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  • Mrunal Ratna

How Dichotomous Thinking Sneaks into Our Daily Lives?

Updated: Dec 23, 2023

Dichotomous Thinking, what a lengthy word to begin with! But this multisyllabic word lives in our daily lives in some way or another. So, before we dig deeper into the topic, let’s start by breaking down the term dichotomous thinking. The word dichotomy comes from the Greek words “di-” which means “two,” and “-chotomy” derived from “tomia,” which means “cutting” or “division,” and like that, the term dichotomy means— a division into two distinct and often contrasting parts or categories.

Now that we’ve completed the less exciting part, did you get any guesses for the term dichotomous thinking?

Okay, here is the hint—it is also called “black-and-white thinking.”

You might be right about your guess, so let’s check it out.

The compound term dichotomous thinking refers to a thinking pattern where people see things as either one thing or its opposite without considering the middle ground or details.

Hence, it's also known as 'black and white thinking' or ‘all-or-nothing thinking’ because it simplifies complex situations into just two options, akin to the colors black and white, with no shades in between.

So, did you guess correctly? If your answer is 'yes,' kudos to you. If not, it’s alright – let’s figure it out together!

Having understood the essence of dichotomous thinking, let's delve deeper into its origins, its impact on our daily lives, and how it influences us.

What does Dichotomous Thinking sound like?

Dichotomous thinking often manifests in everyday thoughts like:

In Schools:

  • A student received a B on a challenging math exam and felt like a failure as a student, despite consistently good grades.

  • Some students believe that anything less than an "A" on an assignment is a total failure, even if they earned a high "B" with significant effort.

  • After participating in a sports competition and not winning, a student considers any outcome other than first place a complete failure.

At Workplace:

  • An individual worked hard on a presentation, but a small error made them view the entire project as a failure, despite colleagues' praise.

  • If someone doesn't meet all their project goals, they see the entire project as a failure.

  • After receiving positive feedback with minor suggestions from the boss, self-doubt creeps in, assuming the boss thinks poorly.

In Relationships:

  • A disagreement with a best friend over a movie choice leads to feeling like the friendship is falling apart, despite years of closeness.

  • One partner thinks delayed text responses mean disinterest or anger without considering busyness.

  • Couples argue over minor disagreements, with one partner assuming it reflects a lack of love or respect.

  • One argument can make a partner believe the entire relationship is doomed.

  • Wanting alone time or separate interests can be seen as a lack of love.

  • Different interests can be misinterpreted as having absolutely nothing in common.

At Personal Level:

  • Missing one day at the gym makes someone feel their entire exercise routine is ruined.

  • A bad game of golf with friends makes someone worry they spoiled the day for everyone.

  • Indulging in dessert during a social outing feels like a diet plan failure.

  • Struggling with a new skill can lead to self-doubt about talent and intelligence.


  • Gender: Gender isn't just a simple duality (masculine and feminine) but rather a complex spectrum.

  • Racialization: Racialization lacks a biological basis; there's no biological concept of race, it’s just an invented binary. Skin tones labeled as Black and White are not truly black or white.

It's important to note that while some dichotomous thinking is normal, persistent patterns can be associated with conditions like Narcissism (NPD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Anxiety, Depression, Racism, Homophobia.

Now that we've had a glimpse of how dichotomous thinking plays out in our daily lives, let’s get ready for the next blog where we'll dive into where it comes from, its effects, and how to break free from it. In the meantime, why not embrace the challenge? See if you can spot any dichotomous thoughts and, if you're feeling adventurous, explore potential solutions. If you stumble upon any interesting insights, don't hesitate to share them with us at!

Written by: Mrunal Ratna (Co-founder at TIMO)

Proofread & edited by: Rubal Prajapati (Counseling Psychologist and Ph.D. Scholar at Bharathiar University)

When disagreements arise, how likely are you to acknowledge the possibility that both sides may hold valid perspectives?

  • Very unlikely

  • Somewhat unlikely

  • Neutral

  • Somewhat likely

1 Comment

Oct 12, 2023

What an excellent topic and the way it is explained! I'd love to read the next blog. Waiting :)

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