Image via Unsplash

As humans, we like when things make sense. A simple explanation. A clear-cut decision. A rule to follow. So, often when it comes to identifying our emotions we apply the same black and white perspective – we’re either happy or sad, grieving or celebrating, scared or confident, lonely or connected. 

But we’re complex beings, one word (or feeling) often doesn’t cut it! Sometimes we can feel our happiness tinged with a hint of sadness, or leave a Zoom call or party feeling alone, or feel scared but also do the thing that scares us anyway. It’s the power of inserting the word AND between two feelings rather than OR. And it takes time to get used to, but this practice of allowing ourselves to feel and honor two seemingly conflicting emotions at once broadens our perspective of the world and others around us.

The process of recovery often involves a bit of breaking down what was once black and white in order to explore what life looks like in the grey. It involves introducing a level of grace to permit yourself to hold two emotions, even uncomfortable ones, at once and recognize the value and validity in each of them. Here are some recovery-related statements that might resonate as you start to build out this practice: 

  • I can grieve my former body AND recognize that the actions taken to attain that body hold me back.
  • Restricting may feel better in the short term AND I know it comes with long-term consequences that I’m trying to break free from.
  • This process is really difficult and I’m not sure if it’s worth it AND my doubt doesn’t mean I’m failing. 

Once we give ourselves permission to use the word AND we honor the complexity of human emotions and move away from a black/white, right/wrong and more into simply what is, a place to be present and begin healing.

If you’re interested in starting to apply the practice of holding two emotions at once, the following journal prompts may help: 

  1. What areas of my life (e.g. work, friendships, romantic relationships, food, exercise, school, etc) do I view as black and white? What would grey look like here? 
  2. Reflect on a time you labeled what you were feeling with a single word. Is there any other word you would introduce now, with an AND attached? How does that change your experience? 
  3. Do I label certain emotions as “bad” or “less than” ? Why? What would it look like to allow them space here? 

Feeling our feelings is hard work AND it’s one of the kindest things you can do for yourself. You can feel uncomfortable AND the discomfort will not kill you. You can grieve AND you can grow. 

By: Maddy Weingast, Assistant for Therapy for Eating Disorders and Body Image