"Opposites define each other and that there is a resting point in the center - embracing bother polarities"
Rachel woke up in the morning, excited to go out and see the play she has been wanting to play for weeks. She called up John to remind him of the timings and to not be late for the play. John did not say much, except that he’d be there. After a few hours, Rachel received a call from John stating that he might not be able to come to see the play. Rachel felt devastated and asked him why. “I have a lot of work to do. I have this important report to submit to my boss tomorrow and I have to complete it. I am extremely sorry I can not be there.”, said John, sounding genuinely apologetic. Rachel felt awful and she kept thinking about how John was not spending any time with her anymore, how he only has time for his work, how he can’t even spare a few hours to go see a play with her, how he does not want to do one thing that makes her happy. Rachel ended up skipping the play and stayed home instead. The next day, John visited her. Rachel and John got to talking, and Rachel let John know that she does not think he loves her anymore. She lashed out at him and at one point, even asked him if he was cheating on her. John was shocked and said that was not true. He apologized for not being able to spend time with her and not being able to go to the play, too. After a lot of talking and arguing, John revealed that he has been exhausted and feeling drained out, that his new boss is overworking him and he absolutely has not been able to even breathe properly. Rachel was surprised to know the same and apologized to John for not being more understanding. John also apologized and promised to spend more time with her.
Hasn’t it happened to the best of us? We tend to think of one possibility of a situation, and stick to that possibility, not realizing that there might be another possibility of the same situation. In the above story as well, Rachel’s feelings were as valid as John’s. The way Rachel looked at the situation was as justified as the way John looked at it. Rachel’s feelings can’t be negated by John’s feelings, and neither vice versa is true. It is not necessary that one’s experience is the same as the other’s experience. We are often stuck in one description of a situation, not realizing the world of other possibilities that exists, that we all see the world through different lenses. These lenses might be similar, but they are never the same. We fail to realize there is no one correct answer to many things in life. There could be many answers to one question, and all of them can be correct. One size does not fit everyone. There is no one description that suits all narratives, and we are an amalgamation of many descriptions. Pretty much all of us have seen the movie Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. There is a scene in that movie where the main characters, Naina and Bunny, are discussing how their lives are so different, almost polar apart. While Naina goes on to describe how it feels living and spending time with your loved ones, reminiscing the old times with your friends, Bunny goes on to describe how it feels travelling and living in all different corners of the world, interacting with strangers from all over the world. Going back and forth, they eventually come to a conclusion stating that neither of them is wrong or right, they are just different people. Isn’t that how it works? This is what we call the law of polarity, which states that everything has two “poles”, or sides, but both poles are correct and necessary in itself. For example, if there is life, then there is death. It is necessary to have a life to die one day. Both can’t exist without one another. This nature of polarity exists in everything except gravity.
While some polarities might be obvious in nature, such as positive and negative, action and reaction, some polarities are also sometimes subjective in nature. Think of a pendulum. It moves from one polarity to another, where neither polarity is absolutely correct. While the absolute pendulum of our life is life and death, we are dealing with a lot of simultaneous pendulums in our life. These pendulums can be our education, career, relationships. In the pendulum of career, for example, one end could be building relations, whereas the other end could be profits and in the pendulum of relationships, one end could be nurturing and the other could be consistency. It is necessary to both build relations as well as earn profits when a career needs to be built. Both ends will help build a successful career. When a successful career is built, there may be another pendulum with polarities of wanting to save money for the future or wanting to spend it on holidays. There exists a multitude of simultaneous pendulums in our lives, interrelated to each other. What exists on your ends of these pendulums might be different from what exists on the polarities of someone else’s pendulum. They are just different descriptions, different possibilities that exist. We experience these polarities in many different ways in our lives.
