- Distract is not the same as avoid.
- Fighting the past only blinds me to my present.
- All events have led up to this very moment.
- The present moment is the only moment I have control over.
What do all of these cheer-leading statements have in common? Time-traveling.
Carrying on with our discussion with Radical Acceptance, since this skill is one of the more difficult ones I thought this week we would look over factors that get in the way of acceptance. One of them is time-traveling. What happens when we time-travel? Well, this reminder says it best:
I do not need to suffer the past or suffer what I think to be the future.
OK, that makes sense. Who really wants to keep suffering an ineffective experience over and over and over? Not me. Then, taking that ineffective experience, possibly several, as if we haven't suffered enough; we wrongfully misapply it to our inevitable future. We tell ourselves that it will happen that way again. A couple things here, we know that feelings follow focus, right? So if we are focused on how we know this ineffective experience will happen again, aren't we making it more likely that the experience will be repeated? If that wasn't enough to make us reconsider time-traveling, then perhaps understanding how the second cheer-leading statement written above impacts our thinking. We literally will blind ourselves to our progress of Radical Acceptance when we automatically assume that our past ineffective experience will repeat. Either way you look at it, time-traveling is damaging and painful. In the life of a borderline, or any mental illness for that matter, there is already quite enough pain and damage, we don't need anymore.
"Should've" is a trap as well. Over using "should": "it should be this way or it should be that way" is where you are violating reality. An experience may have been able to go more effectively, but at this moment in your life it is what it is. You may have the ability to handle that same experience differently in the future, but spending one second on what you should or should not have done will not be effective for you. It will only get in the way of your progress with Radical Acceptance. Understanding that "everything is perfectly caused" is the key to this pitfall. No, everything is not perfect. It is however, perfectly caused. I am not using the word perfect in terms of good and bad. Recall, part of DBT 101, is to observe, describe and participate without judgments. Losing that judgment, you will see that something being "perfectly caused" does not equate to "caused by good" rather you would see, "perfectly caused" means it makes sense how it was caused. There is a reason. The reason is logical and it makes sense. You didn't come to this moment in your life without events, one after the other, that led you right here.
When you sit and look at yourself in the proverbial mirror and you are assessing where you are where you want to go, when you are looking at what a life worth living to you would look like, you would see where you are and say to yourself, "OK, here we are by natural consequence" (forming it this way removes judgments and releases you from guilt or shame) "what is effective about where I am right now and what is ineffective" (forming it this way provides you with a clear look at it for problem solving and you won't get mixed up in who's at fault or how much better you need to be).
What are some natural consequences? Well, if I do not pay my phone bill my phone will be cut off. That is a natural consequence. If I am physically beaten by a parent figure when I am a young child I will be an adult that has trust issues, temper issues, substance abuse issues, and likely be too controlling with my own kids. If I were sexually assaulted as a young child I will be an adult with substance abuse issues, panic issues, frigidity or promiscuous issues, overprotective issues with my own children...and the list goes on for both of those scenarios. Here is a "for-instance" - let's say I was physically beaten, as an adult I then am really controlling and overly-stern with my kids. I don't beat them because I have "sworn" I will never do that to a child. Yet, I often feel guilty because I have yelled too often and too loudly and my kids are fearful of me. Looking at this, spending any amount of time telling myself how "bad" I am for yelling at the kids or how I "shouldn't" be this way because I know how hard it was for me to have been beat by a parent figure, I would be wasting my energy. Because I am the way that I am due to my experiences in my life. Period. My parenting skills are now perfectly caused and I am in desperate need of new parenting skills because the ones I have are ineffective. Do you see how that concept plays out? It fits any scenario you could possible be experiencing. You harm yourself because you cannot tolerate pain because you have been abused. Your self-harm is perfectly caused and you need to find another coping mechanism. Do you see the dialectical thinking here that is involved?
When we are in pain and we are not accepting is where suffering comes in. In order to keep from being destroyed we need to find the balance between endurable pain and agony, generally that comes down to, what are you not accepting? You essentially have four options when things are painful:
- Solve the problem
- Change how you feel
- Accept it
- Stay miserable
Looking at those options obviously we want to get to problem solving mode and we want to be managing our feelings, yet the relief from suffering doesn't come as effectively unless you go with option #3 and then look to the other options. However, since it is your life, you get to choose which option you go with and when. Often times these choices become blurred and confusing when we have taken a natural reaction and have run amok with it. That natural reaction is: distraction.
One thing is for sure we are really adept at suffering. We know how it goes and we know what relieves the pain, whether it be something positive or negative and I am certain that every one of us out there are best friends with distraction. However, if we allow distraction to turn into avoiding all hell breaks loose. Time-traveling is allowed, then shame, guilt, suffering, ineffective choices and ultimately non-acceptance and from there - failure.
You cannot make the past mistakes go away, nor can you prevent any mistake from happening in the future. But there is something that you can do about past mistakes and that is to change now to help reduce the mistakes made in the future and/or not make the same ones over and over. Remembering the above cheer-leading statement, "The present moment is the only moment that I have control over" the here and now is what you have to work with.
These ineffective in-roads to ineffective behavior are deeply entrenched, as we have discussed in depth. So how do you eliminate them? Mindfulness. Ya see the pattern yet? Mindfulness, mindfulness, mindfulness. Reaching wise mind will only come when we are able to be mindful in your daily life as a habit.
Alright, next week I will start on another avenue altogether to increase effective behavior. I think we have covered Radical Acceptance and can clearly see it's connection to our life that is worth living. Also, we are getting a firm idea of how important mindfulness is to our life that is worth living. However, there are other things that we can be doing while we sharpen those skills. Especially as it relates to our interpersonal effectiveness. So next week, we will tackle topics from that department. Send thoughts, questions, experiences if you want to have specific scenarios played out, otherwise enjoy the post and I look forward to seeing everyone in the forum.