What is ‘Dichotomous Thinking’?
Within the last several years, I’ve had many people tell me that I think in black or white. It’s been brought up at work, by friends I’ve lived with and my past romantic relationships as well. The term for this is dichotomous thinking. It’s either all or nothing, right or wrong, good or bad so you can see how the ‘black or white’ analogy arises. These two thoughts are both opposites and extreme.
I thought I would finally have a research session about this and see if there is any validity for me to be described as such. Googling ‘Dichotomous Thinking’ instantly brings up results where it is looked upon negatively.
Splitting in Borderline Personality Disorder
Here I am again to remove stigma from what some may think is the darker side of psychology. It’s an obvious trait in borderline personality disorder, often referred to as ‘splitting’. Psychologists see it as a self-defence mechanism, which unfortunately, a lot of people see as manipulation. Often it is a need for communication to happen or a way to overcome fear of abandonment by taking control and being the first to push people away.
I’m going to be very open here. Borderline Personality Disorder has been a term I’ve heard often from concerned friends and work colleagues regarding my actions and mood. Incidentally, these occurrences was the reason I started obsessively Googling psychological topics. However, I’ve refused offers for a mental health assessment from workplaces. At first, it was because of the amount of misdiagnoses I’ve heard about and I felt that may make me worse but now, and I’ve no idea how you’ll feel about this slice of truth, I believe life is more exciting not knowing. In the end, I am what I am!
The Damaging Side of Dichotomy in Society
I will now be moving away from the topic of personality disorders, or as I prefer to call it, ‘personality types’. I was relieved to find I couldn’t relate to the much darker side of dichotomy in general, such as splitting race into black or white. I’m starting to believe I do not think so dichotomously. Another example is splitting gender into ‘man’ or ‘woman’ which is far from what I do… I’ve always seen it as a range and people fall somewhere between the two. Something I will admit I have done though is that when someone is given a choice between two foods, I automatically assume they dislike whatever they didn’t choose. I’ve never had anyone react negatively to this though but damn, my mind has been opened. I’ll be more careful there.
Does Our Language & Western Culture Encourage This?
I found an interesting mental exercise on ‘PsychCentral.com’ where you’re given a list of fifteen comparisons. You then need to write down a single word that falls within the ‘gray area’. I was only able to come up with answers for five out of fifteen of them. As much as this was aimed to test that you think in black and white, it felt more like a vocabulary test. Instead of jumping to conclusions that I’m a dichotomous thinker, I found myself blaming the english language for having more words available for the extremes and lacking in the ‘in between’. Polar words are often used by authors and I imagine it is due to the emotional pull.
Consider schools where you’re either right or wrong or politics where you’re either left or right… heck, even agnostics get called indecisive for not choosing whether they believe in God or deny it completely. I don’t believe there is a loss of identity if you’re prone to considering both sides and forming a unique mix of opinions.
A comment I saw was of someone who grew up in the 70’s. They believe the internet has had a toll on increasing dichotomous thinking and thus, it is not affecting the western culture alone. When I read this, I couldn’t help but think about the like or dislike system on social media and ultimately, YouTube. After all, it’s completely possible to enjoy half of a video. Although I didn’t use YouTube at the time, perhaps the old star rating system was more realistic for assessing quality of content.
List of Words between Comparisons
What I found funny is that the synonyms for ‘gray area’ itself include: ambiguous, doubtful, uncertain, indefinite and so on. That doesn’t exactly sound positive or progressive now, does it? Anyway, I wrote a list of opposites and attempted to find single words within the middle ground. I’ve also seen this be called “Word Spectrums: Showing shades between two polar opposites”.
Big and Small or Short and Tall
Medium, Midway, Average, Standard, So-So, Middle-Sized, Normal
The Middle from Two Points
Center, Central, Middle, Midway, Halfway, Midpoint, Core, Between, Amid, Within, Betwixt
Always and Never
Sometimes, Frequently, Occasionally, Intermittently
Excitement and Calmness
Frisson, Giddiness, Exhilaration, Anticipation
Funny and Serious
Sarcastic, Blunt, Deadpan, Sardonic, Snarky
Happy and Sad
Bittersweet: This is a mix of the two but I assume it still works.
Beautiful and Ugly
Jolie Laide*: A french expression which translates to ‘beautiful ugly’.
*Yes, this is two words, but I included it as it’s one single expression.
Young and Old
Middle-aged: These hyphenated words sure are helpful.
I struggled to find single words for the following:
Interesting and Dull
Intelligent and Stupid
Brave and Fearful
Loud and Quiet
Strong and Weak
Gentle and Violent
Safe and Dangerous
Fast and Slow
Leave a comment if you can think of any or let me know your thoughts on dichotomy within yourself or that you’ve seen in others.
In summary, perhaps the english language does promote dichotomous thinking or my possible black or white thinking is to blame. Or… I could be black or whiting about black or whiting about black or whiting… about black or whiting!