This is a very good question! The “D” stands for Dialectical. And what does that mean?!
I’ll start to answer that with a question of my own. Can we be both mad at someone and love them? Can we be tough and gentle? Can we be independent and want help? Can we accept ourselves the way we are and still want to change? Yes we can, and this is dialectical thinking!
Dialectical thinking means we let go of thinking or acting in extremes, seeing only black or white, holding rigidly to one point of view. When we are thinking dialectically we can see both the black and the white –they can both be true. This is incredibly helpful in interpersonal situations.
Let’s look at some examples from Marsha’s work on Dialectics.
In a disagreement -
“I know I am right about this” (non-dialectical, an extreme position)
“The way you are thinking doesn’t make any sense” (non-dialectical, an extreme position)
“I can see your point of view even though I don’t agree with it” (dialectical response).
Or, doing a tricky task –
“It’s hopeless. There’s no way I can do this” (non-dialectical, an extreme position)
“This is easy – no problem for me!” (non-dialectical, an extreme position)
“This is really hard for me and I am going to keep trying” (dialectical response).
It’s pretty easy to see how thinking and acting dialectically helps in these kinds of situations, and keeps us acting in ways that are effective.
Thinking dialectically also helps us stay on, or get on to what we call in DBT “The Middle Path”. Sometimes we can veer off the Middle Path and our behavior becomes ineffective.
Problems with eating are a common example where people get out of balance and off the Middle Path. This can mean periods of self-denial and periods of overindulgence, limiting food all day and bingeing on cakes after dinner. This is obviously off balance and the Middle Path might mean regular healthy eating through the day, with occasional indulgences in special and loved foods and dishes.
Another common example of being off the Middle Path is being immensely busy and allowing no time to recuperate, or feeling bored and unmotivated and doing nothing all week. The Middle Path is achieving a balance every day of activity and rest, completion of tasks and focusing on being instead of doing, being goal-directed and being present-moment focused.
Most of us are off the Middle Path and non-dialectical at some times and in some parts of our lives. What are you doing too much or too little off? I hope you can find something to do this week to get closer to balance.
If you are interested in learning more about Dialectics, the Middle Path or DBT in general I encourage you to contact me via my Contact page.