Sunday, February 28, 2010

February 28th - March 7th, 2010

Interpersonal Effectiveness can quite possibly be THE key to effective living. Mindfulness is the catalyst to effective living whereas our relationships to the world is how we live, so they need to be effective. These relationships will make or break whether we are living a life worth living. When we have totally lost it, and we reflect on the entire mess that surrounded the problem, if we were to boil it all down into a neat little pile, no doubt that pile would be labeled "the way I responded to persons in my environment".

Of course this isn't always the case, but take a moment and think about the last time you engaged in Target behavior. If you are a seasoned DBT student, then you will no doubt have chained the event, look back and see if at some point along the chain you were interacting with another individual. Chances are you were. For those of you who are not entirely familiar with chaining an event or target behavior for that matter, just simply in your minds eye, recall whether or not another person was involved in the last time you had a 'melt down' - 'lost it' or any other term you may use for what happens to you when you realize you are not being effective. When I say involved I am not automatically saying it was their fault, and I am not saying it was not their fault. Attributing fault to a conflict clouds the reality of what is going on.

Since we know that we cannot make people respond or act in a particular way, then the obvious solution is to change the way we respond or act. I know for me I still struggle with that reality. This is where Radical Acceptance comes into play. I wished I could tell you that there is a magic key to get those in your environment to respond in a way that is helpful. As much as your loved ones love you, and they do, they will at one point or another make choices and behave in a way that makes things worse.

Things to remember is they are imperfect. They aren't making things worse on purpose. Now please understand I am not referring to persons who are part of your circle of "loved ones" and they claim to love and cherish you, but in all of their actions they prove over and over that they do in fact think only of themselves and how the current moment can benefit them. These people are called "toxic" relationships. They poison your efforts and you end up spinning yourself in circles, crazy making. It is your responsibility to terminate such relationships. But don't feel overwhelmed, that will come as your skills begin to take hold of your life and starts to mold the way you see your world. When that happens, little by little, you will begin to lose those toxic relationships. What I am talking about here today, are the persons who honestly and genuinely love you. They are trying their best, and yet at times their best is not good enough. They are limited in what they know. We also have a responsibility to understand that their minds do not work as ours do. (For the most part anyway) We need to recall that they are struggling equally as hard as you are. They are scared and unfortunately there isn't much support out there for them. They are giving what they can to you, and for them to go and get their cup refilled they find it scarce. It can be very difficult for you to determine the difference between the false support and the genuine supporter. because honestly, that false supporter can be your mate. As devastating as that will be for you to come to grips with that, do take courage, you will get to a point that you will be able to make some sound decisions regarding that relationship. Cross that bridge when you come to it, just be cautioned to not blind yourself to who is your support and who is not.

You may not be able to make someone do what you want them to, however you can train them. It will lessen the frustration. This again comes back to Radical Acceptance. Let's be clear on Radical Acceptance. To illustrate:

You live on a dead end road at the top of a hill. At the bottom of the hill is a two-way stop. If you drive down your road and get to this intersection you would be the driver that is expected to stop. The traffic passes freely going the other direction, they do not need to stop. Further down the road there is a school, so the speed limit is set for 35, unless the school zone is in effect. Your child is learning how to ride his bicycle. He knows not to approach the crest of the hill while riding. However this day, he doesn't pay much attention. He starts to accelerate down the hill and is unable to stop, he passes through the intersection only to be hit by a car that did not have a stop sign. He doesn't make it. This incident will no doubt be the most painful thing you will ever endure. Do you accept this as reality or do you not?

Not accepting this reality would either literally kill you, or you would shrink into yourself and be no good to anyone, ever. You would end up being a bitter, angry and desolate person. No doubt all of your other relationships would fail overtime, and if you have more children they would no longer have a parent. There in form, but not there in soul and mind. In the end you are not able to bring your child back no matter how much you do not accept it.  

