polarized thinking

Here’s a thought: You can be “blessed” and still be hurting. Don’t give in to polarized thinking, that if you’re fortunate then you’re wrong to feel bad about anything. I also think of it as binary thinking, or thinking in polarities. You’re finding yourself saying it’s either this or that, when in fact most things occur on a spectrum.

polarized thinking

My Way or the Highway

It’s Either This Or That

Or is it? I see two common thought patterns that lead to this kind of polarized, unhelpful thinking. And there are two assumed roles that lead to it.

Two Common Thought Patterns In Binary Thinking

  • The Shoulds or Oughts (“I should be able to…” or “I ought to have…”)
  • Black and white thinking (I could have used this as the title!)

The “shoulds” imply rules. This means that you have some inner value or rule you are applying to the situation. And guess what? Your rules don’t always apply. If it helps to remind yourself of what you are grateful for, then do that, yes — but if it isn’t helping, then stop. You feel bad? Overwhelmed? Need help? Then say, to yourself first, “I feel bad and need help.” It’s not a personal failure to be less resilient than you “should” be, especially in the time of COVID.

Black and white thinking has an antidote. It’s referred to as the Goldilocks Principle which is that soft middle position that feels just right. This position is somewhere between the extremes. This is where moderation vs polarization becomes the goal. Black and white thinking is not compatible with moderate thinking, which can lead to healthy compromise.

Your rules don’t always apply.

Two Assumed Roles In Polarized Thinking

  • White Knight Syndrome
  • Women Carry The Load

White knight syndrome looks like “I’m here to fix it, to help you solve what I think you cannot, or appear too incompetent to me to do, or I just plain know better. I have seen this when, say, a relative who lives a distance away comes into town and gives advice about a loved one you have been caring for a long time. It is presumptuous, even when given with good intentions, unless the help is sought.

If you happen to be the person who tends to ride to the rescue, get off your horse and ask for help. Or perhaps you need to stop expecting others to stop wearing their shining armor. It can save you both to hire out the unwanted task, or to switch roles. Stop expecting someone to do a thing they have no skill or propensity for in the first place. (You’ll have lots of evidence by now this does not work well.)

Ditching the “white knight” stance applies to almost all unasked for advice.

Women tend to carry the mental load of planning and logistics in families. Doctors appointments, vaccinations, social life activities, play dates, meal planning and grocery shopping. Most of the time, this is an unconscious assumed role that just “is.” This does not mean men don’t help. It means they often wait to be assigned their task, which is part of the mental load I am referring to here. One way I’ve heard this feeling of overwhelm expressed is when a woman says about a date night “I don’t want to decide. Just pick where we are going/what we are doing, and tell me what time to be ready.” Guys, they want to be let off the planning hook.

Getting defensive is a sure sign your ego has a front row seat with backstage passes.

When you find yourself talking or thinking in “poles” you are limiting the possibilities quite severely. Options open up when you back your ego out of the equation and place yourself in someone else’s position. Getting defensive is a sure sign your ego has a front row seat with backstage passes. It is always possible that a partial solution to an issue is better than none. That is exactly how government works. Hardly anything that gets passed is perfect for both sides. You cannot even talk about it without resorting to the use of terms like “sides.” “Point of view” is a helpful substitute.

Speaking of asking others for help, contact me here if you need an objective stance or someone to help coach you along in a change you wish to make. You can significantly shorten the length of time to change, and the amount of suffering you may be experiencing, when you get professional help for a bit.

P.S. If you are reading this, you are seeking advice😊