Let’s explore some of them:
1. Man and Animal
Homo sapiens is not the only species that existed hundreds of thousands of years ago. We shared our planet with some of our other cousin species but most importantly we shared it with animals, from which we became involved and became a different species called homo sapiens. According to some theories, the evolution of humans traces its origins to apelike ancestors. We all started with sharing the same traits as our ancestors, then what changed and made humans what they are today? What made homo sapiens different from other animals is our ability to produce superior technological artifacts. This began with our need to make tools to defend ourselves starting around millions of years ago. Our linguistic abilities are also different from other animals. The need to communicate information about the actions of prey animals and predators leads to the development of a shared language, based on symbols, which happened relatively recently. The mental capacity to symbolize a word in our mind before we utter it was also only found in humans. What humans did after making their own tools and learning how to talk was eventually taking in animals and domesticating them. Humans started using these animals for their use such as animals like wolves and canines were used for hunting others and other animals like goats and cows were used to provide wool to make clothes and milk to drink, respectively. It was revolutionary as it gave humans control over other species of animals as their food and clothing resources. We developed from our apelike ancestors into what we are today, but how different are we actually? Philosophers like Aristotle and Descartes argued that humans are animals, the only difference being the ability to perform higher-order cognitive functions. Even though every species is unique, we share our nervous system structure with animals belonging to lower-order such as flies and worms and to even closer cousins such as bonobos. Charles Darwin wrote in his book, The Descent of Man, that animals and humans only differ in degree, not kind. This degree has helped humans develop radically different possibilities of thinking, but deep down the animals we evolved from are still a part of us. We are animals because even after we have evolved so much, we still have animal instincts in us. Most people are afraid of snakes, this is because humans evolved alongside snakes, many of which were dangerous. Just like animals, we also have the instincts of tribal loyalty. Both animals and humans have the innate ability to experience emotions, and many animals are extremely intelligent and have motor and sensory abilities. Animals are also compassionate and kind, able to give and share with other animals. They also possess cooperative skills similar to human beings. This demarcation between man and animal is illusionary as we are nothing, but one. We are humans, but we are also animals. We develop our primitive, animal instincts when the situation demands and similarly, we are able to perform higher-order cognitive skills when required.
2. Duality of Matter
Albert Einstein wrote: “It seems as though we must sometimes use one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.” These contradictory pictures of reality are the duality of matter. This phenomenon talks about the dual nature of light. The electromagnetic radiation within the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be perceived by the human eye is known as Light. It has various characteristics such as interference, refraction, reflection, among others. Earlier, it was explained in terms of only the particle nature it possessed but it was found out that light has various natures. It is not either wave or particle, it is both at the same time. We are familiar with what particles are, anything from marbles, grains of sand to atoms, electrons and so on. On the other hand, waves are more spread out. It includes ripples in a pond or light waves, etc. Through multiple experiments and researches, it was found that matter possesses a dual nature, it has the properties of both a wave and a particle. It was Maxwell’s equation of electromagnetism and Hertz’s experiments related to electromagnetic waves that confirmed the wave nature of light. Light is similar to waves as it is able to refract, interface and diffract but light can also be observed as a particle called a photon. This led to what we now call wave-particle duality, a phenomenon which works on the principle that energy and matter both have aspects of both particles and waves. Based on the theory that light has both wave and particle nature, physicist Louis De Broglie suggested in 1923 that this duality can also be applied to matter. Waves could be defined as particles, and particles as waves. This duality explains that matter is both a particle and a wave, it could be explained using both.
3. Spirit and Matter
The simplest difference between spirit and matter is that while spirit is eternal, matter is temporary. Spirit stays forever, matter tends to disappear. Spirit is also a non-physical entity, something which we cannot see or touch, whereas matter is a physical entity, anything that exists and has mass, something we can see or touch. Although matter is discussed more in scientific terms, spirit is a spiritual concept. Spirit has been described as the “soul” by many, something that gives matter, or the body, a life or consciousness. Spirit is interpreted differently by different religions, some believe that spirits reincarnate whereas others believe that it goes to either hell or heaven based on the past actions of a person. The history of matter and spirit dates back to when Vedic texts were written. Vedic texts described that there are two kinds of creations, one that is spiritual and another, material. In Vedic philosophy, both mind and body can be either material or spiritual whereas the Western philosophy believes that the mind is spiritual and the body is material. According to Vedic texts, whatever there is in material creation, it is made up of distinctions. For example, there is hate, only because there is love. If you are able to call something as love, it is only because you are aware of something that is hate. These distinctions, or dualism, is the crux of Vedic philosophy. Dualism indicates that something is cold only because there is another thing that is hot. Nothing is therefore absolutely cold or hot, something is cold or not just in relation to one another. Non-dualism works on the principle that both hot and cold are separate entities, independent of each other. It is a world of absolute identities. It is a matter of debate whether the Western philosophy or Vedic philosophy describes the spirit and matter better, but both acknowledge the presence of the same, and their characteristics. Out of all species that exist, only humans are an amalgamation of both spirit and matter. We are both spirit and matter. The spirit in us feels that we exist. It experiences hot, cold, pain, pleasure by collecting data from the senses. We learn about a lot of things from it, we can even question the things happening around us. On the other hand, the body, which is made up of biodegradable things we call matter, such as our organs and bones. Just like any other matter, it came at a certain time and it will leave one day, it will not last forever. Other physical conditions also need to be met to let it continue to exist. While spirit is a permanent entity and matter is temporary, both cannot exist without one another. Matter makes up the whole universe, if matter did not exist, spirit would not have anywhere to go to. If spirit did not exist, we would just be our physical self, with our bones and organs, nothing else. This makes us a combination of both spirit and matter, and without either of them we would not exist. Both have a role in making us who we are. They are one, just interpreted and seen as two. Humans are composed of both.
