Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT is a therapy developed by psychologist Dr. Marsha Linehan created to help people struggling with borderline personality disorder (BPD), which is typified by challenges in emotional regulation and interpersonal struggles. The term dialectical refers to the ability to hold two seemingly opposing truths at the same time. I’ve also heard this referred to as the ‘and’ concept. This concept can be an incredibly powerful coping tool and resource for personal growth and fulfillment.
On the opposite end of the ‘and’ spectrum, we have what we call ‘black and white’ or ‘all or nothing’ thinking. This is when we believe only one truth and have difficulty reconciling another perspective internally. For many people, this type of rigid thinking can create a structured view of how we see the world. It’s simply less complicated to view things this way. It’s easier to dismiss people who don’t align with our views and protect us from the ambiguity that might come up with using the ‘and’ concept. However, in the long run, people may struggle with black and white thinking as it can create significant distress for them in the context of relationships and self-growth. The reality is life is complicated, people are complicated, and being able to reconcile seemingly opposing ideas can actually create resilience in our complicated world.
Let’s use a concrete example to explore this a bit more. Let’s take Chloe who believes, “I have no confidence.” This is a very black and white statement. It likely creates distress for Chloe because it colors her entire view of herself and the world. She sees herself as lacking confidence and then this plays out in her day-to-day behaviors and actions. She doesn’t take chances, seek out friendships, or learn to do new things because she sees herself as someone without confidence and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If Chloe can learn to incorporate a seemingly opposing view of this belief she has about herself it could go something like this. “I lack confidence in some areas AND there are some parts of me that feel confident and I am working really hard to understand my areas of lower self-esteem and trying to work on them”. In this way, Chloe can now see the world as much less limiting, both beliefs are true and she can feel more compassion for herself and more empowered to move forward in the ways she would like. At the core of this is “I’m doing the best I can AND I want to be doing better.”
The next time you notice yourself in a challenging situation or feeling stuck with how you are viewing yourself, see if you are already using the ‘and’ approach. If not, try to incorporate this thought process and see if it may allow you to move through the situation in a less painful and more productive way.