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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Herriott, AMFT

What are Dialectics?

Katy Perry Said It Best: You’re Hot and You’re Cold. Most of us have heard and sang to Katy Perry’s hit song “Hot n Cold.” If you haven’t heard the song, the first part of the chorus goes: “You're hot then you're cold. You're yes then you're no. You're in then you're out. You're up then you're down. You're wrong when it's right. It's black and it's white.” Sometimes I feel just like Katy describes–all over the place. I’m sure you’ve felt that way at one point or another, too. Things can get really confusing when two opposite things seem to be true at once. How can you be hot and cold at the same time? How can an object appear black to one person and white to another? Is this the dress all over again? Welcome to the world of dialectics.


A dialectic is made up of two things that appear contradictory but are both true. In reality, people and objects are not wholly good or bad. There are a lot of nuances in the world. Humans make good choices and bad choices all the time. We are not perfect and never will be. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t try to be better. Learning to think dialectically is shifting your mindset to fully appreciate the positive and negative aspects of the human experience. Sherri Van Dijk offers a helpful explanation in her book DBT Made Simple: “Thinking dialectically means looking at both perspectives in a situation and then working towards synthesizing these possibly opposing perspectives. [It] also means that we must practice acceptance while continuing to work toward change…and [recognize] that all points of view can have aspects that are both valid and incorrect.” Incorporating the philosophy of dialectics into your life has benefits but takes practice. The first step towards doing so is recognizing the power of choice.


Let’s take a look at Patty’s situation, as described in Paul Mason and Randi Kreger’s book Stop Walking on Eggshells, 2nd Edition: “Sometimes I criticize my fiancé’s every move, telling him that if he loved me, he wouldn’t do that…I am so upset that I yell and scream and knock over objects…Just yesterday I threw my engagement ring in the garbage during my rage at him. Today, I realized I would be lost without him.” Patty is oscillating between two extremes–love and hate. She is confused because she is experiencing bits of both at one time and feels like she needs to make up her mind. Upon further reflection, Patty was able to realize the following: “When I belittle and blame him, I feel that I might be abandoned or embarrassed or that he is somehow not showing me love. I feel fearful. My decision making is poor. He cannot tell me he loves me enough. I expect him to cheat on me though I have no logical reason to.” Changing your perspective will not happen overnight. It took time for Patty to uncover what was prompting her to act in such a way. The insight she gained gives her the ability to choose how she wants to proceed; she can continue to let rage consume her or Patty can focus on healing and renewing her sense of security in the relationship.


We make hundreds of choices every day, like deciding what to eat for breakfast or driving a particular route to work. How often do you really sit and think about your choices? It’s important to recognize that you affect your circumstances as much as they affect you. While you cannot control everything that comes your way in life, you can control how you react and what you choose to give your attention to. Sometimes after it rains, you see a rainbow. Do you focus on the gloomy start or the bright finish? This week, challenge yourself to start an internal dialogue. Notice the choices you make and begin to question them. Remember that even if you don’t have a ground-breaking realization at first, you are making progress by simply engaging in the process.


If you would like support in learning to manage dialectics feel free to reach out to me. I work with clients located in California and am accepting new clients.


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