4. Masculine and Feminine
Ever since we are born, we are taught certain behaviors and actions pertaining to the gender we are born with. We are made to adhere to the roles of the gender of our physical self from childhood. That is the general orientation, we take up the roles of the gender we are born with physically. A man develops a masculine persona, whereas a woman develops a feminine persona. But according to Jungian psychology, an individual’s psyche consists of both feminine and masculine qualities. We are inherently androgynous, no matter what the gender of our physical being is. It is an interplay of both feminine and masculine tendencies that makes up the psyche of an individual. One might think that these qualities are based on stereotypes that are the result of years of condition. But Jung presented them as ancient archetypes of Eros and Logos. Eros, or the female, is associated with sensitivity and empathy, capacity for nurturing relationships, and wholeness whereas Logos, or the male, is associated with strength, assertiveness, courage and vitality. Just like a pendulum, we keep oscillating between the polarities of masculinity and femininity. The feminine part of a man’s psyche is called anima, and the masculine part of a woman’s psyche is called animus. In our day to day life, if a man steps into feminine roles, he is called derogatory terms but according to Jungian psychology, it is considered important for a man to explore the feminine energy in order to unite with the other half of his soul. A man connected with his feminine side is gentle, tender, compassionate, patient whereas repression of this feminine energy leads to developing a negative anima that comes out in the form of moodiness, vanity, and sensitivity to hurt feelings. A man who fails to embrace his feminine side falls prey to toxic masculinity and develops traits such as aggression, coldness, and emotional numbness. Just like feminine energy in men, the masculine energy in women, or Animus, is conditioned to be suppressed by parents, society and culture. When it is not suppressed, masculine energy in women is over emphasized and preferred over the feminine energy. The suppression and over emphasis can both be harmful to an individual as they create a negative animus, which emerges in the form of argumentative, destructiveness, and insensitive personality traits. Therefore, suppression and overemphasis are both harmful. To become whole, an individual must embrace their internal animus or anima. This does not have anything to do with a person’s sexuality. It is essential to balance masculine and feminine energies regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Striking a balance between the two polarities will create a sense of wholeness, while leaning more on either end will lead to catastrophic repercussions. For a person to be whole, anima and animus, or masculine and feminine, must be in harmony.
5. Warmth and Competence
In the stereotype content model given by Susan Fiske and her colleagues, she mentions that when an individual comes across a new group, they have a tendency to stereotype them based on two aspects, which are warmth and competence. Warmth refers to the perceived intent of a group of either helping or inflicting harm whereas competence refers to the group’s ability to go through with that intention. Depending upon this combination of warmth and competence, a group will be viewed a certain way by an individual. The way it is looked at will determine the actions and behavior of the individual towards that group. For example, while competing for college admissions, you might feel that another individual who has come in for interview will have no intention of helping you, and would rather harm you. Warmth is a primary dimension in this model as competency depends on the warmth dimension. If the individual is not trying to harm you, then the dimension of competency does not really matter. This model has its history in social psychology, with researches done on prejudice and stereotypes. According to this model, group stereotypes can be categorized into four aspects: 1) low on warmth, low on competence 2) high on warmth, high on competence, 3) low on warmth, high in competence, and 4) high on warmth, low on competence. These categorizations, respectively, generate emotions of contempt, admiration, envy and pity. Some of these emotions may lead to discrimination against certain groups. Researches on these groups have been done extensively and certain groups which are commonly discriminated against are women, people without homes, people belonging to LGBTQIA+ community, and black people. Although warmth and competence are separate entities, one does not cause the other, they can overlap. In a study, it was found that participants who found one group as being high on one dimension, automatically assumed them to be also high on the dimension. For example, if there is a group of people who are rich who were high on the warmth dimension, i.e., they were perceived to be harmful, were also assumed to be highly competent to act on that intent, i.e. high on competence dimension. This duality of dimensions both exist separately, but together helps us to perceive a group or an individual. While they may not always be equal, i.e. low warmth does not always guarantee low competence, and vice versa, they are both important and need to be considered to make sense of a group, as it takes two to know one.
