All or Nothing Thinking Style


Since it is mental health awareness month and this is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately I figured it I might as well discuss it on the blog! For those of you who are not into reading about mental health don’t worry I still plan on blogging about many other things as well!

There are many unhealthy thinking styles (or cognitive distortions) such as jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing, labeling, emotional reasoning, etc. Everyone is guilty of one style or another and I am guilty of my fair share which is one of the main causes of my anxiety. However, I feel lately much of our society is using all or nothing thinking (can also be called polarized thinking or black and white thinking) and it makes me sad. 

Like I said there are a lot of unhealthy thinking style and all or nothing thinking is one that I don’t struggle with as much as others but so many people do. I feel like every time I get on Facebook I see statements saying something is “always” like this or “never” like that. Most of the time neither are true. You might be thinking, “what’s wrong with a little exaggeration?” While we all exaggerate from time to time when we truly believe these exaggerations is what can be dangerous.

In many situations the words like always, never, and every, are signs of all or nothing thinking. All or nothing thinking is very black and white with no gray areas.  PsychCentral describes it as “We have to be perfect or we’re a failure – there is no middle ground.” This type of thinking can cause lots of unwanted anxiety, depression, and stress. I see this often with people in school. If they do bad on one test they consider themselves a failure and give up on the class altogether. Doing bad or even failing one test does not make you a failure. Not even close! No one is perfect!

One place I have been seeing all or nothing thinking lately is when reading news stories. Whether it’s political, entertainment, or world news there always seem to be some form of all or nothing thinking involved. I get it the media wants to stir up drama because it gives them more views but it’s not healthy. A politician makes one decision that you don’t agree with, does that make him or her a bad person? Absolutely not! People find one thing they don’t like and all of the sudden that person is considered a “bad guy” or “evil.” I really don’t believe there are too many people in this world whose goal is to be “evil.” To be quite honest I believe most of the so called “evil” people in this world actually have untreated mental illnesses. That is not to say there are not truly evil people, but not as many as the media or social media make it out.

There is no one on this planet you are going to agree with 100% of  the time. I don’t always agree with my husband, my parents, my sister, or my friends but that doesn’t change the way I feel about them. When you become caught up in all or nothing thinking you can loose sight of the big things. I have seen people stop talking to relatives because of one little thing they did wrong. Guess what? We all make mistakes! Making a decision over one incident isn’t healthy.

As much as I dislike seeing this thinking style I do realize some people aren’t doing it on purpose. I myself can’t always control my unhealthily thinking habits and I know others cannot control theirs as well. But this doesn’t mean we can’t try.  Being able to see the gray in this world instead of just the black and white is a beautiful thing. There are some cases when it is important to think in black and white but for the most part life is full of gray areas. Most things are not all or nothing there is a whole spectrum of things in-between that if we can learn to see, will make us not only better people but happier people.

I don’t expect people to change their way of thinking overnight but I think it’s important to be aware of these thinking styles. The more you know the more you can work on reversing those bad habits. Next time you have the urge to say something is always this way or never that way, ask yourself, “is it really always or never?” because most likely it probably isn’t.


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