Polarized Thinking: A Cognitive Distortion

Polarized thinking is automatic and causes us to generalize situations without stopping to examine them first. People who think this way usually say things like, “I never do anything right” or “I always end up losing weight.”
Polarized thinking: A cognitive distortion

Polarized thinking is a cognitive distortion. It’s a reasoning mistake we make without thinking about it. It causes us to process information incorrectly and this leads to emotional distress.

Cognitive distortion was described by Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck. They are generally misunderstandings that lead to dysfunctional, emotional states. This includes irrational fear, feelings of sadness for no reason, etc. Polarized thinking is one of the many forms of cognitive distortion.

Polarized thinking is an extreme simplification of reality. Things are either black or white, good or bad. We do not see the nuances that exist between the one extreme and the other.

People with this type of distortion feel comfortable placing reality between two extremes. Why is this happening? How to stop it? We take a closer look at that in this article.

The characteristic of polarized thinking

The main characteristic of a polarized mindset is the tendency to generalize different realities under one category. People who think this way therefore often use words like “always”, “never”, “everything” and “nothing”. They do it automatically and place any isolated incident that comes their way in one of the boxes.

These extreme categories are generally very negative. They are used to repeat the existence of something bad. People who think this way often say things like “I’m doing everything wrong” or “Everyone is taking advantage of me”.

For those who have polarized thoughts, it is as if nuances do not exist. They build a large part of their identity around the classifications and look for ways in which they can adapt everything around them. Although reality shows that they are wrong, it is not easy for them to oppose their radicalizations.

Worried woman experiences polarized thinking

What causes this cognitive distortion?

Polarized thinking is generally a characteristic of those who take on the role of victim in life. There is no one who does it because they feel like it. It is an emotional blockade caused by bad experiences. The root of all this is that they think they have experienced bad things they did not deserve.

The victim assumes the role of a passive object of circumstances or “fate”. They do not believe that they have any control over the negative things they have experienced or how to deal with them. Instead, they believe that they have been a passive depot for pain and that they can do nothing about it.

People who consider themselves victims have not found the tools or resources they can use to overcome many of these challenges. Instead, they project their anger and develop polarized thinking.

How to combat polarized thinking

This mindset stems from previously unresolved challenges. Fighting it means taking on a new perspective on the past and the present. Believing you are the victim allows you to absolve yourself of responsibility. To get away, you have to accept that you are responsible for what happens to you and most of all how you react.

A man experiences a stream of thought

A good way to start is by being aware of our automatic reactions and reacting mentally when we say categorical words like “never”, “always”, “everything” or “nothing”. Then we need to stop and think about how unreasonable our statement is.

Furthermore, it is important to think about the situations in which we feel like the victim. Maybe it’s a romantic relationship where we are unhappy, or a job that is too demanding.

Is the acceptance of this our only option? Or are there other resorts that we are too afraid of? Perhaps polarized thinking is an indicator that we are not taking ourselves seriously enough. Maybe we need time and space to think about what it is we are dealing with.

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