Sunday, December 27, 2009

December 27th, 2009 - January 3rd, 2010


I want to focus on environmental factors to our distress. DBT is a hard group of skills to adopt into daily life. At times we feel as though we are not ever going to get it. Other times we feel so skillful that we can't imagine our lives having even an ounce of the former pain.

Regardless to how our trek is going in the art of DBT, we all encounter environmental factors that are, plainly put, out of our control. Things we cannot change no matter how badly we may want to. For those of you who are starting in DBT skills no doubt one of the main questions you have while learning skills is "how can I have more of an effective interpersonal life?" No doubt this very area is why you decided to do something different with your life course. Many of us have highly charged conflicted relationships. These conflicts become so overwhelming that our mental illness has a hard time differentiating between real pain, triggered pain, or imagined pain. All of it equals suffering. These storms we face in our relationships, especially those who are closest to us, has probably weighed heavily in on us realizing our problems go deeper than just argumentative relationships. These conflicts start to erode our very core. We began to notice how deeply they hurt. The more we open up to our partners the more they seem to hurt us. The more we learn to recognize our triggers and share them with our partners, it seems to be handing them more ammunition to hurt us. In some cases this may be real or imagined, either way - again, it equals real suffering, fear, and issues of trust.

Rightly so, this doesn't apply to all of you out there. But I am certain it applies to the majority. Those of you who are well skilled in DBT also are familiar with a term called Radical Acceptance. This acceptance is the key to reduce suffering. We are reminded that acceptance is not agreeing. We do not have to agree with the pain, we just have to accept it.

Environmental factors are key in effective living. It is our goal while we are learning more about ourselves to construct an environment that will build up and nourish our new skills. The more we change our lives, the more positive we feel about ourselves the more importance is placed on an environment that does not undermine our hard work. This is where all of us does well to assess what sort of environmental factors are within our control and which ones are not. Example:

You are in a distressing situation, you feel worthless and you cannot seem to cope with anything your partner does, (or does not do). You can change the room you are in, whether or not you take a shower, what you attempt to do with your time. What you cannot change however is your partner in this environment. You cannot make him/her behave in a certain way. Nor can you change what he/she does to contribute to the environment.

What does one do? At times we will find that we will revert back to old learned patterns that are not effective. Other times we will be skillful, using the new skills that we so desperately want to conform our new lives around. The factor that does not change however is your mate. In the above case, if your partner is not willing to respond to you in an effective way, then all you have are your skills.  We can influence, but cannot force a different response. Even after much hard work, what seems to be repetitive problem solving and resolutions for changed behavior, ultimately it is up to the partner to change . This is an environmental factor that is beyond your control.

TRY THIS: Reduce any vulnerabilities you can. Get some sleep, eat, take a walk etc. If you have a headache, tend to it. The fewer the vulnerabilities the better. Attempt to communicate your feelings with your partner, if this fails all you have left to do is tolerate until you can accept. I know it sounds gloomy, but in reality that is all we have. If bigger changes are needed, i.e. a severed relationship, tolerating is all you can do until those bigger changes are made. If those bigger changes are in the form of changes your partner has agreed to make all you can do is wait and use skills that you are familiar with to assist you in holding on.

In conclusion, keep your distress reduction skills handy, reduce your vulnerabilities, remember radical acceptance, and do the best you can from reverting to old ineffective patterns. In cases of relapse, fail well. Keep getting back up, keep trying again. Even if that means you start over again tomorrow!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December 20th - 27th 2009


The 19th and 20th were specifically difficult for me. I share this because it impaired my ability to keep up on my responsibilities here. I have recovered well, and as I mentioned in my Tweet, I used two skills in particular that I found to be most helpful:

1 - Prayer/Meditation - this skill enlists each persons own spiritual awareness. It is helpful to us as humans to reflect on our own existence inside the bigger picture from time to time. To meditate on what is around us and how much larger the world is to us. The universe is to us. What our tiny existence inside of this grand universe can possibly mean. To further that, many find it helpful to turn to a higher power for guidance and strength.

2 - Journal - I personally have found it of great assistance to keep a gratitude journal. I am not one to journal on a daily basis, writing out my thoughts and feelings for each day or every other day. Some find that helpful, others have a seriously difficult time doing this. Especially when it is hard enough to emotionally understand what is happening to us, let alone put words to the experience, and further to coherently write those thoughts down. However, as hard as that may be to some, a gratitude journal is a nice alternative. Basically, each day preferably , you journal something you are grateful for. That is it. Date it, describe what you're grateful for and let it alone until the next day. Where this comes in handy is reminding ourselves daily that we are grateful for something really strengthens our ability to see what is happening outside of our pain. Sometimes are pain is so great that we are unable to think of even the most basic positive thing in our life. Reading our gratitude journal can be quite healing in those moments. Also, this record of our gratitude presents a unique 'safe' place to vent. When things get really difficult and your entire physical existence is so completely painful that you are not sure what to do, this is where you can start writing. Just grab a pen or pencil or a marker for that matter and just write. It doesn't have to make sense. It doesn't have to follow the neat and orderly pattern of a story. It is merely to get out onto paper what is floating around your head crashing into one another. The more you get out, the less crowded it is inside, and the more likely you will be able to access your wise mind thus opening up options that beforehand you were unable to see. The beautiful part is, you leave the journal the way it is. When you are finished, you simply pick up where you left off, entering in what you are grateful for. You may choose to re-read your entry, you may not. Maybe days, months or more later you want to re-evaluate where you have been. Maybe you won't. The point is, it is your gratitude journal and the thing we are most grateful for is that there is yet another day to be grateful for. Which is more than we can say for some.

