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Q: Dichotomous Thinking ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   7 Comments )
Subject: Dichotomous Thinking
Category: Relationships and Society > Cultures
Asked by: who3ver-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 08 Dec 2005 22:47 PST
Expires: 07 Jan 2006 22:47 PST
Question ID: 603525
Methods of combating Dichotomous Thinking.  Accepting replies from good people only.

Clarification of Question by who3ver-ga on 09 Dec 2005 01:29 PST

Thank you :-)  awaiting response
Subject: Re: Dichotomous Thinking
Answered By: cynthia-ga on 09 Dec 2005 02:53 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi who3ver,

A good example of dichotomous thinking would be my comment below. I
could not imagine what ELSE you could possibly mean, when in fact, you
meant something entirely different. Upon reading your reply, I went to
the Internet and found this:

How do you describe dichotomous thinking of Borderline Personality Disorder?
..." Patients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) tend to
perceive and evaluate every thought or situation as

    * black or white
    * good or bad
    * all or nothing

This dysfunctional extreme thinking can be one source of extreme
actions like leaving a partnership, quitting a job or other impulsive
actions. This can be the main source of extreme reactions, mood swings
and interpersonal problems.

To change this dichotomous thinking a psychotherapist will point out
examples of daily life to the patient and try to discuss different
point of views in terms of a continuum. So the client learns a more
realistic perception of his environment and personal relationships..."

Boy, did I feel stupid!  Then, I realized what I should have done, and
I think my lesson could be valuable to you. From what I understand,
dichotomous thinking is when a person sees opposites... As an example,
let's take the cup with some liquid in it. A dichotomous thinker would
label it as either half full, OR --half empty.

To combat this tendency, first one would need to be willing to
question one's thoughts and look for other explanations or labels. I
realize it's hard to break away from thinking that it is EITHER half
FULL --OR -- half EMPTY, but in fact, if you think about it, the fact
is, it just has some liquid in it.

To illustrate:

Half empty = black
Half full = white
has "some" liquid in it = GREY!

So, each and every day, as often as you can muster or remember, look
for ways to see the grey, to NOT LABEL THINGS.

If you see a task as "too hard" , you can see the grey by breaking the
task down to smaller steps so each step looks attainable.

If you miss the bus, you would normally say either "I was Late" OR
"the bus was early" --when in fact, it doesn't require a judgment at
all, thinking grey would simply be "for whatever reason, I did not get
the bus at 3:18pm" There is no reason for it to be polorized to I WAS

If a pan with boiling water in it begins to cool, it is not all of a
sudden frozen. First, it's "really hot", then HOT, then lukewarm, then
room temperature, then cool, then cold, then really cold, then
freezing. You need to think about other things in your life the same

The only absolutes in life are birth and death, and everything in
between is the grey. We make small choices every minute, every hour,
every day, week, month and year. Polorizing thoughts about these
actions is non-productive in the extreme.

There is a lot of information available about how to combat this type
of thinking, but the hardest battle of all will be committing to allow
the grey to be "OK."

Start the journey by studying positive thinking. Focus on improving
self-esteem and keeping expectations realistic. From what I've read,
dichotomous thinkers tend to blame themselves for everything that goes
wrong, OR judging others in a black and white (good or bad) fashion.
No one is all good or bad, even Ted Bundy had a nice smile, but that's
the only good thing I can say about him. Even then, I'm positive his
victims saw it as sinister, so it's all in the eyes of the beholder.
Your judgment of GOOD or BAD doesn't even make it so!

In short (or long) your need to question nearly every thought,
identify polorized thinking, and force yourself to look for the grey.
Let's take the bus example. Say your first thought is "I WAS LATE and
missed the bus!" To combat this, recognize it's polorized and LOOK for
the total opposite. .... Opposite might be "The bus was early."  Then,
after seeing the black and white, force yourself to find a statement
about missing the bus that is GREY.

1) My clock could have been wrong (I have a wind-up that slows down).
2) It's possible that bus never came, maybe it broke down.
3) Maybe the bus was rerouted (like in the snow).
4) Maybe the bus schedule changed (check the date on your schedule).

See what I mean?

It doesn't matter what the truth really is, because when you are
combatting dysfunctional thinking patterns, the success is in the
process (the journey) of learning to question your thoughts, NOT at
identifying the actual truth. The faulty thinking compels you to judge
it, label it. Combatting this means actively being present in your
thoughts and thinking "Is there an opposite to that?"  IF SO, you need
to search force yourself to think of alternatives, no matter how
absurd, until it becomes OK that things are grey. Remember, this will
NOT feel comfortable or natural (that's why it's called different),
and that's the goal!  Get out of your comfort zone.

The pain of remaining the same has to be more uncomfortable of the
fear of change. (read that again)

It's either that, or therapy. The following page has a short synopsis
of several types of therapy:

A Few Thoughts Concerning The Dimensions Of "Medical Treatment"

This next link describes cognitive therapy in relationship to
dysfunctional thinking processes of all types:

About Cognitive Therapy
..."Cognitive therapists work with the person to challenge thinking
errors like those listed above. By pointing out alternative ways of
viewing a situation, the person's view of life, and ultimately their
mood will improve. Research has shown that cognitive therapy can be as
effective as medication in the long-term treatment of depression..."

