Thursday, September 23, 2010


Well, it's been a LONG time since I've blogged, but, again, I have committed to blog on a weekly basis.

Let's dive right in!

A hot topic in therapy with many of my clients is what I call "polarization". This is the idea that life/situations/people can be viewed in black or white terms (e.g., good/bad). Social psychology literature states that people use mental shortcuts to categorize their environment in order to ease the process of taking in and processing a lot of information at once. This works in some situations, but I often find that being stuck in polarized thinking leads to emotional distress and/or confusion, and also may lead people to act in ways that are not in their best interest.

How do you know if you're experiencing polarized thinking? If you use "definite" words: always, never, every time, everybody, nobody, etc. Here are some examples:

"I never do anything right"
"People always disappoint- that's why I don't do relationships"
"This (bad thing) happens every time I do (whatever)"
"Everybody else has an easier time with (whatever)"

If you have ever caught yourself saying or thinking anything similar to the above statements you are "polarizing"- assuming that life/situations etc are black and white. But, as you know, life is rarely (ever?) that way. All of the above statements can be challenged and proven to be untrue all the time.

In my experience, polarization leads to negative feelings and lack of movement in a positive direction. For instance, if you think that people always disappoint you, you will most likely shy away from relationships or limit the amount of intimacy you allow yourself to experience. This may keep you "safe" from hurt, but prevents you from the joy that can be found in close, intimate relationships. It is important to be mindful of who you allow into your inner circle (which is a topic I will discuss soon), but completely blocking everyone out is a disservice to you.

To discover if you are "polarizing", pay attention to the thoughts that surround the negative feelings you experience (aside from situations that naturally lead to sadness (e.g., the death of a loved one), but those may be complicated by "polarizing" thoughts as well). If you find that you are polarizing, I suggest that you challenge the definite word in the negative thought. Recognize that there are times when the thought happens, but there are also times when whatever you are thinking does not happen. It takes time to get to the point where you are able to recognize polarizing thoughts and challenge them, as you did not start doing this overnight, but eventually you will be able to catch these thoughts and challenge them before they negatively impact your feelings and actions.

Be well :)