We express our emotions in an array of colour; seeing red , being yellow-bellied, tickled pink , green with envy, browned off or white with rage. We might be in a black mood or feeling blue, and we can experience them all with a purple passion.
These are all expressions of how we feel using colour. Likewise, there are different ways of describing the way we think using colour too.
Red thinking is analytical and driven by collecting data, from numbers or through interactions with others. It invites constructive criticism to uncover hidden dangers and potential problems. In this way, red thinking is deemed cautious and practical.
On the other hand, red thinking can be seen as being intuitive and emotionally lead by a gut reaction. This view of red thinking has also been described as blue thinking. Yet blue thinking is considered by some to represent a means of controlling and overseeing situations to keep discussions moving and ideas flowing. Still with me?
Then there’s blue sky thinking where ideas create more ideas, regardless of their practicality. These free-flowing ideas may eventually lead to an innovative and feasible idea. You may have heard this described as green thinking! Confused?
Time for some simplicity with some black and white thinking. Black and white thinking is one thing or another: right or wrong, good or bad, always or never, love or hate, strong or weak, success or failure…you get the picture. We all know where we stand with black and white thinking because it’s rule-based and gives us predictability.
There is no middle ground and there are no exceptions. I love sunshine. I hate liquorice. I’m always late. I never lie. I’m having a bad day. I’m a good person. Simple. Or is it?
Black and white thinking, also referred to as all-or-nothing thinking, is overly simplistic and rigid. It can cause us to judge situations and people against unrealistic standards and creates false dilemmas which are ultimately a hack for controlling people. Let’s be clear, if I’m claiming to be ‘right’, that makes you ‘wrong’ by default, which is usually neither reasonable nor accurate. This fuels anger and creates conflict to the point of seeing red. And when we are in conflict, we tend to use black and white thinking as a defence mechanism – “You never listen to me!”, ”I hate it when you do that!”, “You’re always complaining!”. I doubt many of us are immune to giving or receiving such accusations.
Anger management encourages us to move away from black and white thinking and to consider both-and thinking. Both-and thinking considers the full spectrum of possibilities and the complexities of any situation, rather than just two polarised opposites. No person or situation is simply one thing or another, right or wrong, good or bad.
Both-and thinking allows differences of opinion where all parties can contribute their worth. It presents the colourful spectrum of our lives by welcoming differences, and it raises further questioning around details that can really matter. Let me illustrate with the much debated and complex issue of punctuality.
Both-and thinking allows me to recognise my tendency to be on time or late rather than early. I prefer to be on time as I’m uncomfortable being early. However, being on time requires a level of meticulous precision simply not required by being early. This makes being on time considerably more challenging, thus increasing my chances of being late. This more detailed level of enquiry into my preferences and behaviour sheds light onto why I am prone to being late and informs how I could improve my punctuality. This is helpful.
Black and white thinking condemns me to always being late. This negates all the efforts I have made to be on time, and not only do I feel bad about myself, I am also judged as lazy, selfish, unprofessional and even passive aggressive. This motivates me to defend myself, causing tension and the potential for conflict, while I am still non-the-wiser about my timekeeping. This is not helpful.
Both-and thinking challenges generalisations, helps us differentiate, shows us alternatives, and accepts preferences, vulnerabilities, and imperfections. In doing so, it embraces the human condition for everything it is, rather than categorising it as one thing or another.
Modifying the way we think is called cognitive restructuring. A simple move away from black and white thinking towards both-and thinking is just one small way in which anger management can help you see things differently.
Both-and thinking is collaborative, balanced and creative. It can help you establish your own needs, the needs of others, and a better outcome for all.
Are you seeing red because you’re thinking in black and white ?
Contact Dr Dawn at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information or to book a session.
Emotional Matters is open for business as usual, offering face to face and online sessions.
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