OR you accept it. You grieve, you learn how to cope with the enormous pain and you do something about it.  Perhaps you lobby for a stop sign for the whole intersection, after-all if that other car would have had to stop, he would have had a better chance at seeing your child before he was hit. You also could lobby for the speed limit to be reduced all the time, instead of just during school zone hours. These practical steps could help to prevent another accident. In the end, you cannot bring your child back. But what you have done is pro-actively taken control of your life and your envirnoment and endured the grief and did something about it.

What did we learn? Radical Acceptance does not mean you agree with what happened. Radical Acceptance helps to heal. Radical Acceptance clears your mind and opens up options.

If we are able to accept (not agree necessarily) what we cannot change, and change what we have the power to do, then we are in control of our own lives. Taking back that control will help us to live effective lives. Living an effective life will motivate us to use our skills, to practice mindfulness. As we do this, our imperfect, overstressed, honest hearted loved one will begin to see improvements in certain conflict and those improvements will slowly, bit by bit build a strong confidence in our loved one that all disagreements or conflict do not have to end up badly and over time, they will be trained to respond in like.

TRY THIS:  you and your loved one take a few moments to write down what each person would like to see change in your interactions. Then validate your loved one. Tell them what you are grateful about as it concerns them. And when you next get a chance address what they would like to see differently and validate them in the moment. See how far that goes. Using a gentle reminder as to how you would like them to respond, will encourage them to do it. Even if they do not fully understand. See how it feels. Make note of it, share your successes or failures with us - and remember your loved one is trying too. They just don't have the resources like we do to learn skills, help to teach them in a mild way. Have patience with them.


Monday, February 22, 2010

February 22 - 28 2010

THIS WEEK: A day late. . . the weather here in the Pacific Northwest has been beautiful the past few days! Sunny and peculiarly warm. At least for winter. Last year it snowed the first week of March, and here as that date rapidly approaches we are no where near snow weather. With the sun comes a lot of benefits.

Looking for the plus side to things can be exactly what is needed in the moment. After a family hike yesterday my eldest son was complaining how thirsty he was, and looking for something positive to say about the situation, since I could not produce water for him, I told him instead of saying, "Man, I am so thirsty!!!" (with a negative tone) say, "Wow, that first glass of water I am going to drink will taste so good!" (with a positive inflection). See the difference? He is going to be thirsty either way. He can be thirsty and very in need of a glass of water miserably or contented.

If you are like most people that is so much easier said than done. We all know that if there becomes a problem, we know that we had a thought process to that problem, and we know that we had feelings or emotions attached to that problem. Clearly we all know that if we cannot change the problem (needing the glass of water in this case) we can change the way we think about the problem and therefore change the way we feel about the problem, ultimately taking that 'problem' and reducing it down to an occurance or challenge.

There would be a magic key if I were to say it is as simple as that. Change the way you think of the problem and the problem goes away! Poof! O.K., so it doesn't take the problem away, but believe it or not, you would be amazed at how much it makes a difference.

So where to begin? I consider myself to be a person who does not do much journaling, however, it is amazing how helpful a pen and a piece of paper can be.

Going through the DBT program I learned a little tool that really amazed me and at first I thought it was a joke. In the sessions for Problem Solving, there was a form for making a list of Pros to a given situation and Cons to that situation. Yes, they had simplified it down to pen, paper, pros and cons.  Does it get any more simple? (and I paid how much for this course? - seriously though the course is worth ever penny)

 Sometimes when we are suffering we complicate things. Not intentionally, we don't sit around hurting and dream up ways of making our lives harder. But we do that when we grasp at straws and desperately try and fix a problem without taking the simple step of looking at what is a positive of the situation and what is a negative of the situation. The first filter of reducing our pain came in the way I just typed that last sentence, read it again. This is where a clear distinction of what judgments are comes in handy, notice I switched from saying the 'problem' to saying the 'situation'. The word Problem brings negative judgments. They go hand-in-hand. The word 'situation' brings curiosity. It opens up the door for you to take a curious approach to what is bringing you pain. Curiosity is a great tool because forces you to ask questions about the situation you are in. By using the word situation, the natural question that would come up first would be, "If this isn't a problem, then why am I in so much pain?" Notice here, I did not say you weren't in pain. Simply changing the word from problem to situation does not make any pain go away. It only helps open the curtains in your mind and lets a little sunlight in. Get yourself asking questions and you will get some answers. Those answers will be what brings your pain down.

