top of page
  • Writer's pictureLynn Cukaj

Duality of Emotions

By Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC

Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers and Adults

What does it mean to have a duality of emotions? Duality of emotions is how we are able to have more than one feeling about a situation at the same time. It occurs in our thoughts which influences our actions and behaviors. These feelings can be contradictory, like the feeling of something being “bittersweet”. When a child goes off to school for the first time, the parent will experience both the joys of having their child make their own way in the world but also the sadness that time is marching on and their child is becoming more independent.

Understanding this duality is knowing that our emotions don’t have to be all or nothing, where we either feel happy or sad. We can indeed feel both emotions at the same time. Having a duality of emotions can sometimes cause feelings of uncertainty, ambiguity, or confusion. Why is something so repulsive also so intriguing? How can we feel resentment and compassion for someone at the same time? The simple answer is, because we are human.

It is completely normal to feel contradicting emotions simultaneously, even if certain feelings weren’t anticipated.

With any emotion or dual-emotion, it is important to ask ourselves why we feel the way we do so we can get a deeper understanding of ourselves. This understanding will also help us avoid procrastination in a situation where a decision needs to be made. Meditation and other mindfulness activities can aid in this process.

Referring to the topic of resistance from my previous blog post, even that word can evoke dual feelings. Resistance is often used to describe strong emotions that are in defiance of a person or situation. But how about when we use the word in a different context? Recently, I was at an indoor rock-climbing facility and was very relieved to know that loads of resistance for the cable was holding my son 20 feet in the air. So sometimes the word resistance can create feelings of support, reassurance, and protection. The very nature of the word resistance evokes both positive and negative emotions.

What imagery does having dual emotions create for you? Do you imagine opposing feelings fighting like a tug-of-war? Or do you sense that your feelings are in a negotiation for which one will dominate? We can relate the duality of emotions to a Yin Yang symbol. This Chinese philosophical concept describes how opposite or contrary forces may be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent. According to the Chinese philosophy, the universe created itself out of chaos and then organized itself into the cycles of Yin and Yang. Examples of this are seen in all forms of change or duality, such as winter and summer, male and female, order and disorder, to name a few. In relation to psychology, it explains how dual emotions are essential for peace, inner-balance, and to gain perspective.

Instead of living with a perspective that we should either feel sad or happy, we can move to a mindset that allows us to feel both sad and happy. If we replace or with and, it is amazing what happens. We begin to replace restrictive, negative thinking with an open and positive growth-mindset. Acknowledging and understanding our emotional dualities will enable us to move forward in a positive, self-actualizing manner. While we strive to be the best version of ourselves, we can aid others in their journey by recognizing the duality of their feelings and behaviors. By recognizing our own journey, we can offer patience and empathy to others.

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: Duality of Emotions
  1. Download and print the outline of a head.

  2. Think of two emotions that are opposing, one positive and one negative: happy/sad, irritated/calm, love/hate, attract/disgust, patient/impatient

  3. Write the two feelings inside of the head outline, using two different colors. You may freely decorate inside and around the head as you wish.

  4. In the space provided outside of the head, choose one negative and one positive emotion and write about how those feelings impact your behavior and interactions with others and yourself. You may repeat this step in the blank spaces around the head, as depicted in the example below.

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:

bottom of page