Dialectical thinking

Dialectical thinking refers to the ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most economical and reasonable reconciliation or seemingly contradictory information and postures.

When we are extremely frightened or overwhelmed, we do not think clearly. So, learning to practice more balanced, or dialectical thinking, can help to dial down our level of anxiety, see the nuances in situations, and act towards others and ourselves in more effective ways.

I will be the first one to stand up and recognize that I am guilty of reacting to almost every time I feel my chest begin to fill up with anxiety like a balloon ready to pop from too much air. And in order to release that pressure before I explode, I behave in a way that has consequences. I speak my mind without really thinking about it first. And in the end, my only accomplishment was that I dug the hole even deeper, making it even more difficult to climb out of.

Now I’m not saying for a second that I’ve mastered the art of dialectical thinking. I still consider myself the ultimate fuckup whenever I react to any negative situation. My heart may be in the right place, but my thinking is too quick and doesn’t allow me take a step back and breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. And at the end of the day I’ll find myself back where I started, alone and regretting everything I’ve said or done. It can be pretty fucking embarrassing at times as well.

In one of the groups I go to, we are practicing coping skills, and this week we were talking about dialectical thinking. I can identify with every one of these, but I think number 19 stands out the most to me.

Dialectical thinking means that we can practice the beliefs that:

  1. A situation can be viewed in more than one way.
  2. A problem can be solved in more than one way.
  3. Two people can view the same situation in different ways, and both people can be right.
  4. Extreme terms such as “always’, “never”, and “either-or” can be substituted by “frequently”, “at times”, or “seldom”.
  5. We can tolerate confusion and not knowing absolutely everything about a situation.
  6. We can wish things can could stay the same and also acknowledge that change is inevitable.
  7. We can understand why someone might want us to do something and also say no to the request.
  8. We can enjoy being alone at times and also miss other peoples company.
  9. We can have fun at a party and also imagine how nice being at home reading a book might be.
  10. We can love someone and also be angry with them.
  11. We use phrases such as “I feel…” rather than “you are [mean, rude, etc.]…”
  12. We cannot know for certain what someone else is thinking or feeling. We look for clues and ask clarifying questions.
  13. We can be kind and also set appropriate and firm boundaries.
  14. We can accept ourselves as we are and also want to change some things about ourselves.
  15. We can not be in the mood to do something and be willing to do it anyway.
  16. We can question our ability to accomplish a task and be willing to give it a shot anyway.
  17. We can appreciate both the similarities and differences between ourselves and other people.
  18. We can validate why someone else might feel a certain way (i.e., enraged) and also tell them that hitting us is not acceptable.
  19. We can allow ourselves to experience a powerful emotion and also control our behavior.
  20. We can share certain secrets with people and keep other secrets to ourselves.
  21. We can spend time doing activities we need to do and also find time to do things we want to do.

After some time practicing dialectical thinking and acting, we strengthen our ability to:

  1. Anticipate various possible outcomes to a dilemma.
  2. Appreciate other peoples point of view.
  3. Refrain from impulsive words and behaviors.
  4. Make reasoned decisions, having weighed the associated pros and cons.
  5. Have patience, curiosity, tolerance, and humility.
  6. Have more harmonious relationships with other people and ourselves.

I know this is way easier said than done. I personally still have a lot of work to do. But this as given me a chance to slow it down a bit. It’s a challenge, but will lead to a much more positive outcome.

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