One small word encompasses a big shift in thinking that can help people become unstuck. That word—probably the favorite word of clinical psychologists and other mental health professionals—is “and.” Here are some examples of how you can use it to deepen your understanding and think more flexibly about your circumstances.
Your perspective and their perspective
In conflicts, people often waste a lot of time and energy arguing about who is right or wrong. This tends to go nowhere. A more useful approach is to recognize that different people have different perspectives, all of which can be valid, even if they contradict one another.
This use of “and” recognizes that we can understand and respect someone else’s perspective, even if we don’t agree with it. For example, we can acknowledge, “I would never deliberately try to hurt you and my actions did hurt you” or “I like to be spontaneous and you prefer to make plans.” When we move past right or wrong toward empathy and respect, we’re in a better place to move forward together.
Happy and sad
Life is complicated. Few choices or situations are 100 percent positive, so our feelings in response to them tend to be more like patchwork quilts than whole-cloth blankets.
This use of “and” acknowledges ambivalence and allows us to have a deeper understanding of our emotional lives. We don’t have to pick one emotion; we can experience and embrace all of them, even at the same time. We can be happy about a big change and sad about leaving what we had before. We can be excited and worried, hurt and angry, disappointed and relieved. Recognizing our multifaceted emotional reactions allows us to choose wisely about how we’ll respond and take better care of ourselves.
Then and now
Statements along the lines of “I’ve always…” or “I never…” suggest that we have only one way of doing things, which is the way we’ve done them before. But psychotherapy—and life—are fundamentally about change.
This use of “and” recognizes our patterns and habits, and it also creates room for us to move in new directions. What came before matters. That’s what created our expectations and assumptions. That’s what led up to who we are today. We can accept our past and also commit to creating ourselves anew each day. Maybe in an old relationship, you responded one way and now you want to react a different way. Maybe in the past, it was hard for you to do something and now you are better equipped to handle it. Maybe you’ve been scared and now you’re willing to move forward even though you’re scared.
Embracing the word “and” is about cultivating openness, seeing nuance, and acknowledging possibility. “And” can give us hope.