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Dialectical thinking is defined as “a form of analytical reasoning that pursues knowledge and truth as long as there are questions and conflicts.” In the 1800s, German philosopher Georg Hegel, developed a new form of thinking and logic that he called “speculative reason.” The concept of dialectical thinking, which is included in speculative reason, was established after grappling with the limitations of both common sense and of traditional philosophy at grasping philosophical problems and the relation between thought and reality. A dialectic is rooted in the notion that everything is made up of opposites, and a dialogue between the opposing ends ignites change. The dialectical process makes three assumptions:

  • All things are interconnected.
  • Change is constant and inevitable.
  • Opposites can be integrated to get closer to the truth.

The developer of dialectical behavior therapy, Marsha M. Linehan, describes dialectical thinking as synthesizing opposites. Through understanding dialectics, it becomes evident that because two seemingly opposite ideas can be true at the same time, there is more than one way to view, approach, and navigate the challenges of life.

Examples

Dialectical thinking allows us to release the idea of thinking in absolutes and embrace the nuances of life. Identify dialectical thinking through the simple formula below:

  • Thesis: a beginning proposition
  • Antithesis: a negation of that thesis
  • Synthesis (this is the dialectic): the two conflicting ideas are reconciled to form a new proposition

In The Buddha And The Borderline, author of the memoir, Kiera Van Gelder, includes an excellent example of dialectical thinking:

  • Thesis: I have borderline personality disorder.
  • Antithesis: I don’t have borderline personality disorder.
  • Synthesis (this is the dialectic): Either way, there is more to me than just a diagnosis.

Swapping out the word “but” and replacing it with the word “and,” is an easy way to facilitate the synthesis of opposites and adjust to dialectic thinking:  

  • I am frustrated with your behavior, but I still love you → I am frustrated with your behavior AND I still love you.
  • I am scared to do it alone, but I want to try it myself → I am scared to do it alone AND I want to try it myself.
  • I understand your point, but I am allowed to disagree with you → I understand your point AND I am allowed to disagree with you.
  • I am anxious about going, but I do not want to miss out → I am anxious about going AND I do not want to miss out.
  • I feel sad about leaving, but I am happy to get home → I feel sad about leaving AND I am happy to get home.

Dialectical thinking enables an individual to hold two seemingly opposite perspectives simultaneously. This, in turn, promotes balance and minimizes the tendencies to think in absolutes (e.g., viewing all in black and white, all-or-nothing style of thinking, etc.). Dialectical thinking fosters an inclusive worldview (both- and) instead of an exclusive (either- or) outlook on life.

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.