I also used a skill called 'Distact' - the quick of this skill is that you do something that helps you to distract from your pain. I watched a movie, others may shower, take a bath, write a letter, surf the internet or whatever is available. It does help though, to have a list handy of what sort of things will help you to distract. We will go deeper into this skill as well as the above ones when we get to the section of tolerating our distress.

For now though, back on track: Going from judgments impacting or thinking to observations of our experience we gracefully move into descriptions. Describe the experience, put words to it. This may seem elementary, but as you will soon see it is more difficult than at first thought. We may fool ourselves into thinking that we are describing our experiences all the time. Just because our brain is constantly 'talking' about the experience we are in does not equal describing it.  For example:
You have just spent the evening prior dealing with an extremely painful conflict between you and your partner. You have gone up and down emotionally, always returning to a level of ability to use skills. Not calm, but not totally losing it either. You have used your skills well enough to tolerate the distress, and now you have slept on it.

You and your partner come to some sort of peaceful acceptance of the conflict, and you are happy and content that you have avoided behaving in a way that has caused so much pain in the past. Yet, you begin to notice that doing even the tiniest of tasks going about your day seem to exhaust you. You are able to observe that you are on the verge of anger, tears or another emotion that just doesn't seem to fit with preparing a meal. Your brain begins to talk to you here, and it is telling you, "You are so emotional! What is wrong with you? Everything is fine now, just keep it there. Don't go messing it up."  

Granted that is packed full of judgments, but looking past those, is your mind describing what is happening or is it still just observing? 

Observing would be to notice your emotions are jacked up higher than necessary to prepare a meal. Warning yourself that you do not wish to fall apart after your emotional conflict with your partner is self talk. Asking what is wrong with you is setting yourself up for a judgment, but oddly enough if this question is done in an observing manner it would lead to describing. Ask, 'OK what really is happening here?' You start to tell yourself that, you have just spent a lot of your emotional bank on the conflict the night before. You describe to yourself that tears are about to pour out and you are able to describe that the emotion is not fitting the environment. You may describe the feelings in your toes, hands, stomach or other parts of your body. Perhaps describing your racing thoughts. Describing this out loud can be helpful, because then it will become evident that it makes perfect sense that you would be ready to cry, even thou gh the experience doesn't seem to call for it. By describing the climbing emotions as they are coming, 'my hands are tingling, I am shaking' you will be able to better understand the emotional mourning you are going through. Understanding and accepting that it makes perfect sense will be paramount in the next step, and that is to participate in the experience.

Ha! And all this time you thought you were already participating right? Seriously, we can learn to participate effectively. In this scenario, do you A) scream and yell because your emotions are not matching your experience? or B) allow yourself a release of this emotion that seems to be turned to the wrong degree and move on skillfully?

Moving from observation to describing to effective participating. Next week.

TRY THIS: Along with your written observations, try describing out loud your observations. Describe them in detail. It would be nice if you have a loved one that can listen to your descriptions. Only if it will not elevate you more. Perhaps you could ask the loved one if they had observation X, how would they describe it. Make a game out of it and be as detailed as possible.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

December 13th - 19th 2009


In support of those of you out there that are feeling overwhelmed and frustrated I wanted to start off this week by an encouragement. DBT may seem hard, perhaps even too difficult.

We can see a dialectic in feeling as though this is too hard, and that is this: DBT is hard and very difficult and it can be done and our lives will improve. 

Both of these opposites exist and are true at the same time.

The idea here is to recognize each piece of truth and use it to determine what our action will be. There is truth to DBT being hard, by being hard is my action going to be to stop learning? There is also truth to the effectiveness of DBT, this truth does it make me punish myself for it being hard?  Do I pass judgment on myself because I am having a hard time, and since I have heard by so many people how useful it is, therefore something must be wrong with me? Imagine a teeter-totter. While one end is in the air, the other end is on the ground. Decisions made on either end will be all or nothing. No in-between. Learning how to investigate each opposite and search out that nugget of truth, we will better provide ourselves with a more balanced view. Imagine now that teeter-totter balancing over the middle hump with both ends even with one another. A decision made here, will be one that has taken into account those truths of both opposites. Likely, understanding that DBT is hard, taking that truth; and understanding its benefits, taking in that truth; you will then decide to give yourself a break, validate your feelings of inadequacy and continue learning DBT skills.

