DBT, Inspiration, mental health

You ALWAYS have a choice

Are you living crisis to crisis? Are there particular people, places, times, areas, thoughts that continually trip you up and cause problems? DBT® reminds us first that we ALWAYS have a choice.  You always have four basic choices in every situation.

  1. Solve the problem – this is the “no brainer” that we do if we can. It is a choice and merits remembering.
  2. Feel better about the problem – you do have a choice in what interpretation you use which will change how you feel about the problem. The risk here is if you keep trying to convince yourself that “it’s not that bad” when in reality it (or he, or she, or they) ARE that bad and you need to problem solve in a different way.  This is a GREAT option if you are a pessimist and tend to see the worst in everything.
  3. Tolerate the problem – when we tolerate a problem we aren’t changing much in terms of how we see or relate to it (which actually changes our emotional attachment to the problem), rather we are accepting it as a thorn in our side and using distraction whenever it starts to bother us again. This is helpful short term but not always helpful long term.
  4. Stay miserable/make it worse – I LOVE that we have this choice. The angsty teenager in me needs to be reminded that I can always say the thing or do the thing or throw the thing or refuse to show up, etc.  I need to mentally walk down that path sometimes in order to get unstuck from my “it’s not fair” temper tantrum that I sometimes throw.  An example of this could be when you find yourself resenting an obligation to show up somewhere (ie: work).  Remind yourself that you do not have to go.  You could stay home. You might get fired and then you wouldn’t have income, but you really do have that choice.  Walking down that path can remind us that we don’t want to loose our housing, we do want to have money for food and fun…therefore we will now use strategy #2 and choose to go, but with a different mindset.  You might adopt the mental mantra of “I’m choosing to go to work so that I can choose to buy the shoes I want” …which is different and less problematic than “I have to go to work, I hate my job, this sucks”.
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DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Four Options with Any Problem

I am struck by the quickness with which we feel we do not have a choice.  I hear myself (and others) saying things like “I didn’t have a choice…” or “I guess I have to…” on a regular basis and yet I am also equally struck by the concept that we do have a choice! In any given moment and with every given situation, you always have a multitude of choices!

I DBT we teach that a person always has four choices in coping with a problem:

  • Solve the problem

This is quite possibly the worst one on this list because if it were so simple, I think we all WOULD solve our own problems!  What is valid about this option is that we must take time to assess what the actual problem is and determine whether it is in our control or not.  If we are determining that the problem is: my spouse folds the towels wrong then I would challenge you and say that you need to dig deeper and look at what role you play in the scenario.  We might discover that the real problem is: I am clinging to my preference as to how the towels are folded and judging my spouse as incompetent.  In the second version of the problem, we now can apply the strategies below to solve the problem in a more creative way.

  • Change your opinion/thoughts/beliefs about the problem (one of my favorite…more below)

In continuing with the same problem above, we could work to change how we are thinking about the towels.  We could have a more comical thought: The way the towels are folded does not change their absorbency. You could have an attitude of gratitude: I am so grateful that my spouse took time to fold the towels.  You could have a change in your thought process: I never thought to fold them like that, I’ll give their way a try and see if I like it better.

  • Accept the situation (ie: stop lamenting how bad it is and accept that it just IS, letting go of your anger and resentment about the situation)

This option allows you to not get so angry every time you see the towels folded differently than you prefer.  It allows you to look at the towel and recognize that it is a towel, not a symbol of spousal defiance.  It allows you to see your partner as a partner, not a nuisance.  I also love this option due to the freedom it brings.  There is a freedom in not getting so angry about the “little things” or about the things in life that are out of your control.

  • Stay miserable (and/or make it worse).

This is the option we all tend to jump to! We belittle people we love, we yell and scream over things that really don’t alter our life’s course.  We throw things, we hurl insults, we give the silent treatment, we make passive aggressive gestures and comments that only serve to fuel the fire.  This option does not take into account the long-term goals (staying married) and only pays attention to the short-term urge.

 

Which do you jump to?

Which do you think would be the most effective one for you to start using more?

Take time this week to press pause when you feel yourself preparing to engage in a problematic reaction to a (perceived) problem and take a moment to ponder these 4 choices.  You may be able to free yourself from potential negative consequences!

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