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From the Counseling Center: Nurturing Nuance is Needed More than Ever

By Jennifer Jordan, L.M.F.T., The Counseling Center

April 17, 2024: As humans living in a complex and ever-changing world, we often seek comfort in certainty, in definitive black and white answers and explanations.  But certainty is hard to come by in day-to-day life, and polarized thinking can undermine the vast richness of human experience that resides between the extremes.

Young people in particular are vulnerable to polarized messaging: I’m either good or bad, right or wrong, pretty or ugly, winner or loser. All-or-nothing thinking like this leaves no room for error, and ups the stakes considerably, often leading to increased anxiety and depression.  Social media algorithms aren’t helping. 

So how can we temper binary, black-and-white thinking and create space for growth and uniqueness and complexity?  How can we help young people –and ourselves!-- appreciate the rich and nuanced gradations of gray, where most of us live most of the time?  Try these suggestions for reducing rigid thinking, expanding perspectives and nurturing nuance.

Be curious about process rather than results. For instance, instead of asking what grade your teen got, try “How did you feel about the test?” If they are disappointed, ask what parts of their studying process worked well and what they might want to add.  Look for subtle victories—maybe they felt better about the essay this time, or maybe they felt less pressed for time. 

Explore qualitative details vs quantitative, and talk about subjective observations, opinions, feelings. Instead of asking how many points your child scored, simply ask, “How was the game?” Let them decide how to answer.  They may want to talk about their one great play or the refs or their feelings or the locker room dance.  If they answer with stats, get curious about other aspects of the game.  Likewise, if talking about a movie, share what you liked and didn’t like about it rather than simply declaring it “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” 

Separate behavior from character.  Don’t take one bad action and generalize it to define who a person is.  There is a big difference between saying, “Missing curfew is irresponsible” and “You are irresponsible.” 

Reframe “mistakes” and “failures” as “how we learn.”  When we focus on effort and growth rather than outcomes, we nurture enthusiasm and stick-to-it-iveness rather than shame, dread, and avoidance.

Don’t be afraid to answer a yes or no question with “it depends.” Allow yourself that flexibility and wisdom, and model this for your kids. “It depends” gives you the opportunity to explore nuanced perspectives and specific conditions under which you agree or disagree. “It depends” nurtures critical thinking skills.

Don’t limit yourself with either/or.  Embrace the word “AND” as a reminder that two things can be true at once.  You can be a loving parent AND lose patience with your kids. You can listen carefully as your teen expresses their feelings AND request that they speak to you with respect and consideration.  You can feel sad that your daughter is going to college AND be excited for her as she takes a step toward independence.  A child can work really hard to hold it together during school AND lose his backpack. Teens can constantly push you away AND want your love and support.  We can have and tolerate many valid feelings at once; we don’t have to choose one to define us.

Focus on listening, mutual understanding and nuanced problem-solving rather than on being right or “winning” an argument.  When we invest in being right, we invest in the other person being wrong, and that leads to unproductive interactions.  By trying to understand each other and work toward win-win solutions, we invite depth and richness into our relationships.  Instead of being in opposite corners, we feel mutually understood and supported.

By nurturing nuance, we reduce the all-or-nothing stakes of binary thinking, we expand the ways we see ourselves and others, we are better prepared for a complex world, and we enrich our lives with possibility.


The Counseling Center in Bronxville offers therapy for individuals, couples, and families, both in person and through telehealth (online or by phone). Please feel free to reach out if we can help, by calling Dr. Jennifer Klein, 914 793, 3388. To keep abreast of ongoing information and activities at The Counseling Center, please visit our website at https://counselingcenter.org/.








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