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Words of wisdom from the side of the couch

The first time I sat on Dr. Lori’s couch, a hint of ocean peeked between high-rises behind me. At the time, I barely noticed how inviting her office was. Confused with years of trauma, with the wreckage of my past still blazing behind me; my mind could only focus on one thing: relief. I had been seeking it in all the wrong places, and it was time to reign myself back.

A litter of crumpled tissues laid in my lap while she explained to me what Dialectic Behavior Therapy was and the services offered. I asked myself the question you may be asking yourself now, “Will this work for me?” While I can’t answer that for you with certainty, I can tell you that I am leaving the program better than when I arrived.

By the time life brought me to the Institute, I was beyond willing to try whatever was thrown my way. My desperation for a better life translated to a commitment to therapy.  The sense of needing something “more” propelled me. Against circumstance and mood, I found myself actively participating in my treatment.

Opening up to a group of strangers, who by the end became my friends, wasn’t easy at first. Yet, it wasn’t long before my measures reflected the inner progress I’d been working so hard for. One of my favorite therapists liked to end our sessions by asking, “What are you taking away from our time together?” I’d like to share with you a few things I take with me now, in hopes that they’ll help you find your own life worth living.

 

Focus on the Target, Not the Problem

When ‘coping ahead’ and ‘pre-planning’ become a part of your vocabulary; it’s important to remind yourself to focus on your personal target behaviors and goals, versus external problems. We can’t foresee every situation that comes our way, and we can’t control the behaviors of others. With practice, it will become easier to identify patterns in our own thought processes, and the actions we take. When we keep our focus on the things we are in control of and the goals we want to reach, we put power back into our hands and this allows us to be prepared for anything that may pop up.

 

Tornado Plus Tornado Equals Hurricane (A.K.A: Don’t get sucked into other’s emotional waves)

Meteorological accuracy aside, adding into someone else’s emotional tornado with your own only escalates the problem. It’s important not to get sucked in and allow yourself time to process. Miscommunications are common when emotions are intense, and often we feel a need to resolve things RIGHT NOW. This can lead to more stress and conflict. If our emotions are waves, shouldn’t we focus on riding one at a time? By taking a step back, we stop reacting to the world and begin interacting with it. Take your time when interacting with others to make sure you aren’t getting caught up in someone else’s storm.

 

You ARE NOT Your Thoughts and Feelings

While our emotions and thoughts shape our perception, they are not always rooted in reality. It’s important to create distance between them and who are you are as person. It’s when we give into the intensity that our feelings and beliefs affect what we do and who we become. We may tell ourselves “I’m a bad person, I’m worthless” but in truth, bad people don’t worry about being bad, nor do worthless people try to improve. The core of a person’s power is in their choices. Don’t let emotions or thoughts take away the ability to choose.

Though they seem deceivingly simple, the daily practice of these concepts has the potential to reshape your relationship with the world around you.  DBT not only opened my eyes to the above, but many more insights that helped me grow and improve as a person. Progress rarely follows a straight line so do not be discouraged if you find some days harder than others and be open to finding what works for you.  Our struggles may stem from different emotional, situational or biological causes, but we all have the same potential to thrive.  The things I taken with me from DBT have helped me build a new life, so I leave you with the possibility that it can help you too.

                                                                                                         ~ M.

Research

Presented at the 2019 ACBS World Conference in Dublin, Ireland