We Need To Get More Comfortable In The Gray Area

If we are ever going to make it through the pandemic

Deb Knobelman, PhD
5 min readFeb 1, 2021
Photo by Talles Alves on Unsplash

I have always been an anxious person, in one form or another.

In graduate school, I remember laying flat on the floor of the second year students’ shared office space. Staring up at the pockmarked ceiling tiles and wrapped around the overflowing trash cans. I was at the peak of a panic attack and hyperventilating about the possibility that I might not get an A on the upcoming test. To the point where I was losing feeling in my fingers and the tip of my nose.

In my mind there were two options: an A or abject failure and shame. If it wasn’t an A, I was a failure. There was no consideration of a B+. It was all or nothing.

Classic black and white thinking.

I was first introduced to black & white (or all-or-nothing, or dichotomous) thinking by a therapist when I was in my 30’s. She asked me a few probing questions about my beliefs. At the end of the session, she sent me home with some photocopied pages from a book. I don’t have the pages anymore, but according to the American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology, it is defined as:

the tendency to think in terms of polar opposites — that is, in terms of…