6. Child and Adult
If I ask you to list down 5 differences between a child and adult, most of you would be able to do it easily. There are many, right? It's like two opposites on a spectrum. Many people believe that children are the most pure and true humans on the planet. As children, we are innocent, full of curiosity, playful, able to live fully without a worry in our minds.
As we attain adulthood, however, we tend to mature, become serious and aware of our responsibilities. They each have their own advantages. Doesn’t it happen that when we are children, we want to grow up and experience the cool, adult life but when we actually grow up to become adults, we think being a child was better? As we grow up, we lose out on traits that made us pure and innocent. There are some traits we grow out of as we age, there are some we try to stifle because they can make us look immature. We should strive far from our childlike traits as with age we will mature physically, but our childlike traits will keep us mentally and spiritually well. It is important to understand the demarcation between being childish and childlike. What we should aim for is being childlike, keeping the child in us alive. Why is it important to be childlike even as an adult, you ask? If we look at being a child and being an adult as two ends of a spectrum, leaning more on either end can be a matter of concern. Completely giving up our childlike traits, like being curious, playful, sometimes doing what we want to do without a care in the world, can make us too serious or monotonous. It can make your life boring. As children we keep yearning for new things and experiences, if we give that up, we would not be able to experience new experiences and be stuck at one place. Being childish or avoiding adult responsibilities can lead to one not being productive and responsible enough as an adult. Therefore, it is important to maintain balance between the two.
How often do we want to just do something, without giving a thought about what other people think and say? How often do we just want to stay in the present, without worrying for the future? “But this is what children do”, someone might say that to you. Yes they do, and we should, too. As adults, we are asked to give up our childlike traits so that we become more responsible and productive. While it is extremely important to become responsible as an adult, that does not have to come with giving up our childlike traits. The key is to lie in the center in the pendulum, and keep oscillating between your childlike and adult traits as the time and situation requires. We should not give up our responsibilities, but we can learn a lot from children and be like them. Children are in awe of the world around them, and as we grow up, we lose that sense of wonder. We tend to imagine the world to be the way we see it and not what it could be.That keeps our growth limited. It is important to keep that sense of wonder intact, to be constantly inspired and in awe of things and people around us so that we can learn from others and grow. We should also be curious like children, who want to explore and learn everything that is out there. While it may seem impossible to learn everything that is out there, we should keep our curiosity alive to learn new things. We should all be dreamers, just as children are. Our goal should not be to confine ourselves to one place, but to explore and dream. There is no harm in trying out new things. We should be children and adults at the same time.
