The Power of “Both/And”

How often have we found ourselves saying “either…or”?

  • Either I support this person or take care of myself
  • Either I feel grief or relief
  • Either I succeed or fail

When we find ourselves caught in this “either/or”, it can feel like we are being pulled in two opposite directions. If we believe only one or the other can exist, it can make us feel conflicted, guilty, and anxious.

Enter “Both/And”. “Both/And” is a popular DBT technique that essentially replaces the “but” with an “and”. “Both/And” means “two or multiple things can be true at once”. It also means accepting everyone’s emotional experiences are different and that’s okay.

It seems so simple, and yet it can make a huge difference in how we approach our thoughts and feelings.

“Both/And” allows us to accept ourselves and give ourselves grace. Human emotions are complex, and multiple, seemingly opposite, concepts can exist at once. “Both/And” recognizes these complexities and holds room for the variety of our experiences. This means you can feel joy and sadness and have both emotions be valid. “Both/And” can be an effective tool to challenge all-or-nothing thinking. It helps break the dichotomy of either/or and opposites.

Like most habits, it can feel rusty at first replacing “either/or” statements with “both/and”. AND, as you practice, you may surprise yourself with how quickly it catches on. If you find yourself engaging in All-or-Nothing thinking, or saying “either/or”, here are a few statements that you can ask yourself to encourage both/and:

  • “Can both of these be true?”
  • “Can I feel multiple things at once?”
  • “Is it possible that this other person’s pain doesn’t mean I have to be ok right now?”
  • “Can I notice what I’m experiencing without judgment?”

Have you heard of “Both/And” before? What are some ways you can incorporate it in your daily life? How might “Both/And” be helpful for you or those you know?

Moderator ★

Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: We look forward to talking to you!

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