abandoning the duality of having only 2 ways of seeing things, as there are nearly always more perspectives worth considering. Therapy and CBT are excellent ways of bringing those perspectives into the picture for a healthier and happier approach to life.

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