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!

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