By Michaela Choy, AMFT
What is the both/and perspective? It’s the ability to hold seemingly opposing ideas or many concepts at once. It can feel unnatural to think this way. Our brains like a clear story (as Brené Brown discusses in her talk: The Call to Courage). We like to know what’s good or bad and what’s right or wrong (Restrepo, 2019). This creates a false sense of reality because it’s not the full story. Our human experiences are far more complex. In my work as a therapist, I’ve witnessed heartbreak in the same moment as deep connection, and I’ve seen moments of anger alongside compassion. It’s more accurate to hold the both/and perspective, and it’s far more connecting.
Think of areas in your life where the temptation to categorize in an either/or way come up for you. Some obvious examples are politics, friendships, and how we reflect on our days. If we disagree with someone’s political views, we are quick to categorize them as bad people when perhaps they are well-meaning people who have hard views (this is particularly challenging to shift into today). If you are hurt by a close friend, you may be quick to label them as careless and hurtful, when perhaps they did hurt you and are also a loving and loyal presence in your life. If you made a mistake at work and have a difficult day, you may characterize the day as disastrous. Consider, however, in the same day, good moments where your coworkers rallied around you, your boss showed compassion, and other moments where you had small successes. It’s more accurate to say you had a hard day AND good moments peppered into it.
If you find yourself using an either/or mindset, attempt to pause and challenge yourself. Is this person wholly evil? Was my day all bad? Shifting into the both/and perspective opens the door for connection, understanding, and compassion towards your experiences and people in your life. You can honor your true experience and make space for more information in the story.
Below are some areas I suggest practicing your both/and lens.
- Holiday experiences
- Moments with family or friends
- Work days
- Reflection on past romantic partnerships
- Race (For all – especially multiracial people. See this talk for more perspective and information.)
- Gender (see the genderbread person for more information)
Killerman, S. (2017). Breaking through the binary: gender explained using continuums. Retrieved from: https://www.genderbread.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Breaking-through-the-Binary-by-Sam-Killermann.pdf
Meraji, S., & Demby, G. (2017, June). Racial imposter syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/06/08/462395722/racial-impostor-syndrome-here-are-your-stories
Restrepo, Sandra. (2019). The Call to Courage. United States: Netflix