Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is a multifaceted approach to handling difficult emotions and learning to live in the moment. It was originally designed for people with borderline personality disorder, but can be used for any disordered thinking.
If you have BPD, or any other mental illness, and have researched possible solutions or treatments, you likely have encountered DBT. Maybe you’ve even tried it.
I’ve seen the list of skills and all the acronyms (DEARMAN, anyone?). I’ve tried to absorb and practice what I’ve read. It felt like I had been starving in a desert and then I came across a buffet, eating everything I could. The problem with this method is that it didn’t stick very long. I didn’t have any routine or sense or order to what I did. I would just become hyper-focused on DBT being my solution and would rush to see how quickly I could understand and apply each skill.
DBT is overwhelming, though. It’s incredibly hard to learn everything there is to know on your own, without a therapist. The best route is to find a professional to help you understand each skill and put it into application.
If that’s not an option right now, or you just want some additional help, learning the skills on your own is absolutely possible. I encourage a more deliberate, methodical approach. Slower, but steadier, not trying to learn it all at once.
In fact, I’d say you could help yourself a lot with emotional regulation and handling emotional crises if you just learned one skill from DBT. What skill am I talking about?
What Is Mindfulness?
It means being in the moment. It’s that simple–being completely present when you’re doing something. No distractions. No judgments. Just being present in whatever you’re doing.
Some examples: eating without watching TV or reading, spending time with your friend without scrolling through your social media feeds, going on a walk or a hike while appreciating the beauty around you, doing a task or chore and being completely invested on each step, instead of letting your mind wander.
To quote Marsha Linehan, who developed DBT, “Mindfulness refers to the quality of attention or the quality of awareness or the quality of presence that you bring to every day life. It’s a way of living your life awake. Which is to say, with your eyes open, instead of your eyes closed.”
The focus here is doing only the thing you’re doing. No multitasking.
Learning mindfulness can help you handle emotions and difficult situations better when you’re in a crisis. Being present and acknowledging the situation for what it is can help you make better decisions. Other DBT skills can be used for when distraction or self-soothing are needed, but starting off with mindfulness in any emotional crisis can help you make better decisions.
Whether or not you have Borderline Personality Disorder, learning mindfulness is a game-changer!
How Will Mindfulness Help You?
If you dive deeper into the principles of DBT, you’ll learn about the core tenets behind mindfulness. It centers around the concept of different states of mind: Wise Mind, Logical Mind, and Emotional Mind. The goal is to achieve Wise Mind. It’s the best frame of mind in which to make decisions and react to situations.
In times of crisis, it’s especially important to find your Wise Mind, so that you don’t engage in harmful or destructive behaviors. It helps you non-judgmentally assess a situation, allowing yourself to feel anything that you might naturally feel, and then make a decision.
As someone with emotional dysregulation problems, I struggle sometimes to react to situations. I get frustrated. I sometimes cry. Sometimes I shut down. Sometimes I storm off. Sometimes I wish I had just stormed off. But I’ve learned to stop and minfully assess the situation. No judgments of my feelings. Acknowledging how my body and mind are reacting, what state of emotion I’m in, and just letting it be for a moment. Once I assess and describe the situation, I’m able to look at things more rationally and make a better decision.
How to Practice Mindfulness
The best way to practice being mindful is to do any activity without distraction.
Load the dishwasher, while taking care to place every dish in its proper place. Notice the color of each dish. Notice the way each one feels. Are the all made of the same materials (glass, plastic)? Or are they different? Do they smell? What shape and size are they? How dirty or clean are they already? Focus on every step of what you’re doing as if you’re doing it for the first time. No judgment on if the dishes are “good” or “bad”. Just assess them for how they are. If your mind wanders away, gently bring it back to task. “Oops, there goes my thoughts! Back to dishes.” Until you are done.
You just mindfully loaded the dishwasher!
You can do this with your surroundings anywhere. Mindfully observing your current environment can be done literally anywhere and is a great way to practice mindfulness.
You can even mindfully observe yourself! This is also called checking in with your body or a body scan.
Take a moment to notice how you’re feeling. Physically, do you notice any pain or discomfort? Where is it? How is it making you feel? Is there any tenseness or stress held in your jaw or neck? Feel the sensation of your chair or bed underneath you, notice how your weight feels on it and how it changes when you shift around. Can you feel your clothes against your skin if you try to notice it?
Check in with yourself emotionally. Is something bothering you? Do you feel worried, anxious, upset, angry, sad, frustrated, bored, excited, or nervous? Are you hungry or tired at all? Do you feel the effects of these feelings anywhere in your body? When we are angry, we tend to clench our jaw, for instance. When we are nervous or scared, our stomach may be churning or in knots.
Noticing how you’re feeling physically and emotionally is the gateway to effectively practicing mindfulness in difficult situations. It allows you to assess your feelings and your body’s response to them, take a moment, and then make a decision in how to react.
It takes some practice, but it’s worth it! Have you ever tried mindfulness? What’s easy about it and what’s hard? I want to know your experiences and thoughts. 🙂