Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Perils of Black-and-White Thinking

The Perils of Black-and-White Thinking

Dr. Paula Durlofsky gives four ways to combat all-or-nothing thinking.

Black and White
Black-and-white thinking—also known as polarized or all-or-nothing thinking—occurs when we process people and circumstances as either "all good " or "all bad.” In such a mindset, tasks must be done in a certain way and lead to a specific outcome. When those lofty expectations aren't met, black-and-white thinkers often see themselves as failures and are unable to put any sort of positive spin on their efforts. Disappointed by their own behavior or that of others, they quickly become upset.
Black-and-white thinkers often misunderstand others, and it’s not uncommon for them to struggle in relationships. They might say things like,  "I'm a failure,” "He's perfect at everything he does, unlike me,” and "I'm unlucky all the time.” It’s an oversimplified version of life. And the more polarized our thinking, the more vulnerable we are to depression, mood swings and anxiety. Some studies even suggest that black-and-white thinking is a remnant of our instinctual "fight or flight" reflex. After all, there really is no room for uncertainty when faced with a life-threatening situation. Such physical and emotional arousal leaves us feeling emotionally wound-up, inhibiting the ability to think and act rationally.
In truth, most events aren’t completely horrible or completely wonderful. They fall somewhere in the middle—in life's gray zone. Slowing down to think and feel in the gray zone can be immensely helpful in countering distress and intense emotional stimulation. Black-and-white thinking puts pressure on us to make snap decisions. But when we allow ourselves to sit back and process things in a "maybe this”/"maybe that” fashion, the pressure is lifted. Clearer thinking is the result, helping us devise more constructive real-life options for solving life's many challenges.

Four strategies for changing black and-white thinking: 
  1. Be conscious of the words you use to describe or express your feelings. “Always," “impossible," “ruined,” “never," “perfect," “terrible” and “disastrous" are absolutes and not at all helpful in understanding relationships or situations that are dynamic , complex and grounded in reality. 
  2. Work on becoming less rigid in your thinking. Challenge your thoughts. Ask yourself,  "Is it possible to be a generally intelligent person but not proficient in everything?” or, "Can what I’m facing be difficult now but get better in time?" 
  3. Accept the fact that no one is perfect. We’re all human; we all make mistakes. Try to see the value in learning from those mistakes.
  4. Learn to physically relax and cognitively slow down. Black-and-white thinking spikes when emotions are high. Relaxation techniques like slow breathing help to curb emotional arousal, allowing our more rational selves to take over. 
About This Blog

Dr. Paula Durlofsky is a psychologist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, whose practice focuses on psychological issues affecting individuals, couples, and families.
Dr. Durlofsky treats a wide variety of disorders and has a special interest in issues affecting women. She is affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital, Lankenau Hospital, the Women's Resource Center in Wayne, and the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia. In addition to her practice, Dr. Durlofsky is a workshop facilitator and blogger.
If you have questions or feedback for Dr. Durlofsky, please don't hesitate to reach out to her via email at drpauladurlofsky@gmail.com.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Demystifying Narcissistic Personality Disorder


     Most are familiar with the story of narcissus, the Greek myth about a man who falls hopelessly in love with his own reflection seen in a pond where he stops to get a drink of water after a day spent walking through the woods. The myth has a variety of endings. One popular ending describes narcissus dying from starvation and thirst because he can not tear himself away from his own reflection. I find this particular ending to be most helpful for describing narcissistic personality disorder ( NPD) since at the core this disorder is an inability for one to receive or give love; in essence individuals with NPD are starving themselves of affection.

  The term narcissist or referring to one as having NPD is commonly said today. And narcissism may truly be on the rise as a result of our culture's obsession with social media, youth and physical appearance.

To be diagnosed with NPD a person must meet five or move of the following symptoms:

-has a grandiose sense of self importance. Exaggerates achievements and talents and expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements.

- is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited omnipotence, success, intelligence, beauty and ideal love.

- believes that he or she is special or unique and can only be understood by or should only associate with other special or high status people or institutions.

-requires excessive admiration

- has a strong sense of entitlement. Have unreasonable expectations of receiving favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her own expectations.

- is exploitative of others by taking advantage of others to achieve his or her own goals.

- lack empathy. Is unable and unwilling to recognize or identify the emotional needs and feelings if others.

- is often envious of others and or believes that others are envious of him or her.

- regularly behaves in arrogant and hairy ways.

NPD affects more men than women, is seen in approximately 7% of the general population and can range from mild to severe. It is thought that both biological and psychological factors contribute to the disorder. In regards to biological factors, studies suggest that individuals with NPD are more emotionally sensitive in temperament. Studies investigating psychological factors contributing to NPD indicate several psychosocial factors. The main ones being abuse or neglect in childhood, excessive praise for good behaviors and excessive criticism for bad behaviors in childhood, overindulgence and over evaluation by parents and or peers, unpredictable and unreliable caregiving and learning manipulative behaviors from parents and caregivers.

It is important to recognize that individuals with NPD struggle with profound feelings of shame, fear of rejection and feel emotionally threatened when criticized. Individuals with NPD often react with intense rage, hostility and aggression to any criticism, real or imagined. This type of reaction causes others to retreat or distance themselves from them, all of which inhibits people with NPD from having genuine and meaningful relationships.

Although NPD is a treatable disorder, most people with NPD do not voluntarily seek treatment because they are unable to acknowledge their self-destructive behaviors and thoughts. Psychoanalytic-Psychodynamic therapy, cognitive and behavioral therapy and group therapy have all been shown to be effective treatment approaches for treating NPD. As with all therapy, building a strong and positive therapeutic relationship is key for successful treatment. When an individual with NPD develops a therapeutic relationship that is secure and safe he or she can work through his or her profound feelings of shame and rejection without feeling emotionally threatened. One important therapeutic goal is to help the person with NPD develop the ability for self-compassion, compassion for others, and empathy; all necessary skills for developing meaningful relationships and for having the ability to give and receive love.

If you or a loved is struggling with NPD consider an evaluation with a mental professional. There is hope and help out there for you.