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Finding the Middle Path


Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. includes dialectical thinking as part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. One component of dialectical thinking is to find the middle path. When you think or feel in extremes, that usually leads to misery.

In The Mindful Child, Susan Greenland tells a fable about an old man who lived with his son on a farm near a tiny village.  One day the farmer’s horse ran away.  The neighbors told him how sorry they were to hear about his misfortune. The farmer said, “We’ll see.”

The next day the farmer’s horse came home, accompanied by two strong, wild horses. The neighbors said, “How wonderful!”  The farmer again said, “We’ll see.”

The following day the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses. He was thrown to the ground and suffered a broken leg. The neighbors said, “How tragic.”  The farmer replied, “We’ll see.”

The next day, military leaders arrived in the small village to draft all the young men into service. The farmer’s son was exempt because of his broken leg.  The neighbors congratulated the farmer and the farmer said, “We’ll see.”

This fable is an example of how events are not usually all positive or all negative in their consequences.  When we think in extreme terms (black and white) or we focus on only positive or negative emotions, we limit our cognitive and emotional flexibility as well as our understanding of the world around us. One way to find the middle path is remember that often there are often both negative and positive results from the same event.

Another way to find the middle path is to think of what options or information you might be leaving out of consideration. If people stop talking when you walk into a room, they might be talking negatively about you. On the other hand, they may be planning a surprise for your birthday. Not making assumptions or jumping to conclusions can save you unnecessary suffering.

Being willing to accept yourself and others when you are upset is another way of walking the middle path. You will make mistakes and those you love will make mistakes, sometimes mistakes that are very hurtful. If you are angry and unforgiving with yourself whenever you make a mistake or think you are responsible for negative outcomes, then you are thinking in black and white terms about yourself. The same may be true of others. At times you will be angry with those you love and at other times you will be grateful to them.

Perhaps you hate yourself when you make mistakes or in general. It is difficult to develop resiliency and a willingness to take risks, to learn from mistakes and move on, when you think so harshly about yourself. If you practice compassion for yourself, you will increase your ability to manage difficult situations.

When you think in extremes, you often don’t get an accurate view of the world, which complicates decision-making. Finding the middle path will help you manage those wonderfully intense emotions and also not allow them to impair you in making effective decisions and choices.


Note to Readers

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Finding the Middle Path

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

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APA Reference
Hall, K. (2012). Finding the Middle Path. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 4 Nov 2012
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