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Paradoxical Man

The Cause and Cure of Human Struggle


What Defines Them

Posted 12/31/2017

Revised 2/18/2020

A paradox is basically an unsolved puzzle, a conundrum, dilemma or catch-22. Also referred to as a double-bind, some people consider them being “stuck between a rock and hard place.” Webster’s dictionary defines it as; an argument that apparently derives self-contradictory conclusions by valid deduction from acceptable premises.

[1] In many ways, paradoxes are a dilemma of truth versus belief. From a cognitive perspective, unresolved ambivalence is the inability to decide which of two (or more) choices is better— the person’s reasons for changing have similar weight to the reasons for remaining the same.[2] Furthermore, paradoxical choices seem mutually exclusive. You can't have the positive of one without also experiencing a negative from the other.

Paradoxical Realms

Paradoxes exist in two primary realms for humans. They can be found in both the natural world, and in relationships. Focusing more on the cognitive aspects of thinking, men find the natural world a curiosity to be understood and conquered. Conversely, women who tend to be more emotionally focused, find relationships intriguing, and want to explore them in order to gain greater intimacy and emotional connection. The thing men and women have in common, is that their paradoxical struggles are held in the mind and contained in the beliefs that they form. Likewise, there is lopsidedness in both genders. While each of us are genetically male or female most of us demonstrate some overlap between the two. Nowadays, young people are being confronted with a paradox that was once taken for granted. Phenotype and genotype were at one time hardly ever questioned unless genitalia was ambiguous at birth. Today however, people are being forced to question and choose their gender. No need to worry though. According to Vortex Theory if they choose incorrectly, the opportunity will come back around and keep coming back around until their beliefs align with reality.

Paradoxes are due to internal mental conflicts between two important yet contradictory things. In nature, they are caused by the existence of some natural phenomenon that is not easily explained or may have contradictory explanations that each seem to have validity. For many people, Evolutionary Theory versus Creationism is one such material world paradox. In relationships, paradoxes occur when a person finds value in two opposing aspects of relationship (both are equally important) yet they seem impossible to have simultaneously. The popular phrase “can’t live with them and can’t live without them” meaning that there exists both pros and cons for whichever choice is made is quite accurate.

The most powerful paradoxes have both positive and negative consequences associated with them. If we choose one attractive thing over the other then there is pain attached. Consequently, the very nature of a paradox makes the person unsure or unable which to choose. This happens with beliefs also.

Sometimes people hold contradictory beliefs in their mind that each seem to have validity. Once a paradox forms, it creates mental anguish. If the paradox remains unsolved, very often a person will choose some method to soothe or comfort themselves such as with food, substances or relationships. The problem is that most people focus on and ruminate about the events that cause their paradox rather than on the paradox itself.

The most disturbing paradoxes are often based on what people have done to us and what we have done to others. In other words, we are greatly puzzled when someone offends us who we think should not have. We hold private internal standards of how others are supposed to treat us. When those standards get violated, we are thrown into a paradox pondering why we have deserve to be treated the way they did which leads us to feeling hurt. We are also greatly perplexed when we offend others. Why? Because most of us also hold internal standards of how we ought to treat others. Even minor social faux pas result in us feeling guilt, remorse or shame wondering how we could have done that. Most paradoxes are solvable at the values level of understanding. The correct solution will always allow both important things to be accommodated simultaneously.

When dissonance arrives, recognizing mental anguish or emotional pain should signal us that something needs to be addressed and that we have an unsolved paradox. All life problems and life challenges are basically “paradoxical” in nature. Paradoxes exist when it appears that we can only choose between one of two desirable/undesirable outcomes. The choices seem to be mutually exclusive. To choose one means that we must reject the other and vice versa. As mentioned, there is a way to resolve virtually all paradoxes. Often times the paradoxes we face result from a conflict in our value systems (either internally or with another person) or from a lack of understanding and knowledge. In either case, we simply do not have all of the information we need to make the best decision.

In Prochaska’s model, dissonance should make a person aware that they have a problem and usher them into the Contemplation stage where they start thinking about the problem. This equates to Burch’s Conscious Incompetence stage where we become fully aware that a problem exists but we are not yet competent or know how to resolve it. People who struggle a long time without resolving a paradox sometimes find it hopeless and will choose to soothe the mental anguish with inappropriate food, substance or relationship. Other people who have struggled with a problem for a long while will seek out counsel. Here is where the Vortex Model of Development derives its name. While we will not all face the same kind of problems or at the same time in life, we will all face challenges of some sort. These paradoxical life challenges can make our heads spin making us feel like we are caught in the vortex of an F-5 tornado not knowing which direction to go or where we should turn for answers.

