Black-and-White Thinking

After speaking with a client recently, I reflected on why many of us resort to black-and-white thinking when we feel conflicted about our own needs. Twins are especially prone to this conundrum because their lifelong dyadic relationship informs so much of what they do and how they think. Having a same-age significant other constantly sharing and comparing life experiences can dramatically impair one’s ability to see beyond a two-dimensional perspective.

Getting stuck in an all-or-nothing thought pattern leaves little room for expansion, alteration, or creativity. Polarized thinking perpetuates concrete and immutable solutions. It inhibits one’s ability to develop shades of gray. Nuanced thinking keeps us buoyant, productive, and capable of embracing ambivalent thoughts and feelings.

One of my patients is reeling from the news of his twin brother’s medical diagnosis. He is figuring out how involved he should be in his brother’s care, and he feels that he has no choice but to give up his present life and postpone his future plans so he can be available to his brother. Of course, this can be a normal and predictable reaction to the news that a loved one will need care and attention. However, with some twin pairs, this reaction evokes a need or even a compulsion to sacrifice oneself.

Of course, the long-term effects of sacrificing oneself are dangerous. There is a big difference between giving oneself to another and giving oneself away in the guise of helping another. Twins who struggle to work through the perils of their role as a caregiver understand the difference between these two concepts.

One must to find a nuanced strategy—not an either-or solution—to hold on to oneself while addressing the needs of another. Twins who did not have sufficient opportunity to develop a resilient, individuated sense of self often struggle to manage extreme and complex situations.

Image courtesy of Giuseppe Milo (CC BY 2.0)

To be needed should not entail being erased.

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