NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, July 23, 2022

Embracing Your Internal Contradictions and Paradoxes

In prior articles, I've discussed how people are complex with many different internal aspects, including contradictory and paradoxical aspects (see my articles: Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are).  

Embracing Your Internal Contradictions and Paradoxes

Why Is It So Hard to Accept Contradictions and Paradoxes?
The idea of contradictory and paradoxical internal aspects is unsettling for many people.   I'm hoping this article, which is the first part of this subject, will help to normalize these concepts.

On the one hand, life might seem easier when everything remains the same.  Similarly, if things are going well from their perspective, people often prefer their loved ones to remain the same.  It makes it easier for them to know what to expect.  

On the other hand, whether we like it or not, people do change.  This includes making positive changes in psychotherapy that can be challenging for their loved ones (see my article: Your Family Might Not Be Supportive of the Positive Changes You're Making in Your Life as You Heal From Trauma).

We All Contain a Multiplicity of Selves
We all contain within us a multiplicity of selves. Some of those parts are in sync and others are contradictory.

Audre Lorde, who described herself as black, lesbian, mother, warrior and poet, once said, 
 "Only by learning to live in harmony with your contradictions can you keep it all afloat."

In “Song of Myself," Walt Whitman, essayist, poet and journalist, wrote, “Do I contradict myself?/Very well, then I contradict myself (I am large, I contain multitudes)."

Duality and Contradictions in Mythology
Mythology has many examples of duality and contradictions.

The ancient Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone is one example:  Demeter, who is the goddess of the harvest, provides bountiful crops so that the Greeks had plenty of food to eat.  She is also the goddess who oversees the cycle of life and fertility.  

But when her daughter, Persephone is abducted by the god of the Underworld, Hades, Demeter is so bereft that she becomes the goddess of hunger and starvation as she wanders the Earth searching for Persephone and, in doing so, neglecting the crops.

Eventually, Zeus, who the chief deity of the Greek pantheon and Demeter's father, intervenes. 

He knows people can't make sacrifices to the gods if they don't have food to eat. So, he reaches a compromise with Hades and Demeter so that Persephone spends most of the year on Earth with Demeter and part of the year with Hades.  According to this myth, this is why we have different seasons, including spring and winter.

Similarly, in Hindu mythology, the goddess Kali has the power to destroy and to create.  Even though she appears in many stories about destruction, Kali is also the goddess of creation.  

The myth about Kali recognizes there can be no creation without destruction.  It is a cycle.  Accordingly, she is a powerful goddess, who is believed to have existed before time and who will continue to exist after time ends.

What is the Difference Between a Paradox and a Contradiction?
In contemporary times, aside from the complexities of being human, life is filled with contradictions and paradoxes.  

This can be confusing at times, but understanding and accepting these concepts can also make life richer.

Although people often use these two words interchangeably, they have different meanings.

Most people know the meaning of a contradiction.  A contradiction involves conflicting elements within the same system.  

An example of a contradiction can be seen in a job search process where a person can't get a job without job experience, but they can't get experience without a job.

A paradox is more complex.  It's something that is seemingly contradictory but, upon deeper investigation, you discover the truth in it.  

I gave an example of a paradox in my article Anxiety as an Emotional Aphrodisiac where anxiety is usually thought of as inhibiting sexual desire, but for many people, it serves as an aphrodisiac which increases desire.

Other Examples of Paradoxes:
  • People need both stability and change to grow.
  • A couple often needs some distance in order to feel closer to each other.
  • To earn money you need to spend money.
  • Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward.
  • No decision becomes a decision.
Embracing Contradictions and Paradoxes
In my article, Do You Want to Change? Start By Accepting Yourself as You Are, I introduced a paradox.  

The article goes on to look closer at the concept of self acceptance and what it means in the context of wanting to change.  

Starting with acceptance allows you to acknowledge how you are at that point in time.  It doesn't mean you're complacent or that you've given up on changing.  

When you want to change, starting with acceptance is a part of the process.

If you don't start by accepting yourself as you are, including your contradictions and paradoxes, you're more likely to have a negative attitude about yourself which can sabotage any efforts you make to change.

Getting Help in Therapy
Self compassion and acceptance can be challenging for many people.

If you are struggling with accepting your contradictions, you're not alone.  

A skilled psychotherapist, who has the expertise to help clients to achieve self acceptance as part of a larger change process can help you to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to achieve self acceptance while they are on the path of transformation.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.