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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Do you love yourself?

It seems that negative self talk comes around much more frequently than self praise.  Our negative thoughts can seem loud and chaotic…as if they are overcrowding our brains and drowning out any tiny positive thoughts that try to bloom.    In fact, almost all of the clients I work with (starting at a very young age) describe the habit of self deprecation.  Much like the large trees in a rain forest, the thoughts we give the most attention to will rise up and choke out other thoughts. So what can we do about it?

1. Just because you think it, doesn’t make it true. Period. Let your thoughts come and go.  Notice thoughts without attaching yourself to them.  I prefer the imagery of a train: you have the ability to watch a train roll past you without getting on it right (even if it is annoying and making you late)? Do this with your thoughts…one train car may say “I’m stupid”, another may say “I’m worthless”, another may say “I wonder what’s on TV tonight”.  These thoughts may annoy you and get in the way of productivity; however you can practice the art of letting the thoughts enter and exit your brain.  Let the thoughts roll on down the track without boarding the train and trying to prove the thoughts true.  

2. Thoughts and feelings are two different things. You may THINK that you are worthless; however you are likely FEELING sad.  You may THINK that no one likes you; you are likely FEELING anger or sadness.  You may THINK you are a terrible person; you are likely FEELING shame or guilt.  Recognize thoughts for what they are (and practice #1) and recognize feelings for what they are.  Feelings will rise and fall, they will morph and change.  Realizing that they aren’t forever can help you get unstuck.  

3. Just as you practice any skill, practicing positive self talk is a skill that can be taught, honed, and improved.  I hand out this worksheet to my clients regularly…and regularly receive blank or partially filled out pages in return.  (http://jessicamullen.com/2011/02/19/the-daily-self-love-worksheet/) Do it completely and do it often.  Post what you have written on the fridge or bathroom mirror.  Remind yourself regularly of the things that you like about yourself and your life. Practice thinking content thoughts about your life and you may be surprise by the effect it has on your outlook.  

4. Remember that the Golden Rule works both ways…just as you should treat others as you would want to be treated, you can also treat YOURSELF as you would want others to treat you.  Lets call that the “Platinum Rule”.  

Are you willing to practice these suggestions? Are you ready to let go of the suffering? Are you prepared to be patient with yourself?  I urge you to TRY it…what have you got to loose?