Black and White Thinking and the Gray Area Box

Black and White thinking, in its most extreme form, is called psychological splitting by psychiatrists and psychologists.  It’s defined as, “…the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole.” Splitting is a relatively common defense mechanism for people with borderline personality disorder. BPD is “…a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by unstable relationships with other people, unstable sense of self, and unstable emotions.”

There is an associated personality disorder that is not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual  of Mental Disorders (DSM IV). It’s not in there because I just invented it and named it “Total Gray Area Thinking.” I define it as an irrational fear of facing reality and a lack of coping skills to deal with adversity. Its sufferers try to construct a different reality that feels more comfortable and allows them to pretend what they see in front of them really isn’t there. At least not in black and white. If it’s there at all is must be “in a gray area.”

Total gray area thinking is manifested in the form of accusations against anyone who asserts anything to be definite, such as something being either right or wrong. The mental labor of determining the truth in any situation is too painful. Gray area thinkers take the easy way out by dismissing anyone who asserts something is true or not true or all one way or all another way.  To them, nothing ever is all one way or all another way. As a defense mechanism it sometimes gets rather ugly with the gray area thinker accusing the other of being a black and white thinker.

Gray area thinkers are especially on guard against what they perceive to be black and white thinking. To them everything is “in a gray area.”  In this way they are relieved of having to face unwelcome or unpleasant facts, or facts that contradict some belief near and dear to them. Indulging themselves in this way only sets them up for a severe case of cognitive dissonance somewhere down the line because in the end, reality isn’t optional.

Of course, there are events and circumstances in life that really do confound our ability to understand and thus may indeed fall into a gray area, at least until we learn more facts that will allow us to better understand what exactly is going on. But putting everything into the gray area box is a mental disorder. I’m sure the DSM IV will identifiy it one day. I won’t insist on being credited as the founder of this new disorder.  It’s not really new, it’s as old as humanity.

There is therapy available for gray area thinkers, it’s easy and it’s free. No need to pay high fees to a shrink. All one need do is try to think what other fact or circumstance would have to be present in order to take something out of the gray area box.  If there is nothing that would do that, then one would have to be classiified as a total gray area thinker, and a lost cause.

All this is underpinned by the three rules all mentally healthy people adhere to in a debate, which are that one must always speak and act with candor, intelligence and good faith.

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