Simply recognizing and wanting to change this is the biggest hurdle.
The fact that you came to Google Answers in search of information
shows you are reaching out to find a roadmap to change. Here's where
to begin your journey:

..."Greetings! And welcome to Headworks, the virtual workshop for your
mind. If you're not dealing with things as well as you might; if
you're not thinking, feeling, or acting the way you would like to; you
just might find the help that makes a difference, right here..."

Talk to a Therapist Online

If this is interfering in your relationships, there's:


If none of this appeals to you, that's ok, here's a site with ideas
(besides mine) about learing to think differently.

Learning to Think Constructively:
Self Esteem:
How to Change Life: Changing Yourself Step By Step; Coping with
There's more links at the bottom of these pages.

who3ver, I hope I have given you some food for thought. I have assumed
the person with dichotomous thinking is you, and if not, just apply
these words to the third person. I sincerely wish you the best. Please
update now and then and let me know how you're doing, I'll get a
notice in email that you have posted again.

If you'd like more links, ask for a clarification. I realize most of
my answer is in my own words, and to quantify that, I have been
through 18 months of intense psychotherapy. I have changed my thinking
to such a degree that I no longer recognized my own disorder!


Sincerely wishing t=you the best,

By the way, I donated about 2 boxes of food to the food bank this year
and gave away about 50 paperbacks and 15-20 hardback books to a
shelter about a month ago. I also gave a lot of stuff away on Craig's
List. I don't sponsor any kids from third world countries, but my Aunt
Ruth does.  :-)

Search terms used at Google:
"dichotomous thinking"
(and personal experience)

Clarification of Answer by cynthia-ga on 09 Dec 2005 02:57 PST
This is an important sentence, and since I mistyped it, I want to get
it right for you:

....The pain of remaining the same has to be more uncomfortable than the
fear of change....

and as before: read that again, it's important.
who3ver-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00

Thank you for the excellent info.  I looked for information on the net
for quite a while but I wasn't satisfied.  I will further dissect your
answer and try to get the most out of it.  I will keep you updated
with the prognosis.  Thanks again :-)

Subject: Re: Dichotomous Thinking
From: cynthia-ga on 08 Dec 2005 23:43 PST
Just so no we know, could you define "good people" ? Will you be
judging our character by how much we gave to the local food bank, or
do we need to have sponsored a child in a third world country?
Subject: Re: Dichotomous Thinking
From: cynthia-ga on 08 Dec 2005 23:53 PST
Excuse the typo --that should read "Just so we know"
Subject: Re: Dichotomous Thinking
From: who3ver-ga on 09 Dec 2005 00:51 PST

The comment "Accepting replies from good people only" was my way of
getting researchers and users to be interested enough to answer my $2
question.  It is a joke on the expense of the good person/bad person
nature of Dichotomous Thinking.  I'm in no way portraying my question
or Dichotomous Thinking as a laughing matter.  It is a serious matter
that I would like to know more about.
Subject: Re: Dichotomous Thinking
From: cynthia-ga on 09 Dec 2005 01:25 PST
Thank you for your explanation. After reading your response, I
searched for your question and found the reason you described! I was
wholly unfamiliar with the concept and your humor was (totally) lost
on me.

There's a lot of information available on the Internet about this, and
I'll answer it for you.
Subject: Re: Dichotomous Thinking
From: cynthia-ga on 09 Dec 2005 03:28 PST

Thanks so much for the kind words, the 5 stars and the Generous tip!
Occasionally I will come upon information later that pertains to an
answer I already gave. As I find web sites that are relevant to this
thread, I'll come back and post them. When I do, you'll get an email
notification that says I have "clarified" my answer.

Most of my answer was not links, mainly because I have traveled the
journey to different thinking and I tried to articulate what you must
think in your mind situation to situation, DAY TO DAY. As I said, I
had 18 months of therapy. Twice a week for a year, once a week for 6
months. This was about 15 years ago.

There ARE a lot of great sites that assist others in learning new
thought techniques, but I didn't run into any of my old haunts while
searching for links for you, and my old favorites/bookmatks were lost
on a dead hard drive. I expect to find them again, it always happens
that researchers will later come upon that "perfect" link, or "the
exact link I was looking for." One of the great things about Google
Answers is that the question will remain open for Comments from you
and others, and clarifications by me --for one full year.

So, when you get a notice, be sure to click the link and see what I've
found for you.

Again, thanks ever so much. It was a pleasure.

Subject: Re: Dichotomous Thinking
From: olivia28-ga on 30 Oct 2006 11:26 PST
I just came across this thread when I typed in 'dichotomous thinking',
and I just want to say thank you to the author - it's the clearest and
most helpful explanation of this that I've come across so far.

Thanks again
Subject: Re: Dichotomous Thinking
From: cynthia-ga on 05 Nov 2006 07:30 PST
Thank you for the kind review of my Answer!

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