BINARY OR "BLACK + WHITE" THINKING CAN BE A RESPONSE TO TRAUMA
We might notice that in times of stress, we're more likely to make quick judgments without thinking things through or considering the nuance in a situation. Binary thinking, sometimes referred to as "black + white thinking", is a phenomenon where we tend to think in "all or nothing" terms, habitually assuming that something must be all good, all bad, all right, or all wrong.
When we're talking about binary thinking, we're not saying that we shouldn't have opinions, or hold personal values and beliefs. Even if we hold strong opinions, it's important to keep an openness + consideration to alternative perspectives and to realize that there are many more perspectives than just the one we hold and the one that seems in direct opposition to it.
First of all, why is binary thinking not so helpful (and even harmful) to us?
Most things are not binary. Life is filled with complexity, nuance, and dynamics. When we're quick to judge and assume, we miss out on truly experiencing all of these complexities, on learning, and developing empathy + understanding of other humans through seeing things from varied perspectives. We ultimately miss opportunities for creativity, growth + collaboration. Collectively, when many of us engage in binary thinking, we see the polarization of ideologies and tribal behaviors that can turn hateful and violent.
Why do so many of us engage in binary thinking?
Binary thinking can be a common response to trauma. Ultimately, many of us who engage in binary thinking are doing so in an effort to feel safe. Coming to quick and polarized judgments of people + situations can help us to feel more in control, because we may feel a sense of constant unease + hypervigilance, always looking for potential threats to avoid. When we can deem something or someone as "good/right", we're essentially saying that these social interactions + experiences will be safe for us, that we can let our guard down for a bit. When we label something as "bad/wrong", we can avoid it, or spend our energy railing against it so that we feel we're still in control.
How can we start to unlearn this habit?
We can commit to openness + curiosity, exploring the nuance + complexity in all things. Here are some practices we can apply:
Self-directed questions can be catalysts for insight. Asking ourselves questions that invite new perspectives can be powerful. Here's just an example: "Besides my opinion, and the one that I think is "wrong", what's another perspective or opinion here that I haven't considered?"
Grounding with mind-body tools
Becoming aware of the binary thoughts themselves (mindfulness), can help us to realize that we ARE in fact, stressed, triggered, to feeling unsafe in that moment. Many times we don't consciously realize that. Once we do, it's easier to give ourselves a little grace + space in that moment to re-set by connecting with the body and reminding ourselves we are not, in fact, in any significant danger, and that we can remain open in our way of thinking. Something as simple as Diaphragmatic breathing can ease us into a sense of safety within our own bodies.
Reminders to value curiosity over conclusion
Remind yourself that it's ok to sit with uncertainty, to not have a conclusion, to not fully understand things, but to stay willing to learn. Openness means that we're at peace with the ever-changing nature of life, and we're aware that our own understanding and perspective will evolve naturally. Remember that no one needs to be "100% right", there's really no such thing. Create a new habit that involves these reminders and commitments to openness. Try writing them down and placing notes where you'll see them throughout the day, or, keep a curiosity reflection journal.
We discuss this and more in the video above. ❤