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  • Writer's pictureLynn Cukaj

Navigating Duality of Emotions

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

By Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC, MHC-LP

Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers and Adults

Understanding the Complexity:

What does it mean to experience a duality of emotions? It's the ability to hold multiple feelings about a situation simultaneously. This intricate interplay of emotions shapes our thoughts, influences actions, and directs behaviors. We encounter these contradictory feelings, such as the poignant blend of "bittersweet," when milestones like a child's first day at school evoke both joy and a tinge of sadness in parents, symbolizing the child's growing independence.

Grasping the Nuances:

The essence of duality of emotions lies in recognizing that feelings need not be an all-or-nothing dichotomy of happiness versus sadness. Rather, we can genuinely experience both emotions concurrently. This duality sometimes leads to feelings of ambiguity or confusion. Why does something repellent also possess an intriguing allure? How do we simultaneously harbor resentment and compassion towards someone? The answer is simple: we're human.

Contradictory emotions coexisting is natural, even if some of these feelings catch us off guard.

Amidst any emotion or dual-emotion, it's essential to delve into the "why" behind our feelings to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves. This comprehension further equips us to make prompt decisions instead of yielding to procrastination. Meditation and other mindfulness activities can aid in exploration.

Shifting Perspectives on Resistance:

Building upon the concept of resistance, previously explored in a previous blog post, it's noteworthy that even the term "resistance" invokes a duality of emotions. Beyond its common association with defiance, a distinct context reveals its positive connotations. For instance, in a rock-climbing scenario, the term resonates with reassurance and protection as it safeguards a loved one. The term's very nature, thus, evokes both positive and negative sentiments.

Visualizing Duality Through Art:

Consider the imagery evoked by duality of emotions. Can you envision opposing feelings locked in a tug-of-war? Or perhaps a more nuanced portrayal of emotions engaged in a harmonious negotiation? This concept aligns with the Yin Yang symbol, emblematic of complementary forces intertwined and interdependent. Like the philosophical balance between opposing forces, embracing the duality of emotions leads to inner harmony and perspective in psychology.

Transitioning from a binary perspective—either sad or happy—to one that accommodates both emotions can be transformative. By replacing "or" with "and," our mindset evolves, shedding restrictive negativity in favor of an open, growth-oriented outlook. Recognizing and understanding emotional dualities empowers us to move forward positively and authentically. As we strive for self-improvement, acknowledging the dualities in others' emotions and behaviors enables us to extend empathy and patience.

Tips for Parents

It is important to teach children that they can hold two different feelings at the same time. A good book to help children understand this concept is Double-dip feelings: Stories to help children understand emotions by Barbara S. Cain. The book discusses contradictory feelings by presenting situations such as the first day of school, the birth of a sibling, or the move to a new house. The book identifies two feelings that are likely to happen with each situation. This offers a great opportunity to help parents talk to their children about dual emotions. As parents and adults, we need to help normalize situations that can create opposing feelings, which can often confuse a child. Discussing this topic with developing children can help them verbalize and cope constructively with their feelings.

Art Therapy Exercise: Embracing Dual Emotions
  1. Download and print the outline of a head.

  2. Identify two contrasting emotions that are opposing, such as happy/sad, irritated/calm, love/hate, attract/disgust, patient/impatient

  3. Write these two emotions within the head outline using distinct colors. You may freely decorate inside and around the head as you wish.

  4. In the spaces surrounding the head, detail how these contrasting emotions influence your interactions with others and yourself. Explore their impact on behaviors and relationships.

  5. Reflect on the imagery, interactions, and emotions you've expressed. Explore your coping mechanisms and areas that may require growth.

Duality of Emotions - Printable
Download PDF • 371KB

You may choose to focus on two main opposing emotions or come up with multiple emotions for this project. See the two examples below.

Questions to consider:
  1. How would you represent these emotions inside your head?

  2. How do these emotions play out in your behaviors towards others?

  3. How do you manage the duality?

  4. What are your current coping skills when dealing with negative emotions?

  5. After completing this exercise, is there an area you need to work on?

  6. Do you struggle to come up with an image or images of the emotions?

  7. Did you spend more time focusing on one emotions over another?

  8. When considering your interactions/behaviors towards others, what do you observe?

This exercise can be used daily to process a difficult situation that you experienced or it can prepare you for a difficult situation that you will have. Processing our thoughts/feelings and how they work for or against our interactions/behaviors is how we can foster a healthier mindset. By learning how to balance our mind, we will be better equipped to interact with others with an open mind. If we strive for more connection and balance within ourselves, we can be more effective members within our family, circle of friends, and our community.


For more therapeutic activities and resources on how to incorporate Art Therapy into your life, read more from Lynn's Creative Expressions Blog.

Learn more about Art Therapy and Lynn Cukaj, Board Certified Art Therapist here:


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