Extreme thinking: what it is and how it is dangerous

Few are familiar with the concept of "extreme thinking," and there is little information about it both in books and on the Internet. However, many publications in the English-language psychological and psychotherapeutic literature are devoted to this phenomenon, although there, too, this term is ambiguous and does not have an exact established definition. In this article, we will try to figure out what to understand by extreme thinking, is it good or bad, and what to do with it.

What is Extreme Thinking?

The definitions of this phenomenon cannot be found in dictionaries or encyclopedias, but it is safe to say that in the English-language literature, this term refers to thinking in extremes. You are most likely familiar with the concept of black and white thinking, with which the phenomenon we are considering has much in common.

Extreme thinking what it is and how it is dangerous

Like black-and-white thinking, his extreme brother perceives the world in a binary, flat version: either all or nothing or you are with me, or against me, or a friend, or an enemy, etc. People with such a "chip in their head" may take the position that if they don't get everything they want or claim, they won't accept anything at all. They may think that if the other does not agree with them, then he does not respect and value them, or they do not listen to them at all. And if they do not feel themselves masters of the situation and do not control everything, then they are convinced that they are at the very bottom or suppress them.

When a person has such patterns of thinking, it leads to extreme forms of behavior. In our case, the individual will be categorical and uncompromising, which will result in all his social and interpersonal interactions and contacts. Thinking in extreme ways will prevent him from developing a sense of proportion and balance necessary to maintain healthy relationships and communication.

Such a person will find it difficult to give in and make compromises, feeling that such behavior puts him in a vulnerable position and threatens him. In dealing with such "extremists," it is almost impossible to find a middle ground and a neutral point, and often they will frenziedly defend their opinion and position, not leaving them one iota even when it threatens mutual understanding and relationships.

Often this happens when a person, by his inability to accept points of view other than his own, as well as by refusing to compromise and concessions for the benefit of mutually beneficial cooperation, destroys the relationship. This happens unconsciously because The blind man is at the mercy of his destructive mental pattern.

These are the extreme manifestations of extreme thinking and its devastating consequences in personal and social life. However, it may have less acute forms and manifestations.

Expanded Understanding

In many ways, the concept of "extreme thinking" is synonymous with uncompromising categorical thinking, which recognizes only the extreme points of the situation. But this term can be understood in a very broad sense. For example, licensed mental health professional Erika Krull (LMHP) suggests treating any mental illness and disorder as manifestations of extreme thinking in one form or another.

So, with bipolar disorder, a person throws from one extreme to another - from the phase of mania with its overestimated optimism, energy, and feeling of happiness into the phase of depression. Severe forms of the disorder are often accompanied by other unhealthy manifestations - sleep not only disturbances, confusion, irritability but also addictions, risky and destructive behavior, including in relation to oneself (often the so-called self-harm - self-harm). Even with a mild form, cyclothymia, the psyche is carried to different ends of the spectrum, and the golden mean and spiritual harmony remain unattainable.

In turn, in the case of depressive or anxiety disorders, a person "settles in" this pole of psycho-emotional life, where his thoughts, feelings, and emotions reflect the extreme point of such states. Parallels can be drawn with other mental disorders and illnesses.

Nevertheless, striving for extreme thinking is hardly worth it. It is better to learn how to catch such patterns in the picture of the world of others and in ourselves and talk about how to resist such a defective worldview.

Extreme thinking and other cognitive biases

Recall that cognitive distortions (consciousness traps) are mental constructs that make people perceive reality in a distorted form - incorrect and usually negative.

Here, let's look at just four examples of cognitive biases and how they manifest extreme thinking:

1. Overgeneralization

Making general conclusions and conclusions from a single case or single evidence. Often in such generalizations, the words "always", "never", "all", "nothing", etc. appear. Thus, people bring others, situations, and events into a rigid category, into one of the poles "either-or," leaving no room for the diversity and breadth of human life and situations. Examples: your colleague made a serious blunder in his work, and you think: "What a professional he is ... He cannot do his job correctly, he never succeeds in doing it normally"; or after an unsuccessful date, you have the thought "I will never find the right man."


