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February 1, 2017
by Henry M. Pittman, MA

Black or White Thinking

February 1, 2017 12:30 by Henry M. Pittman, MA  [About the Author]

On January 20, 2009, the United States and the rest of the world witness history in the making. Barack Hussein Obama took office as the first black, African American President of the United States of America. There were groups of people that were excited and happy about the fact they were alive to see a person of color in the white house and other individuals were not as happy to see a person of color in the white house. President Obama was met with opposition from other parties which he had to endure and endure he did for not just one term, but for two terms. The total of 8 years as President of the United States.

On January 20, 2017, the United States and the rest of the world witness history in the making of Donald John Trump took office as the first President with no political background, however he does come with years of business sense as he is in fact a billionaire. Within the 100 days of the President Trump in office many people question President Trump’s ability to effectively run the American nation. Anti-Trump rallies has sprung up all around the country as well as on social media. What is currently being demonstrated is a thinking distortion / defense mechanism called black or white thinking or all or nothing thinking.


Defense Mechanism is a term that was originally associated with psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is associated with its founder and grandfather of psychology, Sigismund Scholomo Freud, better known as Sigmund Freud. Defense Mechanisms are simply a person’s psychological defense, that helps them to cope or deal with uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and/or stressors. An example is denial. Denial is a natural defense mechanism that protects the psyche from psychological trauma. For example, when person A, tells person B that person C died, immediately the person A is in the denial as evident by responding with disbelief. A common response would be “I can’t believe it,” “I just saw person C the other day,” “How could this be.” After a couple of moments, the person B begins to accept the information that person A presented them with as evident by a common response such as “When’s the funeral.”

Defense Mechanism

Black or White Thinking which is sometimes referred to as All-Or-Nothing Thinking is officially and originally called Splitting. Splitting is a defense mechanism. Pellegrini (2013, p 252) states that “Splitting of objects refers to the attribution of qualities or intentions to others which are wholly good or bad.” In other words, splitting is when a person literally splits an idea and only sees good or only sees bad with no mix of good and bad. Pellegrini (2013) illustrates at a personal level and an organizational level. At the personal level a personal may only look at their good qualities and ignore their bad qualities or the qualities about them that are not so favorable. At the organizational level, corporate or supervisors may look at individual employees strictly as useful or useless.

Thinking Errors

The phrases per se, Black or White Thinking, or All-Or-Nothing Thinking are used as thinking errors or errors in one’s logic. Thinking errors are made of cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are irrational thought patterns that one initially believes to be truth. However, once these thoughts are evaluated and explored, the person becomes aware of the irrational thought pattern, and change their thinking. When the person decides to change their thinking it also changes their behavior because they're behavior was simply the physical expression of his or her thoughts.

Associations & Creations

The Diagnostic Statistic Manuel 5 is full of mental health and behavioral disorders. Not all of the disorders in the DSM 5 are associated with the defense mechanism of splitting, but there are a few. By becoming aware of which disorders are associated with splitting, it may bring about a better understanding of the creation of this defense mechanism. The disorders that are associated with the defense mechanism splitting are Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder (Kramer, Roten, Perry, & Despland, 2013) and Depression.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) “is a pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy (p. 645).” A way of creation is when a person with narcissistic personality disorder experiences that they are better at a task than other people and begin to see those people as inferior. As the person with narcissistic personality disorder begin to believe this more and more he or she then believes that everybody, even outside of their experience, are inferior and they are superior ones.

Borderline Personality Disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) is a pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image and affects, and marked impulsivity (p. 645).” A way of creation is that person with borderline personality disorder, BPD, struggles with interpersonal relationships. One moment they see somebody as high and praised and at one mistake, we are human, then see them as totally lowest of the low. Many people may identify with that example, that doesn’t mean one has BPD.

Depression is a depressive disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) most known as Major Depressive Disorder. A creation is when a person who is depressed feels hopeless. A key criterion for depression is when a person does not anticipate any happiness. The thinking that is associated with that is all negative and all bad things will happen. There is no other side or light at the end of the tunnel.

Defense Mechanisms are not bad or good, they just are. They are behaviors that inform us on how we naturally cope with uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, and stressors. If a persons thought pattern is irrational, then their behavior will follow as irrational as well. A way to better cope with stressors is to look at the good and the bad, the usefulness or uselessness of something. That way when a person decides to make a decision it can be based on seeing the world or a person's actions from a whole view instead of a telescope of only positive or only negative.



American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.

Kramer, U., de Roten, Y., Perry, J. C., & Despland, J. (2013). Beyond splitting: Observer-rated defense mechanisms in borderline personality disorder. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 30(1), 3-15. doi:10.1037/a0029463

Pellegrini, D. d. (2010). Splitting and projection: drawing on psychodynamics in educational psychology practice. Educational Psychology In Practice, 26(3), 251-260. doi:10.1080/02667363.2010.495209


About the Author

Henry M. Pittman Henry M. Pittman, MA

Henry M. Pittman came into the field of counseling through substance use disorders in the fall of 1997. He was a substance abuse tech at a hospital in Houston, TX and what he saw motivated him to take all the counseling hours needed to become a substance abuse counselor in 1998. Since then he has pursed the required education and knowledge to become a master level counselor and therapist.

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