Back to the pros and cons. If you are practicing your mindfulness regularly you will be more likely to notice when you are off of baseline emotionally and you won't have to wait for something to happen to cue you into needing to ask questions about your current situation, although, there will be times that you will find yourself right in the middle of a very painful situation and that will be your cue to get out your pen and paper and start listing your pros and cons.

Most of us are used to using the tool of pros and cons with more traditional decisions. We are not so versed in using it in making decisions that we aren't really sure that we are making a decision at all. Think about it though, I am in pain, I want badly to engage in target behavior and I am not thinking clearly. By applying my newly found tools of DBT, I will know that my urge to engage in target behavior is my cue to take out my pros and cons tool, I write at the top of the page: "If I engage in target behavior" of course you will want to write specifically what that target behavior is, do not be generic when using pros and cons. Be as descriptive as you can, because when it comes time to list the pros and cons of engaging in this target behavior you will want to be sure that you do not lessen the seriousness of the con of what that behavior really would be.  So you have your pros and cons list labeled, and you pick the pros first, list anything and everything that would be positive about your choice to engage. Be honest with yourself, one of the pros of engaging would be relief from the pain. If your list is not honest, when it comes to listing the cons you will be less likely to believe them. Remember, your doing this on the basis of what IF you engage. So after you are finished and you can look at a truly candid list of pros and cons, you read them aloud to yourself and then make your decision as to whether you will engage or not.

Looking at the urge to engage in target behavior that way can be very sobering, and I would venture a guess that you will be surprised as to how effective this tool is.

TRY THIS: pick a conflict or a situation that is causing you distress and make your pros and cons list. Do not wait for something to crop up before you use this tool. You will want to have some practice with it before you can expect it to work in the moment. Keep working with this tool, you may find that you make a list and you still choose the ineffective behavior. This doesn't mean it didn't work. It means that you made an informed choice. Whether that choice was the "right or wrong" choice. . . well that will be for another week! Let us know how this works for you, how do you feel about it? Challenges, successes, etc.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010

February 14 - 21st, 2010

THIS WEEK: I was thinking on how likely BPD or BP sufferers have high conflict relationships and that the day today was Valentine's day and although I personally do not celebrate this day, many of you do. Not only do many of you celebrate it, there is a greater chance that this holiday, perhaps others as well, is a source of anxiety and pain. My hope of course is that for many this day was not disappointing. However, chances are if this one wasn't that past ones have, perhaps other holiday's you are left feeling lonely. I can speak from experience that loneliness isn't the only emotion that crops up. Rejection, disloyal, fear, frustration, over-all a broken heart. Not a broken heart like the fairy tales would have you feeling when you don't get that special guy or girl, rather broken hearted because you and your mate have relentlessly fought again. Broken hearted because that certain conflict has wreaked havoc on your day or week. Broken hearted because yet another relationship has disintegrated because of your ineffective living.

Living with a mental illness is overwhelming and trying when it is just yourself that you are making decisions for, but add a mate and children and the fears and anxiety become much more intense. BPD consumers have an intense difficulty forming bonds, making it extremely hard for strong, stable relationships to form. When children are born to these persons, their difficulty bonding presents a new challenge. The intense mood swings and their rapid occurences can make maintaining a relationship very trying. Of course all of these challenges are workable, just because we have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder does not mean we cannot have a family. It just means that we must work harder than those without mental illness. Bi-polar consumers have their set of unique challenges when working for a happy family as well. Their appearance of mental stability can be frighteningly shattered with an unexpected manic episode ravages them, leaving the mate fearful and disappointed.

