Living in the Gray Area

Tuesday Thoughts: Living in the in-between

Recently, I’ve been talking to people about the gray area, that in-between where things are both, rather than either-or. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (or DBT, for short), significant time is given to this subject. In fact, the first word, “dialectical,” means “the process of thought by which apparent contradictions are seen to be part of a higher truth.” The classic DBT example is that you can be doing your best, and want to do better. That AND part is very important, because if it’s changed to a BUT (“I’m doing the best that I can, but I want to do better”), the first part of the sentence doesn’t really matter. All you’re left with is “I want to do better,” which, as a goal, isn’t meaningful, measurable, or specific.

So much of life is lived in this in-between, gray area. As I trained in DBT, I realized that it was a natural fit for me, because I have long been able to see both sides of an argument at the same time. (In college, I had a boyfriend who told me I was impossible to argue with because I “wouldn’t pick a side” and argued all the sides at once. I think of that as a skill, now!) One of the primary tasks of the therapist is to be able to see where others are coming from. Often, this means that I have to understand a viewpoint that is not my own. In the room in couples therapy, it’s very important for the therapist to be able to see both parties sides. The common belief that the therapist is going to tell the other party all the things they’re doing wrong isn’t what therapy is about—I’m there to be on the side of your partnership, not one partner over the other.

Polarization seems to be a common malady now. The gray area leaves room for compromise, whereas the poles just serve to pull us further apart. Compromise doesn’t mean turning away from your values, or abandoning your ideals. It means finding common ground based on the desire to solve a particular problem. And, ultimately, isn’t that what we’re trying to do—solve problems? Whether they’re problems in your work life, your relationships, or with your children, looking for the gray area can open up solutions that would otherwise be impossible to see.

Jennifer Kendrick

AAMFT Approved Supervisor
Kentucky Board Approved MFT Supervisor

Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Clinical Social Worker in KY
Licensed Clinical Social Worker in IN
cell: 502.203.9197