Emotions and the Black-and-White Thinker

Texting your emotions through emoticons (emoji’s) is easy.  Expressing your emotions well can be a little more difficult.  Working through your emotions, on the other hand (acknowledging, them, allowing yourself to feel them and then express them)…well, this is tough.  We are complicated.  We are physical beings, mental beings, emotional beings, and spiritual beings.  Every part of us interacts with every other part of us and the end result is us.  A complicated mess.  Our emotions alone are complicated as we may feel multiple emotions at the same time.  The death of a loved one can bring about feelings of sadness for us, happiness for them if they are in heaven, fear of moving forward without them, and anger that they are no longer here.

I’ve had numerous conversations with black-and-white thinkers who admit that emotions are often uncomfortable, unwelcome, complicated, and confusing. Depending on how one was raised, emotions may be more like an enemy.  You avoid them, you kill them, or you stuff them deep down inside never to see the light of day.  They are neither welcomed nor something you work through.  As the “All or Nothing” thinking reigns, difficult emotions are often pushed to the ‘nothing’ category.  Negative emotions such as hurt, pain, rejection, fear, loneliness, sadness and grief may be at most acknowledged, but are never allowed to remain on the surface.  Black-and-white thinkers typically don’t like the nuances and abstractions (intangibleness) of feelings as they are complicated and confusing.  They will either choose to feel or not to feel, or perhaps simplify by overlooking the multiple emotions and funneling them into one emotion, such as anger. Yet if a Black & White Thinker wants to have healthy relationships, all emotions are necessary to understand, feel, and express in healthy ways.  Why? Because healthy relationships require emotional connections such as compassion, empathy, love, and joy. And these emotional connections with others come only when one works through the difficult emotions themselves.

For black-and-white thinkers, there are some differences in expressing emotions for those raised in relationally detached homes versus those raised in more affectionate homes. Those raised in affectionate homes (positive relationships) seem to function in relationships better as they were allowed to express their feelings and encouraged to work out their feelings within relationships.  Those who have been raised in relationally detached homes (abusive or emotionally stunted relationships) tend to distance themselves from most emotions and are unable to work through them well.  Because of the inability to work through the emotions, the ability to sympathize or empathize lessens, resulting in difficult relationships.

Sadness:  For those who grew up in relationally detached homes, sadness is often seen as being weak or foolish.  You deal with it by “sucking it up” and moving on, not allowing oneself to grieve or feel sadness.  The “pull yourself up by the bootstraps!” mentality is how to cope with sadness.  Any feelings of hurt or sadness may be forced below the surface and never dealt with or is solely expressed only through anger.  For black-and-white thinkers who were reared in affectionate homes, however, sadness is allowed and support is typically offered, though it may not be accepted.  Since black-and-white thinking is typically all or nothing, sadness may also be pushed to the “nothing side” and refused to be felt since it is uncomfortable.

Happiness:  If a black-and-white thinker is raised in a relationally detached home, joy and happiness would likely never be found within relationships, but typically found in either pleasurable activities or through performance in (school)work or sports (ie. success and physical pleasure).  Therefore, hard work and success is often valued and feelings of pride in self-accomplishment would equal happiness. This often frustrates spouses who seek happiness through a relationship with their spouse. Being raised in more of an affectionate home may help a black-and-white thinker recognize the importance of relationships and value people more, leading to happier relationships.  (Note from a Biblical Counselor:  There is nothing in Scriptures that states God wants us to be happy or that that should be our goal.  Happiness is often a result of placing Him first in our lives and relationships.  For more on this, click here!)

Anger:  Anger is easier to feel and express than hurt or rejection.  It’s simpler.  You express it, let it out, and then you feel better…mostly.  Often, anger can be the “go to emotion” for many people.  If you are a black-and-white thinker growing up in a detached home, anger may have been the only emotion that was observed and felt the most.  In physically and emotionally abusive homes, anger is the ruling emotion and the expression of it was likely seen on a regular basis.  Some have vowed never to physically hit others like they had been hit, but the inability to sort out and work through other emotions or recognize the importance of relationships continue to bring about a different kind of abuse.  Emotional abuse.  This is when the emotion of anger continues to reign and the expression of it is used to control another person so that they do what you want.  When anger is expressed poorly, however, the impact on the relationship is profound.  The spouse may begin to live in fear of the person as their anger, intimidation, and control sets the relationship on a disconnected and downward spiral. For black-and-white thinkers who have been raised in affectionate families where abuse was non-existent, anger certainly exists, yet it often does not reign.  Anger is felt when situations are perceived as bad or wrong, and it may be expressed in either unhealthy or healthy ways, but anger may also not be dealt with or it can be ignored. From observation, I would say that most black-and-white Thinkers who have been raised in affectionate families are more likely to work out their anger within the relationships than are those who have not been raised in such families.  There are more likely to be apologies and forgiveness for actions and expressed anger, which helps relationships succeed.  (For more on black-and-white thinking and anger, click here.)

Truth be told, as a more relational Thinker, I am tempted to do the very same things. Ignore the negative emotions and maybe they will go away.   If black-and-white thinkers and relational thinkers are to mature emotionally and relationally, emotions ought to be admitted, felt, processed, and worked through to some extent in order to have healthier relationships.  For black-and-white thinkers raised in detached homes, this would most likely require the help of a trained counselor and a willingness to change.  Most are not willing to change or recognize a need for change unless their relationship with a spouse is either at or past the breaking point, and then it may be too late.  It is not uncommon to see a spouse (typically a wife) leave her black-and-white thinking husband because of his emotional disconnection and abuse, only to find that when the relationship is threatened, the husband is now willing to change.  But the wife has already been too hurt and hardened her heart towards her husband.  Addressing these issues before it gets to the breaking point could save the marriage and allow for a better life and relationships.  Though I have seen some extremely detached black-and-white thinking individuals change to the point of saving their marriages, it required humility, brokenness, the willingness to work through emotions, and conviction brought on by the Holy Spirit.



The Black-and-White Thinking Christian is my newest resource for helping black-and-white thinkers grow in life, relationships, and in Christ. If you are a black-and-white thinker, or have one in your life, this is a great resource for personal growth and understanding. You can find this resource now on Amazon.com.


For More on the Black & White Thinker, Click on the following Links:

The Black-and-White Thinker: An Introduction

The Black-and-White Thinker: An Introduction (Part 2)

Black-and-White Thinking Through a Biblical Lens

Grace & the Black-and-White Thinker

The Black-and-White Thinking Christian

Is Black-and-White Thinking a Mental Illness?

Black-and-White Thinking in Depression

When Black-and-White Thinking is Ruled by Pride

Black-and-White Thinking in Anxiety

Black-and-White Thinking in Relationships: Men & Women

Black-and-White Thinking in Anger