Ways to think and act dialectically

Dialectics teach us that there is always more than one way to see a situation and always more than one way to solve a problem. It considers all people to have unique qualities and different points of view.  It points out the only change is constant and stresses the importance of  NOT looking at the world in absolutes - black and white, all or none. It can help us find our way to the middle path.  The concept of "Middle"  in Buddhism means neutral, upright and centered.  Two things that seem like opposites can both be true. For example you are doing the best you can (acceptance) AND you need to do better, try harder, and be more motivated to change (change).

Ways to think and act dialectically:

1. Practice looking at other points of view. There are multiple sides to story. Try to find the kernel of truth in more than one side.

2. Remember that no one has the absolute truth

3. Use "I feel ______" statements. Instead of  "you are this way or that way" statements or "that's jus the way it is" statements. Be descriptive.

4. Do not assume that you know what is in someone else's head. Check out your assumptions. For example, "Why did you say that?" " What did you mean by that?" Do not expect that other people can read your mind. For example, "What I am trying to say is...... I feel ______ about ...."

5. Accept that different opinions can be legitimate (although you do not have to agree with them). Understanding someone's point of view is not approval. For example, "I see your point of view even though I do not agree with it."

6. Move away from "either-or" thinking to "both-and" thinking. Avoid words like "always" or "never". Be descriptive. For example, instead of saying, "everyone always treats me unfairly," say, "sometimes I am treated fairly AND at other times I am treated fairly".

What does "dialectic" mean?

Dialectics” is a concept rooted in philosophy and science. I won’t go into a philosophical lecture on the meaning and history of the term but will attempt to explain a dialectical perspective. Three primary principles frame a dialectical perspective on the nature of reality and human behavior. 1.     Principle of Interrelatedness and Wholeness

This is a systems perspective on reality (i.e. Identity is relational). Under the guidelines of this principle the value of analyzing a part of a system is of limited value unless it is clearly relates the part to the whole. This basically means everything is connected to everything else and to understand a part you need to understand the whole.

2.     Principle of Polarity

Reality is not static but is comprised of internal opposing forces out of which synthesis is achieved and a new set of opposing forces emerge. Stated differently opposites can be integrated to form a closer approximation to the truth, which is always evolving.

“Contradictory truths do not necessarily cancel each other out or dominate each other, but stand side by side, inviting participation and experimentation” (Goldberg, 1980, p. 295).

3.     Principle of Continuous Change

Change is constant and inevitable. Therefore everything is changing and nothing is static. Change or process, rather than structure or content, is the essential nature of  life (Linehan, 1993). The dialectical point of view acknowledges the role of conflict and opposition in the process of growth and change.

Dialectic therapy  values the tension of holding opposites in our minds simultaneously and works on the assumption that this tension is a vehicle for change and transformation. It creates the conditions for Synthesis, Integration and Balance.


Goldberg, C. (1980). The utilization and limitations of paradoxical intervention in group psychotherapy. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 30, 287-297.

Linehan, M. M. (1993).  Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford Press