7. Duality of human nature
This is a question that has been debated over for ages - are we inherently good, kind and compassionate? Or are we evil, bad, wired to do bad things? While some experts argue that we are inherently bad and brutish, society being the reason for our improved nature. Many people like to argue, however, that humans are pure and good, and that society corrupts their minds. This argument could be inspired by the Pandora myth. There is another principle, duality of human nature, which is the idea that all humans have both good and evil tendencies in them. Each and every person you meet will have a good side and an evil, bad side. No individual is purely evil or purely good. A person who is unfaithful to their partner, might be great at their job, or a person who is a thief, might be a great dad to his kids. This polarity between good and bad exists in every person, and makes them who they are. Bad behavior helps us understand that good behavior also exists, and good behavior helps us understand that bad behavior exists too. Imagine an Uber driver found a wallet his customer left after their ride. The driver can now either return the wallet to its rightful owner or keep all the money inside to himself. One would be good behavior, and the other one bad. We all have tendencies to engage in good as well as bad behavior. It is like yin-yang, two halves making a whole. In yin yang, neither half is absolute whole, each half contains some aspect of the other. Yin-yang is also not static. It keeps changing and revolving, just like our tendency to be good and bad. We are sometimes good, sometimes bad. The changes in the yin and yang can also be drastic sometimes, with one aspect just transforming into another. In terms of duality of nature, it can mean an individual acting on either polarities, either too good or too bad. What is important is to maintain the balance between the two. While we have the tendency to act in either good or bad ways, the choice to act upon either polarity is ours. The decisions we make and the way we behave matters. If a person is angry at their employees and decides to be rude to them, then that is bad. But if the same person directs their anger in teaching them how to work better, then that is good. It is about maintaining the balance between the polarities of good and evil. The power lies in between. Neither is being too good desirable, nor is being too bad. When you are too good, you expect similar expectations from others which might be hard to meet. You will always be expected to be nice and giving, in turn draining your resources such as time and energy. When you are too bad, it makes it harder for people to trust you, it makes it harder to develop relationships, and it causes trouble. As they say, too much of anything is bad. The key is acceptance. It is important to accept that we are both good and bad, we will have the tendency to do either good or bad in any situation, what matters is what we choose to act on and do.
The importance of finding balance
As we explore the multiple “pendulums” that exist in our lives, we also need to understand that these pendulums need to keep moving from one polarity to another to function well. It should not be stuck on one end or pulling more towards one end. It should eventually fall back in the center as the power lies there. The key is to find the balance and make sense of the paradox.
Let us take a simple example of our own breathing process. We start by inhaling deeply and holding our breath. You can notice now how it feels good at first as you get fresh oxygen. As you hold your breath, you experience the downside of simply inhaling, i.e. accumulation of too much carbon dioxide. The longer you inhale and hold it, the more you want to exhale. Now when you exhale, what happens is that you get rid of the carbon dioxide and it feels good. But, similarly as before, as you hold your breath, you experience the downside of the same, i.e. the lack of oxygen. This example was to illustrate how it takes both inhaling and exhaling to breathe, and one can not exist without the other. There are downsides to leaning too much on either end, and lying in the center or maintaining balance is the key. When we lean too much on one end, we overcompensate at that end and experience a depletion on the other. Lets say, for a person, C, there are two important things in a relationship, love and trust. But C found out that their partner is cheating on them. C was unable to fully trust their partner after the partner apologized and reassured C that this would never happen again. C decided to give the relationship another chance because she still loved her partner. It became difficult for her to not check her partner’s phone, think about the partner being with someone else when he would not respond to messages for long periods of time, causing more and more fights between them, resulting in them eventually breaking up. What C did here was lean too much on one end of the pendulum, i.e. love while both the ends were important to her. She overcompensated love, causing a depletion in trust, leading to issues in their relationship. It was Alfred Adler who came up with the concept of overcompensation in 1907. He defined it by stating that if one feels inferior in one aspect, they try to make up for it or compensate for it with something else. The feelings of inferiority or inadequacy for which overcompensates for could be real or imagined, and could consist of both physical or psychological aspects. While compensating could be either negative or positive, overcompensating is a defense mechanism which falls under the negative category. Whether it is to redeem oneself in one’s own eyes or someone else’s, the repercussions of the both are negative. C’s attempt to overcompensate love to rebuild her relationship leads to developing more issues in their relationship.