You see, the sadness and frustration of this holiday or others, doesn't come from him or her not doing what you had expected or a mate being forgetful of the day (well, in most cases it isn't these things anyways, I am sure there are some forgetful mates! :) The true sadness and frustration comes when you and your mate are not able navigate your disabilities with much success. I wanted to spend some time today to reiterate this because I know that at times I feel like if a need of mine is not being met, my brain automatically starts the spiral of shameful thinking, that I do not deserve this or that, or if only I was better would my mate be able to provide this or that. As that may be true in some degree, it is not a true line of thought. No amount of you being 'better' will make Valentine's day a better day for you. No amount of not deserving of something is going to improve the loneliness that we find ourselves having. The reality of the matter is this, as soon as we are able to live a life worth living, a truly effective life, only then can we expect to have a happy, successful relationship and family.

The majority of sufferers are already in relationships, quite a few of those relationships are with children as well. For those of us, we aren't able to say, "Ok, I will learn what an effective life is, I will learn what a life worth living looks like for me and then I will take another crack at this whole relationship thing" No, for a lot of us, we are already in a relationship, we may already have children. There is no pause button for children. They grow up with or without your knowing what a life worth living looks like for you. They grow up, whether your Valentine's day was a success or whether it was tragic, a lot of you still have relationships and you still have children. So the idea here is to take that 'pause' to get a hold of what that effective life is, and all the while still be on your game so you do not miss your mates needs and you do not miss your children's needs.

That is why we are working so hard with forms of therapy, like DBT. That is why all of you are reading this, why you are working hard and practicing what you are learning, applying it into your lives, so that the frustration, let-downs, and pain that you experience with forming and maintaining relationships isn't some sob story you tell when someone asks how your Valentine's day went. No, rather you will be able to know with confidence that this goes far beyond a holiday and you will have confidence that you, your mate and your children are experiencing the best relationship they can with you. For those that do not have those mates or kids, you will be confident that you will be very capable when they come along, because you have worked hard at being the most effective you.

I wanted to go over these ideas as a refresher for us all, a reminder as to why we are doing all of this, so that you can be the best of you! When you are the best of yourself, you can offer the best to a mate and children, therefore you can get the best back out of the relationship. The good news all of you are on that track right now, you are learning. Learning goes a long way.

THIS WEEK: Take a serious look at how you can improve the way you treat yourself. Make a list, what can you do to improve the way you act towards yourself? Perhaps you can give yourself an extra 15 mins in the morning to ready yourself for the day. Take an extra long shower, or even a bath. Maybe you could dress-up a little more each day, just to get yourself to feel better about yourself. Make this list, and do one thing for just yourself each day. We want to build a really positive feeling towards yourself. We want to stir up positive feelings, positive experiences, if we generate more positives then you have more positives to give out too.

Let's hear from you, tell us some of the things that you have committed to doing for yourself this week!


Monday, February 8, 2010

February 8th - 14th, 2010

THIS WEEK: We all have been working so hard that I want us to take a break and take a look at some reminders.

Mindfulness - ask yourself if you have been practicing this skill even when you are not in need of soothing yourself. Please share some exercises that work for you.

Need/preference - is what you are asking for a need or a preference.

Keeping our objective clear in our minds.


Practicing a few distress tolerance skills vs. many all at once.

Lets look at emotions for a moment. Emotions are very useful and very harmful. Clearly we can see the harm in negative emotions. No doubt we have an arsenal of negative emotions tucked away in a closet. Unfortunately, because of this surplus of negative emotion when we see something on the television or we are in a similar situation to that we have been in, in the past we pull on these negative emotions that we have stored up. We retrieve information from this arsenal and apply it to what is happening to us in the moment. This ability can be useful if (1) we retrieve from positive emotions or (2) if we need the retrieval to prevent us from doing something life threatening. Outside of these two circumstances, chances are retrieving past emotions will only do us more harm than good.

So, if all we are pulling from are piles of old negative emotions then we need to do something about that. We need to build positive emotions. So that when we find ourselves in a situation we can increase our likelihood of leaning on the memory of a positive emotion.

