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Living in “the in between” and why solid ground isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

Nancy MacGregor MA, ATR-BC, LPC, ACS, Clinical Director

Artwork by Nancy MacGregor, MA, ATR-BC, LPC, ACS

CHANGE ONLY HAPPENS IN “THE IN BETWEEN”, despite our best efforts to avoid it.

Most the time we can agree that extremes are not the healthiest place to be. So why do we work so hard to avoid the space in-between? Here are some reasons to challenge yourself to live more in the grey areas of life.


Oxford dictionary describes it as “situated somewhere between two extremes”.

Most of us agree that extremism can be dangerous.

Why we love Terra Firma (solid ground)?

We humans tend to want to stand on terra firma. This phrase’s first known use was in 1638. When sailors returned from weeks at sea, they were understandably grateful to stand on solid ground. This idea of solid ground gives us comfort. Terra firma provides for us a framework from which to view the world. It gives us rules by which to make our decisions and guide our interactions. In fact, our entire identity is often based on this ground. We like to think we live here, and at times we will ignore evidence that we don’t.

Where we actually live

The reality is that most of our lived experience happens in the area between these extremes. There are very few things that are “all or nothing”,

While we have a thirst for status quo and predictability for the reasons stated above, we are never really on solid ground. We have this false idea that if we get to that next piece of solid ground, that we can rest or that we can be happy; that if we believe in “X”, there is nothing else to worry about because “Y” and “Z” are not real, and therefore not our problem or business. But, in this day and age, few of us are exploring sailors. The truth is, that we never actually arrive to those places of our own constructs and “X’s”, “Y’s’ and “Z’s” all exist together. We are, in fact, almost ALWAYS in “the in between”.

If we live in “the in-between”, why do we work so hard to avoid it?

Terra firma can be equated with status quo. As long as we have status quo we have no reason to change. Disequilibrium (physical, emotional, or spiritual) forces us into change, and most of us hate change.

We also often confuse “the in-between” with “the unknown”. And we have, for better or for worse, grown to believe that the unknown is the scariest thing around. Having a set belief (something is either wrong or right) gives us a sense of knowing. In fact, Aaron Beck, the founder of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy identified black and white/all or nothing thinking, as one of many cognitive distortions (which is exactly what it sounds like, a distorted way of thinking).

If we acknowledge that we are in “the in-between”, it also means more work for us. It is thinking and feeling. It is having a dialogue. It is active listening while not simultaneously loading your response. It requires asking questions that you may not want to know the answers to. It requires the potential discovery that you are wrong, or at least that there are many other “rights”. It requires approaching each scenario with an open mind. It requires us to grow – and that hurts sometimes. Growing pains are real.

The ideas of shifting ground, of changing our minds, of doing things differently, are ones we inherently try to avoid. Shifting ground would cause our sense of stability to be in jeopardy. But ignoring the shifting ground has a cost as well. Consider all the work it takes to “not shift”. It requires us to not feel. It requires us to not consider another point of view. It requires us to not grow. Most of all, it requires a lot of energy to cling to something so tightly.

In short, FEAR is the reason we avoid the in-between. We are afraid to change, and we are afraid of the unknown.

WHAT happens when we decide to go there?

Everything. Everything happens in “the in-between”.
We only make changes in disequilibrium. And change is what indicates that we are learning and adapting. It is the human work.

We are open to different outcomes in “the in-between”. We learn that they are just as okay as the ones we had in mind. We can see multiple solutions in “the in-between”.

Our thinking is clearer and less distorted, as we allow the many possibilities of “the grey” to expand our understanding

Our feelings become less scary. We can lean into what we are experiencing instead of running away.

Our relationships improve because the surface area where we can authentically connect with others have grown.

Our leaders are listeners and their followers have a voice.

We can let go of fear.

When we are in-between, we can be open to ourselves and others which allows us to love more authentically.

Leaning into the discomfort allows us to process, change, learn and grow. Lean in. You belong here in “the in-between”.

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