Binaries are compelling things. Life seems so clear if we split it into on/off, good/bad, masculine/feminine, healthy/sick, love/hate, body/mind, thought/emotion, head/heart.
Even therapy, itself, can fall into a binary trap like this. One of the most well-known therapies, CBT (or cognitive behaviour therapy), has sometimes drawn criticism for just that kind of simple formulaic approach.
CBT’s underlying premise is that your thoughts impact your emotions; perhaps even control them. And that, in turn, your beliefs impact your thoughts. Very simply put, CBT suggests that so-called “negative beliefs” and “distorted thinking” lead to painful emotions – and that by changing your thinking, your emotional life will naturally fall into line, too.
But what if it’s not quite so simple?
What if it’s not so easy to separate thought from feeling; reason from emotion?
And what’s in that blurry space where these supposed ‘opposites’ meet?
Is there room for more complexity in life?
Some research in France suggests there just might be.
In fact, Assoc. Prof. Olivier Oullier coined a new term – “emorationality” – to embrace the surprising way that reason and emotion were found to constantly communicate in the brain:
”Thanks to brain imaging – you know, this technique that allows these beautiful, 3D images of the brain – we showed that basically those so-called rational and emotional parts of the brain are exchanging information on a constant basis, in a very interdependent fashion, and there is not such a dichotomy at the biological level.”
So this research found that the handy split we assumed existed between reason and emotion is a bit of a false construct.
That though it might feel comfortable for us to pigeonhole things like this, it doesn’t necessarily make it so.
And although Oullier’s research focuses mainly on how this information impacts public health policy, perhaps it might also have some interesting personal parallels for you.
Do you find yourself falling for the binary notion of head versus heart?
Do you try to split your emotions away from your rational thought, or vice versa sometimes?
Do you tend to give one more importance over the other? Is there a kind of hierarchy that you default to?
How might that affect how you live?
And what might it mean for you, in your life, if you could more deliberately engage the “hybrid system” idea of emorationality?
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.