Black and White Thinking

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Black and White thinking is a defence which develops in children at a very early age. It will often develop in children of narcissists as they try to keep themselves safe and sane and make sense of their world.

Life, for children of narcissists, is made of two contradictory opposing realities which cannot be reconciled due to their narcissistic parents own black and white thinking and extreme behaviours. 

This means that they do not learn to relate to others as whole people composed of a mixture of good and bad elements. They learn to split themselves, and others, into good and bad parts and therefore see themselves and others as parts of the whole. They cannot see the whole of themselves or others simultaneously. 

This can lead to black and white and all or nothing patterns of thinking and can also lead to the idealising and devaluing of the self and others.

Clues that we are thinking in a black and white way are that we are using words like always, never and every. 

Individuals will be triggered into the black or white and good or bad patterns of thinking by what is going in their environment. Please see Triggers and Triggering.

This idea of splitting and parts can also be found in the Structural Dissociation Model and Internal Family Systems Theory.

The table below demonstrates the childhood conditioning which results in the splitting defence. The child is accepted for being immature, clinging and passive and rejected for being independent and assertive. 

‘Good Mother’ – benevolent

‘Good’ Child

‘Good’ behaviours (approved of by mother) – immature, clinging, passive

Good self image

Accepted

Bad Mother – hostile, critical, angry

‘Bad’ Child

‘Bad’ behaviours (disapproved of by mother) – independent, assertive, wants growth

Bad self image

Rejected

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Sarah Graham

Sarah Graham

I am a Counsellor, based in Bournemouth in the UK, with specialist knowledge of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I am trained in treating Complex Trauma. I work online and am insured to work in most places in the world.

Link to my Counselling Website Here