The Path to Wholeness — Tools from Therapy

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We all know this pain: our thoughts tell us one thing but our emotions tell us something else. We think “I shouldn’t do that” but we want to so badly.  

And this pain: our emotions tell us two separate things and our mind can’t make sense of it. A grieving child feels sadness at the loss of a grandparent but happiness at the end of the suffering. 

Usually we continue in our pain by choosing patterns of self-denial and indulgence, and invalidating ourselves by dismissing our own thoughts and feelings 

We don’t do this on purpose – it’s just that our brains prefer simplicity, at the expense of wholeness.  Our brains prefer it when there is one truth (“He’s wrong”), one feeling (anger), and one path of action (attack); reality is usually murky (“We’re both wrong”), with mixed emotions (confused, mad, disappointed, ashamed, scared), and unclear ways to respond (stop, meditate, consider, discuss, revisit). We have to learn how to handle the complexity and contradictions of our inner lives.

We don’t do this on purpose –
it’s just that our brains prefer simplicity, at the expense of wholeness.

In therapy, we teach the skill of “dialectical thinking,” even though we almost never call it that.  Dialectics is a word and idea taken from philosophy, repurposed for psychotherapy. Our purpose is to help people synthesize conflicting emotional and rational experiences, honoring every part of themselves and their experiences as humans. 

Dialectical thinking allows us to do two things: have peace with complexity and find the middle path.  

  • First, name all the thoughts and plans given to you by your “logical mind”, even if they contradict themselves.
  • Second, list all the emotions and urges given to you by your “emotional mind”.  
  • Third, with complete love and respect for all the parts of yourself, integrate the input from your logical and emotional minds with your value system – that total integration is your “wise mind.” 

When our wisdom or “wise mind” guides us, we have peace with the complexity of life and find a middle path. Wise mind gives us “yes, and” messages like “Yes, I want to binge (food, alcohol, tv, etc.) because I had a difficult day, AND I know that is not good for me right now. I have decided I want to take care of myself and relax in a different way.”  Wise mind also reminds us that we did not choose our emotions; all we can do is be willing to let them come and go. Wise mind allows us to experience relief along with sorrow following a death, without judging our experience. Wise mind allows us to feel sincere compassion for the people who mistreat us, while also feeling anger and choosing to protect ourselves. 

Wise mind is one way to live with wholeness.


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About the Author

Julie is a Staff Psychologist and Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California, San Diego.

She has been a part of the Sojo community since 2016.