The Benefits of Dialectical Thinking
Clients often wonder what the “D” in DBT stands for. When clients and I begin discussing the concept of dialectics and dialectical thinking, I often see a sense of relief wash over them. Essentially, a dialectic is when two opposing thoughts or ideas are true at the same time. For example, someone can feel both excited and terrified about starting a new job, or a mom-to-be can both anticipate the birth of her child and fear the unknown of what it’s like to care for a baby. A wife can feel both love and resentment toward her partner or a person can both want to quit using a substance and also feel the urge and desire to keep using. The beauty of dialectical thinking is that it allows for all of these seemingly opposing feelings and thoughts to co-exist and often, the relief my clients experience is the realization that they do not have to judge, minimize, or negate any of their emotional experiences. They soon begin to realize that it is perfectly natural and healthy to experience the full range of human emotions. This realization then allows them to experience increased peace and a better sense of direction with how to proceed with important decisions in their lives. Here are a few other benefits that people experience when they begin to see the world through a dialectical perspective:
Non-judgment of emotions: We tend to categorize emotions as “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, or “acceptable” and “unacceptable.” We often learned within our childhoods or our family of origin that expressing certain emotions would lead to punishment, criticism, or judgment. As adults, we then tend to carry these messages with us and judge ourselves for feeling certain emotions. We tell ourselves we are “bad” or that there’s something wrong with us when we experience an unpleasant emotion around a seemingly happy event, such as a job promotion, or when we feel relief or calm when experiencing a sad event, such as the death of a loved one. Dialectical thinking promotes that both wanted and unwanted emotions are natural and healthy to feel at the same time, and that there is no reason to judge ourselves for feeling contradictory or conflicting emotions.
Allow room for all emotions to coexist: Once we begin to allow our emotions to coexist without judgment, we can begin to explore our emotions with curiosity and self-compassion. By not judging our emotions and forcing ourselves to repress or push away emotions, we can begin to explore why we feel the way we do. We can begin to validate why we may feel nervous about becoming a mother or taking on a new job. We can shift from using a harsh inner voice toward ourselves when we experience a “bad” emotion to understanding and validating ourselves for feeling contradictory emotions. The ability to do this allows us to begin being more gentle, loving, and nurturing toward ourselves, often leading to great healing and peace.
Decreased conflict in relationships and greater ability to empathize with others: Once we’re able to think more dialectically, we can begin to extend the same to others. Very often, we feel a sense that there is only one “right way” to feel or think about something, and that can then lead to judgment of others and their approach to situations. In doing so, we may then experience increased conflict, misunderstanding, disconnection, and alienation from important people in our lives. Once we’re able to see that there are multiple ways of thinking and feeling, we can begin seeing why someone may perceive a situation differently than we do or have a different emotional reaction than we do. This can then pave the way toward increased empathy and compassion in our relationships and decreased conflict and arguing.
I encourage you to begin practicing ways to think more dialectically. Here are some questions and steps you can take to do so:
Take a few moments to sit and reflect about an emotional situation in your life. Ask yourself, “What are all the different feelings I’m having right now?” Be honest about any and all emotions you feel.
Adopt a curious stance and ask yourself why it may make sense to feel what you’re feeling, including and especially with emotions you may be judging as wrong or bad. See if you can identify why it may make sense to be experiencing an unpleasant emotion.
Become curious about what your emotions are trying to tell you. Just as physical pain alerts us to care for a wound, ailment, or bruise, our emotions are trying to tell us to pay attention to a psychological wound or imbalance. By paying attention to those emotions we may have previously deemed as “bad” we may soon gain insight into areas of our life that may require attention and change, such as getting out of a dead-end job or ending an unsatisfying relationship.
I hope today’s post encourages you to adopt a more dialectical stance. I have seen this shift in thinking create an abundance of peace in many people’s lives over the years. I hope some of today’s suggestions can offer the same to you.