The “middle path” or “mean” are important concepts in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) that can help folks achieve more reasonable ways of thinking and behaving. Dialectics are one component to achieving balance when faced with a situation that pushes us to two extremes. Dialectical thinking involves stepping back and acknowledging that two opposite truths can exist and that we are capable of arriving at a conclusion or behavior that honors both.
For example, life can involve pain and it can also involve joy. For some who struggle with anxiety or depression, they can get stuck on one side of that “truth” or judgment – “Life is always painful.” Dialectical thinking prompts a person to consider alternative, meaningful truths to the one they are holding on to. This also works to making us more accountable – “A Mercedes is an awesome car and it is expensive.” If I were only to consider the former judgment in that sentence, I might find myself in a bit of trouble.
Let’s see how this works in more complicated real life situations.
“I am a bad father”
There are times I feel this way and if I allow myself to stay in this thought I may end up avoiding my kids, not disciplining them when necessary, not engaging them out of guilt or feeling as if I lack the legitimacy to cultivate a relationship with them- I may end up creating the evidence to support this judgment.
A dialectic response looks more like this-
Sometime’s I prioritize my work over my family life and other times I take off of work to spend time with my family.
That is a more reasonable and accurate judgment of my reality and reminds me of my choices and their context.
Dialectical statements can also be helpful in how we approach others, take for example a situation involving a teenager who breaks curfew. Many times the initial reaction may sound like-
I need to punish her.
Moving into a dialectic means pushing yourself to consider the opposite position, you want to hold her accountable but is that the only thing you want to accomplish?
I want to hold her accountable
I want her to know that I acknowledge her need for a social life.
The difference in how we think will lead to a difference in how we react. Next time you find yourself in an extreme thought or taking an extreme position consider this skill because the truth is out there.
Sorry….had to throw in an X-file reference in there.