For the short term, we need to do as many pleasant things as we can possibly do. I am not encouraging every one to abandon their responsibilities for the time being, but rather include as many fun things in your day as would be reasonable. Make sure you look for ways to enjoy yourself.

Do at least one thing daily that really brings you joy, some examples are listening to music, soaking in the bathtub, collecting things, recycling old items, going to a movie in the middle of the week, jogging or walking, buying household gadgets, laughing, listening to someone elses positive day, reading a book, beautiful scenery, eating (mindful), repairing things around the house, caring for plants, playing golf, flying kites, getting the family together, camping, singing, praying, positive affirmations, a day off, painting, taking a nap, entertaining, playing musical instruments, making a gift for someone, cooking, hiking, writing poems, sewing, sightseeing, gardening, kissing, watching children play, dancing. Of course the list is really really long and can be as long as you would like it to be.

Long term changes will make what a life worth living looks like for you. Set goals, the idea is to accumulate positives. Make a list of positive events that you would like, list small steps toward those goals. Things to think about while accomplishing your goal in small steps is if this goal is hard for you, tell yourself that it is OK that it is hard for yourself, imagine yourself accomplishing it anyways. Start the goal by breaking it down into small steps that you can award yourself for along the way, of course make sure you are awarding yourself, lighten your load where you can, don't be hard on yourself.  Have a reward for yourself at the very end of the goal that will keep you driving for it.

Build these positive emotions so that we can use them when things aren't going as positive as you would like them to.

 TRY THIS:  during the week make your list of what your goal of positive events you want, list the small steps in achieving them. Then, through out the week, for each day jot down the things you did to get you closer to your goal. Share with us on how you did.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

February 4th - 8th, 2010


We only heard from one reader on this interpersonal exchange, although that is a limited response, we are glad to have some of our readers thoughts when weighing in on these life experiences. True, not often is it that we are being taken advantage of by our boss, and granted the exchanges we face with interpersonal effectiveness are far more intense, but this does give us a glimpse that we can play with to get some ideas as to what is in fact effective.

So we have several scenarios here, we can rate our objective (that of our boss to ask and be prepared that we may say no to extra tasks and overtime) or, we can place our self respect first, because after-all we take a lot from the world, and we don't need to be taken advantage of at work too. Finally, we may place our relationship with our boss first, weighing in that it is of most importance to keep things peaceful at work, so that things do not get worse than they already are.

All of these are viable, this is why interpersonal effectiveness is so challenging. For example, I may know that I do not deserve to be taken advantage of by my boss, and I could probably really use a dose of self respect to boost my general emotional well being, however, I may also know that at this time I am a bit too fragile to handle an interchange with my boss that she may not react to favorably to. I may choose to place the relationship aspect first because no matter what happens in the end I need to be able to continue working in a non-conflictual environment.

OR ~ I may place my self respect first because I am at a personal cracking point, and whether my boss likes me at the end of the day or not has no bearing on how much of a need it is at this point for me to know that I will stand up and take charge. 

Each of us may do this differently because it may be what we need at that point in time. Especially when you are taking into consideration that our recovery is a life long adventure, we need to be mindful and do what we need to have done, when it needs to be done. Enforcing our objective can be done skillfully even if perhaps we need to place our self respect second or third.

The great thing here though, is that if we mindfuly approach these exchanges and take some time to brain storm them we do have a better chance that the exchange will be effective. Consider some things that might get in the way of this interchange with your boss being effective:

First, ask yourself, Do I have the skill to get my needs met? Often times our exchanges with others do not go so well simply because we do not have the proper skill. Get educated, bounce ideas off of a trusted friend. A caution, do not get caught up in a "gripe" session with close pals, it only generates more negative emotions. Do research, brain storm some of your own experiences that didn't go so well and try and see what might have made things worse? What sort of things went well in those interchanges? Obtaining skills will improve our likelihood of an effective exchange.