2. Quickly conclusions

Determining the meaning of what is happening, based on insufficient data or in their absence. Example: "I will not ask a friend to help me with the move because she will be annoyed and demand something in return. I have never asked for such a thing before, but I am convinced that she will behave that way. "


3. Catastrophic

Waiting for only the worst possible development of events. With this mindset, problems and unhappiness snowball and flow from each other. Example: "What if I don't get to the conference on

time? My performance will fail, and it will reflect badly on my career. I will be fired; I will not be able to find such a good job. My career will end, I will have to starve ..." Such scenarios may seem like hysterical overreactions from the outside, but those who have a tendency to catastrophize often have childhood traumas and a series of negative events in their lives.


4. Duties

The belief that people, events, or situations "should" be/happen in a certain way. When someone violates our expectations of good behavior, we experience anger, resentment, resentment, and judgment. If we ourselves are acting against the rules of what we should be, we feel guilty. Example:

"I shouldn't have said that. God, what a fool I am ..." These are just a few examples of how our

perception can be refracted through the lens of cognitive distortions and distance us from rational, balanced thinking. If we notice how we begin to lurch to the side, going to extremes and distortions, it is useful to return ourselves to the point of balance and rationality. We will consider some practical recommendations for this below.


How to counter extreme thinking

Mindfulness is the main ally in taking a smart outlook on life and fighting extreme thinking. First of all, you need to learn to recognize the signs of a tendency to go to extremes and uncompromising categorization. The practical steps on how to do this can be as follows:

1.     Notice signs of extreme thinking or any other cognitive bias.

2.     Determine what triggered this train of thought, what was the reason.

3.     Concentrate on what the effect it had on you - what states, emotions, feelings, and impulses such as perception gave rise to, as well as what desires and impulses (if these are negative and non-resource states that you would like to change; we do this in the next step) ...

4.     Ask yourself, "What will be the most complete, objective, and unbiased assessment of the situation?"  It is important to adjust your view of things in a rational, factual, and unemotional way. You can use the reframing technique. For example, if the extreme thought was "God, I didn't get this promotion, and it never shines for me. Yes, I'm just a loser ... "we re-register it into a more objective and correct assessment of the situation." I can find out what I need to do or change in my job to get a promotion in the future. I have the necessary experience and qualifications, and I am quite a worthy candidate for this. In an extreme case, if career growth is impossible in this organization, there is an option to find a more suitable place for my promotion. "

5.     Pay attention to how you feel after such an adjustment (reframing). If the intensity of negative emotions and states has decreased, and you feel calmer, more confident, and more positive, you have successfully balanced your thoughts and yourself.

6.     Do this regularly until such reframing becomes an automatic response to extremes and distortions of thinking. This step is especially relevant for those who have a strong inclination towards such dangerous perceptual patterns.

We all have thoughts and assessments of events that do not help us and only complicate our life. However, we are all able to correct and straighten our thoughts and judgments, achieving an adequate perception of reality and efficiency in our lives.



We introduced you to the concept of extreme thinking - a way of perceiving reality where a person sees only extremes and thinks in rigid extreme categories. This lopsided perception can take many forms and manifests itself in a large number of cognitive biases and mental disorders and impairments. In its extreme forms, extreme thinking can cause interpersonal problems and interfere with the maintenance of harmonious relationships and social contacts.


Fortunately, this phenomenon can be combated, or rather, it can be corrected. Mindfulness skills and critical thinking will be a great help in this endeavor. To use your cognitive-analytical apparatus more effectively, it will be useful to develop the ability to reason logically and consistently, make decisions, and find non-standard approaches to difficult problems. 

We wish you clear thinking and success!


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