CBT Tips to Help You Overcome Black & White Thinking

CBT Tips to Help You Overcome Black & White Thinking

Have you ever made a mistake and found yourself feeling like a complete failure or dwelling on it for days?

Do you have a tendency to view yourself in a black and white way?

Black and white thinking, also known as all or nothing thinking, is a thinking trap where people see things in two extreme categories. This often gives people a false sense of security and control over their environment. With this style of thinking, people struggle to bring together the positive and negative qualities of themselves into a whole. This can negatively impact your sense of self-worth and overall confidence.

Common examples of this include:

“I’m succeeding or I’m failing”

“I’m great at what I do or I’m incompetent”

“My relationship is amazing or it’s a disaster”

“I’m smart or I’m stupid”

“I’m strong or I’m weak”

“I look beautiful or I look terrible”

Black and white thinking is the tendency to see things in polar opposites. This style of thinking can have a significant negative impact on your self-esteem, happiness and relationships. You can begin to overcome this by practicing the simple Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tips below:


Journal: build awareness of when you engage in black & white thinking and what your triggers are. Keep a journal of your negative automatic thoughts.

Challenge self-critical dichotomous thoughts and replace them with rational thoughts. This will help you see yourself in a more objective and balanced way.

Avoid magnifying the importance of small mistakes and see them in the greater context of your life. Ask yourself: “how will I think about this mistake 5 years down the road?”

Avoid dwelling on mistakes. Dwelling on the past only creates more negativity in your life. Learn to forgive yourself and focus on the lesson or learning behind the mistake.

Acknowledge the positive and neutral aspects of the situation. When people think in a black and white way, they tend to focus only on what went wrong.

Practice self-compassion versus self-criticism. Learn to embrace all parts of yourself including your imperfections.

If you’re getting stuck, ask yourself how you would support or encourage a friend struggling with black and white thinking. As humans, we’re often naturally more compassionate towards others and more critical towards our ourselves.

By: Shari Wood, R.C.C.

The information provided on this blog are for educational purposes only and do not replace individual counselling or advise from your medical doctor. Further, they are not intended for those experiencing symptoms such as suicidal thoughts, for which emergency help should be sought.

Counselling Burnaby Vancouver, Via Counselling & Consulting. Burnaby Counsellor Shari Wood, M.Ed., R.C.C. dedicated to helping clients begin their personal therapeutic journey. A Clinical Counsellor, specializing in helping people overcome self-doubt and build healthy relationships.