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All or Nothing: Dichotomous Thinking

Abstract: Dichothomous thinking is a tendency to only see extremes such as good or bad, black or white, all or nothing. It is a common symptom of borderline personality disorder.

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All or Nothing: Dichotomous Thinking

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Written by: Martin Winkler
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 31 Jul 2008.

How do you describe dichotomous thinking of Borderline Personality Disorder?


Patients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) tend to perceive and evaluate every thought or situation as

  • black or white
  • good or bad
  • all or nothing
This dysfunctional extreme thinking can be one source of extreme actions like leaving a partnership, quitting a job or other impulsive actions. This can be the main source of extreme reactions, mood swings and interpersonal problems.

To change this dichotomous thinking a psychotherapist will point out examples of daily life to the patient and try to discuss different point of views in terms of a continuum. So the client learns a more realistic perception of his environment and personal relationships.

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