Psychologists Robert Kail and John Cavanaugh, from a Pschodynamic perpective, write “Whether we call them challenges, crises, or conflicts, the trek to adulthood is difficult because the path is strewn with obstacles.”[3] In addition, Vortex theory acknowledges a Sequential nature to many life paradoxes, in that our genetics cause us to face certain paradoxical challenges as our bodies develop, and these new challenges Ascend in their degree of difficulty and importance. For example, virtually all of us face puberty, biological pressure to mate, menopause/andropause, and aging. All of these come with specific psychological challenges and cognitive dissonances. For yet others, some people for example, who are an "only child" do not face some challenges that others who have siblings do. Victims of abuse face certain challenges that others never will. As a consequence, “each life takes a myriad of twists and turns” [4] unique to every person. It is important to note that when we are unable to resolve a universal life challenge, common to all people, that does not mean that we are broken or messed up. It simply means that we have not yet found a more mature way of solving the paradox or have access to the information necessary to solve the paradox.

The disappointment of living in an unsolved paradox becomes depressing, The Psalmist writes, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 42:5 — NIV. Why? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Psalm 9:10 — NIV. Because fear of God (respect and reverence of Him) is the beginning of all wisdom. He knows how we are created and has an answer to all of life’s paradoxes. That is, if we are willing to humble ourselves and seek Him. The Scriptures are full of answers to life paradoxes. By the fact that it talks about the problems that others have faced, one of its goals is to help us avoid some of those by choosing to learn vicariously rather than experientially.

Life Cycle Forces

The timing of when we receive contradiction is also important. Researchers have found that “The same event can have different effects, depending on when it happens in a person’s life. Paradoxes that children solve are usually done in ways much different than the way an adult would solve them. This maturational difference is called a Life-cycle force. Life-cycle forces refer to the fact that the meaning of any event depends on the person and the timing of the event.” Not only does the kind of event and timing play an important role, but how a person perceives its impact on them will largely determine whether pathology (false assumptions/beliefs or dysfunctional behaviors) will develop or not. Dysfunctional beliefs and behaviors developed early in life can remain intact throughout the life-cycle if left unsolved. Many paradoxes depend on physical maturation or brain development.

For example, researchers have discovered that basic emotions like happiness and sadness emerge early in infancy, but complex emotions such as feelings of guilt, embarrassment, and pride don’t surface until 18-24 months of age after a child has learned to self-evaluate and experience disappointment in self or abilities. Other research has discovered that intelligence does not fully crystalize until a person reaches age 21, thus making paradoxical solutions prior to that age likely faulty, incomplete or inadequate for later life. It is therefore important that people revisit paradoxes in order to fine tune their beliefs and actions.

Early French psychologist Jean Piaget argued that in their efforts to comprehend their world, children act like scientists in creating theories about the physical and social worlds.[5] In essence, just like adults, they are Enigmatologists, who according to McMillan Dictionary, is any person involved in the science of puzzles [paradoxes] of any kind, be they mathematical, word or logic-oriented.[6]

Piaget described children as trying to weave all that they know about the natural world and people into a complete theory. Children’s theories are tested daily by experience because their theories lead them to expect certain things to happen which may or may not be accurate. As with real scientific theories, when the predicted events do occur, a child’s belief in his/her theory grows stronger. When the predicted events do not occur, the child must revise his/her theory.[7]

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Works Cited:

[1] Retrieved 1/7/2018 from:

[2] Beyond Cognition: Broadening the Emotional Base of Motivational Interviewing, Christopher C. Wagner & Karen S. Ingersoll, National Institute of Health, 2008.

[3]Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, 2000, United States, Wadsworth. (p. 18).

[4]Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, 2000, United States, Wadsworth. (p. 18).

[5]Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, 2000, United States, Wadsworth. (p. 21).

[6] Retrieved 2/12/2018 from:

[7]Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, 2000, United States, Wadsworth. (p. 21).

Paradox Defined Page

Mikel Kelly, MA, LMHC


The Vortex Model 

Of Human Growth & 


“Whether we call them challenges, crises, or conflicts, the trek to adulthood is difficult because the path is strewn with obstacles.” And, “Each life takes on a myriad of twists and turns.”

 — Developmental Psychologists Robert 

Kail & John Cavanaugh[1]

Vortex Model of Development


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Heading Quote:

[1] Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, 2000, United States, Wadsworth. (p. 18).