You Can Be Both

September 11, 2022


Concepts like duality and being able to hold contradictory thoughts simultaneously are very difficult to embrace. In fact, it can be so challenging many don’t consider the idea a possibility. Instead, we often see things in a singular way, “I am this”, “It is that”. The human experience is multi layered and highly complex, especially when it comes to grief. Therefore, it logically makes sense how one can hold two contradictory thoughts simultaneously. However, it’s a challenge for people to truly understand, for example,  someone can be sad and at times also feel upbeat. 

Many grievers have said they aren’t comfortable telling people how they are doing because if they say, “feeling sad” people can overreact with ‘oh my god’, ‘let’s fix this problem’. If they say, I’m looking forward to going to this concert next week people can under react with ‘he’s fine he is going out next week’, ‘don’t have to worry about her, she seems over-it’. If they say they are sad and at time upbeat and hopeful, it’s often met with some version of ‘how could this be, you can’t be both? The skepticism and disbelief may push people chose a singular response. Clients, and men in particular, feel they have to choose one – which is often the hopeful, aka, “I’m fine”. The result is they end up minimizing or disenfranchising their own grief. You can be both! May I venture to say that when you can experience duality you are living more fully and thus in a better position to commemorate and move forward with your loss.

Holding the duality is logical and emotional. Of course, you could feel different from day-to-day, even hour-to-hour. We can when not actively grieving a loss. Then again as a counselor who accepts insurance I need “symptoms the client is experiencing” to justify a claim that there is a pathology and illness present that needs treatment. The great irony is that often the symptoms are “normal” reactions and responses of someone who has had a powerful loss. Given this, it’s understandable how duality would be a difficult concept to embrace for an insurance provider, let alone lay people. 

As a society we struggle to be comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty or things being in flux. Yet with the only constant in life being change, one would think we would be better at undefined situation. However, we are more comfortable and naturally geared toward taking a stance or a belief that is singular in nature as a way to wrap things up or easily explained. We can be many things. The range of emotions can be quite varied while trying to process the loss of an important person (or thing). Let’s practice kindness and compassion, maybe first with ourself, that we can be two contradictory thoughts simultaneously. We can be both.