Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Toxic Binary

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As a counselor, I am noticing a huge increase in black-and-white thinking, also called Polarized/Dichotomous thinking.
This is a cognitive distortion in which a person feels they have only two options to choose from. For example, with a mushrooming of polarizing political leaders, a lot of us feel like we must either love this leader or hate him. We cannot see a third choice.
Sample this: a wife feels de-stressed when she goes on a walk by herself. But her husband has begun insisting on joining her. She has told him she wants to go by herself, and that has not worked. She begins to think: I can either go by myself and be selfish. Or I can allow him to accompany me and be sacrificing.
Can you see that there is no victory in either choice? She wants to be neither selfish nor sacrificing. But her mind is not presenting her a third choice. This is the Toxic Binary.
Can you think of win-win solutions for this woman?

In a starker example, a middle-aged man is feeling suicidal. He is ashamed about a particular behaviour he has exhibited in the past. Now, he feels he has only two choices: he could either continue to live and force his family to share his shame. Or he could die and spare them the agony of feeling that shame. 

It stands to reason that the hold of Toxic Binary thinking over our minds is the greatest when our emotions are at their peak of intensity. We will not be able to see a third choice and that makes us despair. At this juncture, we need somebody who can help us differentiate between fact and perception.

When I feel this and other cognitive distortions, I reach out to a list of people who can help me. Whom do you reach out to when your mind becomes your enemy?

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