Lessons in the Art of Living

Lessons in the Art of Living

Dialectical_Behavior_Therapy_Cycle_ENLast week I wrote a post called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – Creating a life worth living. It was inspired by a recent post on Psychology Today (click on link at top of article) that talks about how applicable this new type of therapy really is. That’s where today’s post comes in.

As mentioned last week, DBT is not just for those with Borderline Personality Disorder. Even though it was developed for a certain population. it is important to see things on a spectrum and this is no different. The reason I say that is because of all the things DBT incapsulates:

Mindfulness. Distress tolerance. Emotion regulation. Interpersonal effectiveness. If ever there were a set of psychological skills for negotiating life in the 21st century, this is it.

These are all skills that DBT gets at. Let’s start with the first one – Mindfulness:

Learning how to stay focused on the present moment, noting the fleeting nature of emotions so as not to get whipsawed by them, not getting mired in regret about the past or overcome with anxiety about the future. It affords us a choice of how we want to respond to experiences.

I like that. Enjoying the present moment and not getting overcome with emotions are definitely things I could get on board with. But what about the next tool… distress tolerance? Well, it’s pretty much what it sounds like…how well can you tolerate crazy things happening in your life? Dr. Barry Lubetkin, director of New York’s Institute of Behavioral Therapy says,

“I have never seen so many people having affairs. A man has a fight with his wife or girlfriend and he immediately acts out with someone else, rather than managing the distress and finding alternative ways of controlling a bad reaction or learning better communication skills.”

It’s so true, isn’t it? It may not always be as dramatic as an affair, but find a way to relate it to your life. How often have you gotten upset about something and instead of dealing with it in that moment, you go have a drink, go out with friends, or avoid it completely? That’s where distress tolerance comes in. Can you tolerate distress? Can you find the comfort in the discomfort? As Iyanla Vanzant says, “CALL A THING A THING.” What does that mean? It means if something upsets you, call it what it is. Don’t dance around the issue. Don’t avoid it. Don’t pretend like nothings wrong. Be honest. Be clear. Be open. That’s how you move forward.

When I say this, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take a moment to cool off and there aren’t good coping mechanisms. BUT, there is a difference between completely avoiding something / going for the immediate gratification that inhibits your long term goals and taking a break to regroup and think about the best way to approach a situation. If you want that relationship, if you want that grade, if you want that business to succeed, then sometimes you have to think about putting up with the short-term struggles to work towards that long-term goal. Be willing to sit with the temporary discomfort to work towards your long term goals. That is distress tolerance.

This leads into interpersonal effectiveness because as you figure out what you want and are willing to work towards long term goals, you will be able to more effectively interact with people and ask for what you want and need. If you value a certain type of friendship, job, relationship, then you are better able to figure out what you need to do. There comes interpersonal effectiveness:

One of its core principles is that learning how to ask directly for what you want diminishes resentment and hurt feelings.

Through all of this comes the goal of regulating our emotions. As I said last week, DBT is not about being right OR wrong – it’s about being right AND wrong. Life is about opposites – there is going to be joy; there is going to be grief; there are going to be new friendships; there are going to be breakups. It’s the nature of life.

The primary dialectic is engaging change strategies in the context of acceptance, but equally rooted in the idea of creative resolution of problems is understanding that living inherently engages contradictory emotions and oppositional thoughts.

What are your thoughts on these ideas? Can you accept that life is about the ANDs and not the ORs? Does any of this resonate?

Related links:

Rubin Khoddam, PhD Clinical Psychology student at University of Southern California, founder of Psych Connection.

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Categories: Articles, Therapy

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18 replies


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