We have three ways in which our mind can make choices: 1-Logic/reasonableness; 2-Emotions/Feelings; 3-Balanced/Wise. Let us look at each of these more closely.

1-Logic/Reasonableness: Our thinking can be quite linear or removed from the situation we may be in. We will analyze the situation and list the facts about it. If we are making decisions here, they will be detached and likely without much compassion for ourselves or others that may be impacted by our choices.  

2- Emotions/Feelings: The thinking here tends to be with energy. Any amount of feeling that there has to be about any given situation will be listed here, and usually all at the same time. There isn't much organization. In fact, we will tend to find ruminating, ramped up, and empathy all in the same boat in this state. Decisions made here, will tend to be shaky, inconsistent and blurry.

3- Balanced/Wise - Here is where we want to be making our decisions. It is a blend of both Logic and Emotion. The blend of course varies from situation to situation and from person to person. Perhaps in one situation 30% Logic and 70% Emotion is what will work effectively for you; where-as for me 60% Logic and 40% Emotion will be effective.

The largest obstacle is to know what recipe fits for each situation. It would be impossible for us to have a chart that we could pull out of our pocket and simply look-up the %'s we would need. We wouldn't want to live our lives as mechanically as that anyways, we want to be effective participants in our own lives, we want to be able to learn to make decisions without consulting our long list of skills. As much as we may be using some 'list' like tools, eventually we would like to make a decision with the proper amounts of Logic and Emotion with ease and comfort. The first step to that is being mindful of where we tend to 'reside'. Are you a person who has taken up residence in Logic, only vacationing on rare occasions to Emotion? Maybe we live in Emotion and didn't even know our neighbor was Logic? Even more realistically, are we fully aware of both of the parts of our mind that work in Logic and Emotion but when it comes to decisions, where is the driver at? It has to be on one side or the other, or you wouldn't have a need for improvement in your life, you would have already achieved what most of us are desperately wrangling to get a hold of. We are all on a quest, A) to get to know ourselves better and B) to improve our quality of life.  OK, so the only way we will get to know ourselves better, is we first take a step backward from our earnest desire to change our enormous list of qualities we have found to be ineffective, and simply observe.

TRY THIS: During the course of this next week, observe yourself during your daily activities. Make these observations from a position free of judgments. If you find that you judge yourself often, simply note that you have passed a judgment on yourself, and then continue to observe. Write your observations down. What do you notice? Can you describe what you notice without adding more judgment? Make a record of your observations to use later when we start to participate in what we have observed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

December 7th - 12th, 2009:

Vancouver, WA


Open enrollment for 2010 classes! Send inquiries to


Judgment n. - criticism or censure judgmental adj.

In life we all will pass judgment on ourselves or others around us from time to time. The ability to describe an experience without using judgments is an acquired skill. One that we will be discussing at our next group.

Until then, consider this: Judgments are like shorthand communication. Example:
My husband is making a deli sandwich and he has all the ingredients out on the counter. When the sandwich is ready for the ham, he pulls the meat out of its package and to him it looks spoiled; but since I had it sliced fresh at the deli counter, there is no date on it. So he asks me, "Hon, is this ham bad?"

My husband just made a judgment. Bad is a judgment. He could have asked if the meat had passed its expiration date. We then could have discussed the likelihood of the ham causing his stomach to become upset. If perhaps I knew the expiration date to be yet in the future, he and I could discuss the impact of the ham not being spoiled and different reasons why he asked the question in the first place. Or, I could simply tell him yes or no. Shorthand. He needs a simple to the point answer, so as to know whether to put the meat on his sandwich or not. This judgment effected our experience positively.

There are other experiences in life that using shorthand, or judgments, would be preferrable or even necessary. In contrast there are areas where shorthand would be considered rude. Example:
You and your friend are shopping, she comes out of the dressing room and she asks you how she looks. You can clearly see that the color she has chosen for her blouse causes her skin color to flush. You tell her . . .

"That color looks terrible!" or "You know, that shade of yellow flushes your skin, let's try another color"

The former would impact your experience in a negative way. Obviously judgments have their place, but the use of describing what you need to communicate in longhand so to speak, has its benefits as well; in this case it would have effected the experience positively. So is the same when you are dealing with yourself on a mental level. 

Why useful? Judgments shape the way we think and perceive our environment. The more adept we become at being able to determine whether or not the judgment is useful, the better we will be able to effectively interact in our environment.


This week make note of when you are using a judgment and ask yourself, was it necessary? Did it effect my thoughts/decisions in a negative way or a positive way? What did you notice?