Primary reference for this post: DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Linehan, Marsha. Copyright 2015.
“So what is dialectical behavioral therapy, and how does it work?”
said no person ever. After all, most people have never heard of DBT, and even if they have , they may be embarrassed to ask about it – they may not even know of anyone who has ever tried it. So, this DBT series is to answer the questions you didn’t know to ask, or didn’t know who to ask. And I also believe practically anybody can benefit from the DBT exercises, so I wanted to share some of the big principles with all of my faithful readers.
But first, I want to say
Happy Birthday, Grandma Dee!
I love you!
Happy Early Birthday, Grandpa Jim!
I love you too!
Both of you make my life so much sweeter 🙂 Thank you for being such wonderful grandparents. I’m thinking of you guys today.
And now… DBT: Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the core skill of DBT. The other skill sets, (Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness) are impossible to perform if you are not aware of yourself, your emotions, other people, and the different skills appropriate to different situations.
Wondering exactly what mindfulness is? Here’s the definition:
Mindfulness; intentionally living with awareness in the present moment without judging or rejecting the moment.
In other words, living with intention and meaning, being aware of reality, and not automatically withdrawing because of our circumstances.
Here’s some examples of my mindless pattern:
- Rushing through a meal at breakneck speed without paying attention to what I’m eating
- TV binge, YouTube binge, (for some people it’s Netflix binge, screen time binge, ect.)
- Automatically making judgments on people based on my first impression
- Refusing or neglecting to evaluate my thinking patterns
- Letting my emotions or flawed thinking rule my actions
These are just a few of the mindless behaviors common in my life. Maybe you have your own. When do you realize you’re out of touch with what your body needs? When do you turn to electronics, noise, loud music, cleaning, books, daydreaming, exercising, or TV to drown out and numb your emotions temporarily, rather than dealing with the problem? None of those things are essentially bad, but if they are keeping you from living your life and functioning in a healthy way, then maybe you need to rethink your patterns and habits.
Sometimes we have to push through our emotions, ignore them for a time, to get through life. We’ll discuss that later in Distress Tolerance. However, we need to do so mindfully, exercising control over our thoughts and feelings.
For example, my dog Sugar just passed away right before finals. I was mindful, and honest with myself. I knew I felt horrible, and that I needed to take time to grieve. However, I also really needed to do finals, and I knew that if I allowed myself to just drown in my grief and give myself up to a flood of emotions, there was no way I could do well on them. So I told myself, “Sugar was a beautiful dog. She deserves you mourning her properly – it would be abnormal if you didn’t miss her terribly. And as soon as finals are over, I will let myself off the hook and just allow myself to grieve.”
And that’s what I did. I’m actually still healing, of course. Obviously, I also felt really sad during finals. But I acknowledged my need to grieve, like a healthy person would, and allowed myself a time to finish my last mad crazy round of finals, and then a time to just rest, and really let myself acknowledge and come to terms with her loss.
The point of that story is that, while I’m not always mindful, in that case, I felt like I succeeded because I had acknowledged the pain of losing Sugar and the necessity of finishing finals well. I had thoughtfully chosen a course of action, and I achieved both of my goals – dealing with Sugar’s loss, and getting the grades I needed to ensure I kept up a good GPA.
Mindfulness is challenging your old assumptions with new ideas and questions. Mindfulness is knowing not everything you think is true. Mindfulness is being able to chooses what you think about from moment to moment. Mindfulness is accepting reality. Mindfulness is being present and able to make good decisions that are healthy for you and for others, decisions that are based not on guilt, fear, an addiction, or lie.
How can you practice mindfulness?
Remember to observe – especially the unobservable. That is, notice what thoughts, emotions, and inner physical sensations are going through your brain and body. Name fear for fear, sadness for sadness. Do you feel nauseous in your stomach when you’re scared, or get a headache? What starting you down a downward spiral of negative thoughts? Was it an upsetting event? Why was that event upsetting? Even if you feel guilty for having an emotion, you need to recognize that you are experiencing it, and not just deny that you are struggling with it. Otherwise, you can’t change it, because you’re pretending you don’t have it in the first place!
Use both your emotions and thoughts. Remember, God gave you both for a reason. Don’t force yourself to make purely ‘logical’ decisions without giving weight to the emotional effect it will have on you or others. Cleverness and the ‘easy way’ aren’t necessarily wisdom. And in the same way, it’s ok to have difficult, upsetting emotions. Can you allow yourself to acknowledge them and then not allow them to dictate everything you do?
Why should you try mindfulness? I honestly believe being mindful has helped me think more clearly, understand my emotions and why I’m having them a lot better, helped me get over negative automatic assumptions I had of people, develop healthier life patterns, and even draw closer to God, as I no longer try to deny my problems and struggles, and instead ask God for help with them.
I hope this post is helpful, guys! Is mindfulness and what it is clearer? Next week, we will discuss Emotion Regulation.
I will end this post with a small mindfulness exercise I did in group therapy that is so relaxing and calming. It just helps me to feel less chaotic and tense!
Turn on some relaxing music or sound. You can even do this in silence, if you prefer.
Sit down on a chair, or on the floor.
First, tense up all the muscles in your feet. Just squeeze them, tense them, and focus on that group of muscles – the muscles in your toes, arch, and heel. Hold for 20 seconds. Then relax the muscles, and just breathe deeply for about 10 seconds.
Tense your calves for 20 seconds, and relax for 10.
Tense your thighs and backside for 20.
Relax for 10.
Tense your stomach and whole core for 20.
Relax for 10.
Tense your shoulders for 20.
Relax for 10.
And finally, tense your face for 20 (that one feels weird, but you may have a lot of tension in those muscles).
And relax for 10.