How to find the balance
We have to recognize that duality exists everywhere. We do not have to fight it, we should embrace it. We do not have to choose between being a child or an adult, masculine or feminine, we can be both. We tend to live in an “either/or” world. We think that if we do only one thing, we will lose the other. It is either saving money or going on holidays, or it is either studying hard or going out with friends. Why can't it be both? For as long as any problem is framed as “either/or”, there will be conflicts, and emotional and physical energy will be wasted deciding between the two. Social psychology research states that we have a tendency to reduce cognitive dissonance, which refers to a state of holding seemingly contradictory beliefs. We are more familiar with seeing the world through the lens of polarity, rather than paradoxes. It is better to look at them as paradoxes, which are two-sided dilemmas, where neither side is right or wrong. When a situation has two sides to them, and both sides pull in the opposite directions, creating conflicting demands, it is called a paradox. To look at them as “both/and” problems, and managing them as such will be easier. Both sides have a positive and a negative aspect to them. Both the sides co-exist and are complementary. In between the black and white, there also exists various shades of grey. In the above example of C and her partner cheating on her, C looks at it as both love and trust being important for her in a relationship, and she does not have to choose between either when both matters for her would have given a better perspective to deal with the issue at hand. A polar view or just looking at one side of the situation will deprive us of the awareness that lies on the other side. It will also lead to overattachment to one end of the situation, making it difficult to see the downside of a situation. Either/or thinking is also associated with mental health conditions such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Anxiety and Mood disorders. Looking at all the angles or sides of a given situation will help us make an informed decision about what to do or what not to do. When we realize that we can equally oscillate between the two ends of a pendulum, we do not have to settle for one end. We realize that one is not less than the other, rather both have their own pros and cons, but at the same time, both can co-exist. There is more spaciousness in our thinking, and it makes room for healthier relationships and growth.
When you find yourself stuck in an either/or situation, where one side of the pendulum is pushing you towards itself, causing imbalance, remember to stop and breathe. Breathe and remind yourself of the duality. Remind yourself that you do not have to be stuck at the poles. You do not have to be at the mercy of your unexamined thoughts, rather reassess your thoughts and find out what is true. There is a chance to move from either/or thinking to both/and thinking, and getting away from separation and embracing connection. Understand that not every choice is a matter of life or death, you do not have to choose only one to survive. Either/or thinking separates, both/and thinking connects. Think of the covid-19 situation. Now is the time that we need both isolation and connection. We need to isolate to not contract or pass on the virus, and we need to stay connected through virtual means to make up for the lack of connection we had physically. Now is also the time for both confusion and clarity. A lot of people are confused with the uncertainty as to when we will be able to live our lives normally, yet a lot of people also report greater clarity related to what matters the most to them. It can be a matter of both relief and sadness that people may not have lost someone close to them but then again so many people did lose their loved ones. There is no need to lie on either end, to choose one between the two, we can embrace both. This ability to embrace paradox and complexity reduces polarization and strengthens unity. Either/or thinking will make us think that the choice we have to make is only between A and B, whereas both/and opens up a world of possibilities. Both/and thinking makes us realize that the best possible option lies in some combination of the two, giving us an option C. Considering that the idea C is the amalgamation of both A and B, it will be a greater idea than both A and B separately. Think of it like this, if we were to add A (2) + B (5), the result will be greater than both the numbers, i.e. 7 (C). It has also been found through research that those companies which did not stick to either/or thinking, were more successful in the longer run. When you find yourself stuck in binary thinking, not able to think of alternative solutions, you can also ask your friends and family how they perceive the same situation. Looking at a solution from someone else’s eyes might give you a new perspective to view the situation. Such thinking also makes us more cognitively flexible. When we do not engage in either/or thinking, we are open to more ideas and we do not end up judging others or ourselves with labels. For example, if you think that a mother is either a stay-at-home parent or a bad parent, then you are limiting yourself to more possibilities and you are more likely to judge others based on the same. You can look at this situation like she is neither a stay-at-home parent nor a bad parent, or she is both a working woman and a good mother. This will help you not indulge in mislabeling someone and makes you less judgmental and more understanding of yourself and people around you. Indulging too much in either/or thinking can contribute to psychological distress and even lead to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. In psychotherapy, to change such thinking is achieved through what is known as cognitive reframing. This technique is a part of the cognitive behavioral therapy given by Aaron T. Beck. It is a technique used to reframe the thoughts and mindset of an individual, so that they are able to see it from a different perspective. Cognitive reframing or restructuring makes an individual aware of the maladaptive thought patterns and provide tools and techniques to reframe them. This can be done using various techniques listed below –
The first step is to be able to monitor your own thoughts. Realizing where it becomes maladaptive is important. The ability to notice your own patterns of thinking is important to restructure it. It is also important to notice when and where these maladaptive thoughts come up. For example, maladaptive thoughts might arise for someone during giving an exam, such as I am going to pass this or I will fail in life.
