Iris Mini: Dialectical Thinking

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite the darkness.” - Desmond Tutu

As humans, we have the capacity to feel and experience more than one feeling and truth at a time. A cancer diagnosis brings complexity; patients are rarely completely healthy or completely sick. Dialectical is defined as “a synthesis or integration of opposites,” or more simply, two opposing things being true at once. Using dialectical thinking can help add perspective and nuance, and it validates a range of emotion.

We can get trapped in all or nothing thinking: “I am either hopeful or hopeless, fearful or brave.” However, we have the capacity to experience numerous complex emotions at the same time. Allowing (and even welcoming) the range of emotions offers a different emotional experience versus struggling against experiencing “negative” emotions.

For example:

  • “Dealing with distress and pain is hard, and I am trying my best to cope.”

  • “It is possible for me to feel both overwhelmed and to be wiser, more resourceful, and more courageous than I imagined.”

  • “I can feel helpless about my lack of control, and I can be determined to change what I can control.”

The paradox is that allowing the range of emotions makes more room for “positive” emotions to exist even during difficult experiences.

It may help to imagine a seesaw in which you are seeking to find balance among emotions, allowing both the hard and more joyful ones.

Try this:

  • Consider language that includes "both / and" rather than "either / or" which can help to reflect the complex emotions that can accompany a cancer diagnosis. When more distressing emotions seem to be taking up space, see if you can search for any additional emotions alongside it.

  • Think back to a difficult time in your life. Can you write a list of seemingly opposite emotions you felt at that time?