Thinking in Black and White: Sometimes, You Can Have Your Cake and Eat it, Too

We often find ourselves thinking in all or nothing terms, meaning that, at times, we erroneously believe that things have to be fully one way or fully another, with no possibility for nuance, or an in-between. I discovered myself thinking this way just recently when a girl who seemingly found me attractive asked if we could be friends. To me, for some time, this was absolutely heartbreaking; I was so upset at her for not wanting to date me, and confused because she sent me all of the signals which implied romantic interest. In essence, I was thinking in black and white.

So, I decided to vent to a friend about my befuddlement, feeling like this girl was either playing games with me or confused about her feelings. My friend, vehemently responded, “She can be attracted to you but want to be friends!” I was stunned. I said, how is that possible? She either wants to date me or put me in the friend zone; there can’t be an in-between. In her infinite wisdom, and with her characteristic kindness, my friend told me that she could conceivably want both, stating that although it was clear that this girl was attracted me, it was also clear that she wanted to take things really slowly; hence placing me, for the time being, in the friend zone. Her helping me clear-up my distorted thinking played a major role in alleviating my confusion, and admittedly, my diminished self-image.

Ages ago, a notable philosopher named G.W.F. Hegel conceptualized a system of argumentation, or investigation, eponymously called Hegelian Dialectics. Hegel’s system was comprised of three components: the argument; the counter-argument; and the truth, being a resolved synthesis of the two. For Hegel, the truth, whatever that may be, was arrived at through the use of this system; to him, black and white thinking was a distortion, and a perversion, of philosophical inquiry, being only a prelude to the ultimate goal. This construct is the foundation of Dialectical-Behavior Therapy, and is incredibly useful when challenging dysfunctional, black or white, all or nothing, type thinking.

Whenever we’re feeling down or scared, it’s our interpretations that are making us feel so. Sometimes, our interpretations are accurate assessments of reality, such as “I failed a math test,” but oftentimes, they aren’t, such as, in my case, “That girl isn’t attracted to me.” It’s important for us to assess how we’re seeing things, focusing on the foundations of our moods. For Hegel, and for all of us, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle, in a gray area we call nuance. And, using the dialectical tool can be a big help in reminding yourself that it’s possible for a good and a bad thing to be true at the same time.

Examples of this are wide-ranging, and involve various disorders, including Body Dystrophic Disorder, as well as depression and anxiety. For those struggling with the way in which they perceive themselves, my first step in treatment is helping them accept that it’s possible for them to believe that they’re unattractive while having others, simultaneously, be truthful when they tell them that they’re beautiful. With body dysmorphia, the confusion is usually the most difficult issue, as the belief is that others are liars, and therefore untrustworthy in their assessments of the client’s appearance. Through dialectics, a person can come to recognize that the people who love them really do believe that they’re beautiful, even though they, themselves, don’t.

And, this method is highly useful in terms of other qualities as well, as one can genuinely be perceived as a great writer, cook, painter, or musician, even if that individual doesn’t see him or herself in the same manner. So, although we are our harshest critics, it’s more likely than not that our work, our appearance, and our talents are positively seen, and/or even admired, by others, especially those who love us.

So much for that hiatus…

5 Comments

  1. You’re right, things just cannot be black and white all the time. But it’s easy to lose sight of that sometimes. Thanks for the insight. Have a good one!

    Liked by 1 person

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