Sometimes we have the skill but we have too many worry thoughts or emotions to clearly get accomplished what it is that we are wanting to accomplish. Learning to separate the worry thoughts, validate them and set them aside in our brains or literally on paper, either sort through the excess emotions and get to the useful ones. Sometimes these extra emotions and excessive worry will lead to indecision. Indecision is a killer. It gets you all wound up, you problem solve just to find that you have changed your mind again and now need to problem solve the new idea. It takes a lot of your emotional energy and gets you nowhere.

Finally, there is a reality that we all have to face, sometimes skillful behavior just does not work because the environment does not allow it to work and there is nothing we can do about it. . . EXCEPT walk away. Using an exit graceful line, simply walking away will keep our self respect in tact even if our objective failed. Exiting effectively will allow us to be able to fail well.

So which one comes first? Objective, relationship or self respect? Sadly there is no right answer, however give this a thought or two. What if we took our objective and put it first.

Objective- It is most important to me to make sure I tell my boss that I need to be asked to provide overtime and extra work. It will boost my self respect if I let my boss know that although I do have strong work ethics and I am a valued employee and my job is important to me, I will at times not be available to provide these extras.

Second - Relationship - Although my self respect is very important to me, I know that if I allowed my relationship with my boss to become strained because I let my emotions take control in this highly charged interaction, I would feel badly about myself. I know that it is important to me to present my objective in a way that will nurture the professional relationship I have and perhaps have my boss not only hear my needs, but also respect me for them. Of course taking this aspect very seriously and placing it second also backs up my self respect.

Finally - Self respect - It matters to me how I view myself, and even though I chose to place this third I did not forget about it, in fact by placing my objective first I have enforced to myself that I am worth it to be assertive. By taking an easy manner to my relationship with my boss has allowed me to behave in a way I can respect and thus feel good about myself after the interchange even if I do not get what I want.

Ultimately placing them in this order will be a win/win situation for me. Asserting my objective in a problem solving approach and easy manner with my boss all the while being sure that I have behaved in a way that I can be proud of later will secure my self respect and meeting that need without ever having to take the "I DONT DESERVE THAT" approach. 

Now, lets say my boss gets angry half way through my delivery of asserting my objective, since I am placing my relationship second I would then back off of my objective, not abandon it, but I would then  respond to the anger I am getting with a calm and mild spirit, if I am unable to return to my objective then I would use an exit graceful line. Once the interchange is over I then can go back to the drawing board and brain storm my next step. I may have to consider quitting my job, or other options might be possible. The point however is this reassessment of my choices needs to happen outside of this specific interaction. The next interaction may be that I will need to quit. If my boss responds to me with anger when I assert myself well within the lines of being professionally respectful I may choose to quit,  if this is case, then perhaps my Self respect would be number one in my next interchange, that of turning in my resignation.

Lets say your boss listens to your assertion, but then jestfully blows you off again. It would appear that your objective may not be met, however, again since your relationship comes next you would give a 'broken record' response toward your objective to close the conversation without being confrontational. Perhaps you could say, "You are right, you can count on me to get the work done and done properly, yet I am still letting you know I will not be able to do it whenever you ask." You might  have to wait and see if your objective will be met by  the next time your boss asks you to stay for some overtime or asks you to provide extra work. This is where the beauty of the 'broken record' statement comes in, because if it becomes clear that your boss is unaffected my your assertion before and still deals with you in the same manner regarding the overtime, then you use this 'broken record' statement right then and there. Simply and mildly state "I know you count on me to get the work done and get it done properly, however as you know I am not always able to do this, and this is one of those times I am unable to." Your boss is then reminded of your assertion from before and has the same answer restated to her without negotiation. Overtime she will get the point of what your objective was without having to take the "MAKE SURE I AM HEARD" approach.

As I said though, this is just another scenario. Yours might look differently.

Please, I welcome any and all thoughts or comments. I will post next on Monday February 8th, 2010 - and we will go over some environmental factors that get in the way of interpersonal effectiveness and what we might be able to do about them. I would like to hear from you guys on what particular environmental factors that get in your way, and perhaps we can brain storm together a solution, so send me the comments and we will cover them next week!  Hearing from you, the  readers, is what makes this group work!