2. Question your assumptions
Another important step is to question your assumptions and thoughts, especially those that hinder you from functioning well. To do so, your therapist might ask you questions like “Is your thought based on feelings or do you have actual evidence for the same?”, “What facts do you have to support that this thought is accurate?”, “What is the worst that could happen?”, “What other ways this situation could be interpreted?”, among others.
3. Gathering evidence
Gathering evidence consists of keeping a track of your own thoughts, thoughts that trigger a response. Recording how strong each response is will also help. This will help curate evidence for or against thoughts and beliefs. To change the cognitive distortions, evidence is required about how irrational or rational they are.
4. Performing a cost-benefit analysis
By performing a cost-benefit analysis, the pros and cons of maintaining a certain cognitive distortion can be analyzed. Seeing the advantages and disadvantages of a choice will help you decide whether it is worth changing the pattern.
5. Generating alternatives
This is the most important step as it helps you break away from the restrictive choice of choosing between either of two options, and think about other possible alternatives you can choose instead of the given two.
These techniques, with the help of a therapist or psychologist, should be used to work on binary thinking. It will help you avoid thinking in absolute terms and overcome the either/or thinking. It will help you realize that the power lies in between. Getting rid of this dichotomous thinking won’t happen overnight, it will take time and effort. Remind yourself that it will take but you are working on it. Remind yourself that there are several ways you can solve a problem or look at a situation, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to any problem, and you will give yourself time to think about something and make an informed decision.
We tend to view a situation from an angle that is visible to us, forgetting that there might be a different angle which might give us a different perspective to look at a situation. Can there be a coin with one side, with either of its sides missing? No, right? Similarly, there are two ends of everything. Where there are heads, there are also tails, two sides making one coin. A person who can experience love, can also experience hate, making an individual whole. The different pendulums of our lives need to keep oscillating between the ends, making its way through the center to provide balance. Getting stuck at or spending too much time at one end can cause imbalance. The overcompensation on either can lead to over-attachment at that end, and depletion of the other end. The key is to not make choices between the two poles, but to maintain a balance between the two. As the Sufi poet Rumi said, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing there is a field. I'll meet you there.” There exists a middle ground, a field between the opposite poles, for all things and situations which we need to find. The power lies there. There is more power in both, than there is in “either” or “or.” You need to experience darkness to know that light exists, you need to hate exists for you to experience hate, as it takes two to no one.
“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing.
It also depends on what sort of person you are.”
- C.S. Lewis
Clark, D. A. (2013) The Wiley Handbook of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Wiley Online Library
Davis, T. (2012, July 27) Explainer: What is wave-particle duality. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-wave-particle-duality-7414
Fiske, S. T. (2018) Stereotype Content: Warmth and Competence Endure. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 27(2), 67-73
Hogenboom, M. (2015, July 6) The traits that make human beings unique. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20150706-the-small-list-of-things-that-make-humans-unique
Johnson, B. (1992) Polarity management: Identifying and managing unsolvable problems. Amherst, Mass: HRD Press
Legge, M. (2019, August, 19) Either-or Thinking Is Making Your Life Worse. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/are-we-done-fighting/201908/either-or-thinking-is-making-your-life-worse
Michel, A. (2017, April 28) Humans Are Animals, Too: A Whirlwind Tour of Cognitive Biology. Association for Psychological Science. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/humans-are-animals-too-a-whirlwind-tour-of-cognitive-biology
Papadopoulos, R. K. (2006). The handbook of Jungian psychology: Theory, practice and applications. Routledge
Thompson, N. (2017, February 3) Both and, not either or. Social Justice Solutions. http://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2017/02/03/both-and-not-either-or/
This article on 'It Takes Two to know One' has been contributed by Agrima Juneja who is a student of Clinical Psychology, from Amity University, Noida.
Agrima is a part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is mentored by Anil Thomas.
Agrima aims to become a Clinical Psychologist in the future and keep continuing on her journey of trying to understand the dynamics of human mind and behaviour, and apply that to help people become mentally healthy. She is a proud environmentalist and a mental health advocate. She wants to make mental health accessible to every nook and corner, every household of this country.
GIRP is an initiative by (International Journal of Neurolinguistics & Gestalt Psychology) IJNGP and Umang Foundation Trust to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.