Battling the Internal War with DBT

Have you ever struggled with having really strong emotions, and not knowing what to do with them? Or maybe you find yourself acting in ways that you regret because you wanted so badly to feel better that you did the first thing that came to mind and later realized it was not very effective or caused even more problems? Ever wondered why your feelings and thoughts seem to be at “war” with each other?  Does it seem like sometimes you are afraid to do the very things that you want the most?…you want to feel loved and close to someone, but you are afraid of failing in a relationship, or you seem to find yourself stuck in a relationship that makes you feel terrible? Or maybe you want to break out and be independent but you also want to be taken care of sometimes, and you are not sure how to do both?

Well, there is good news for you!  You are doing the best you can, and not everything is your fault. We all learn how to navigate this complicated world through our life experiences and often we have experiences that are not pleasant and sometimes lead to us feeling unheard, unloved, and many other uncomfortable emotions. That is painful !!!! And that’s not your fault, it just is.  The human brain is designed to protect us from pain, because pain is really a signal that something is not right and needs to be taken care of.  So much of the time when we have pain our brain latches on to the first thing that comes up to try and get rid of that pain.

DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) was designed to help people who struggle with multiple difficulties, all of which relate to this difficulty of managing emotions and thoughts that are at “War” in your mind and body. It is based on the assumption that we all are doing the best we can and want to have A meaningful life.

What it boils down to is that when you learn DBT you learn first to slow down long enough to notice what is going on in your brain and what that feels like in your body, what that sounds like in your mind (self-talk, urges, impulses), what that feels like in your soul (emotions) and what is going on around you that might be playing a part in what you are experiencing.  This slowing down and noticing, without judgment or criticism, is called Mindfulness. It stresses the importance of taking one moment at a time, and being completely present so that you can make a more informed and the most effective decision possible to accomplish what you want in a way that will not hurt yourself, others or lead to more trouble.

Another part of DBT is about learning how to tolerate what you are feeling and thinking, first by just remembering that you are not wrong for thinking and feeling what you are. We all have thoughts and feelings and they are there for a reason, and can be useful. The best decisions are made when we accept both and are intentional about our actions based on what both tell us. That means we might have to learn to sit with distress for bit and not do the first thing that comes to mind to get rid of the pain in order to make a decision about how to act that will help get rid of the pain and not create more problems.

One thing you might begin to realize is that your emotions are driving your behavior so you need to learn to regulate emotions. DBT also teaches ways to do that, using specific skills, and learning to recognize when thoughts might be distorted, because our thoughts impact how we feel. We all have distorted thinking sometimes. That’s also because we learn ways of thinking through our life experiences. Sometimes people learn that if they want to get their needs met they have to do things to get noticed, sometimes drastic measures…like self-harm, or restricting eating, or using substances. Sometimes people learn that the only way to feel safe is to isolate, or again take drastic measures to be in control of themselves because they have experienced that no one else is there. Who knows all the reasons we learn to do the things we do to cope with life and try to get our needs met.  What we do know is that we have needs, and that’s normal…and if we don’t’ get them met our brain will produce emotions which are designed to help us recognize what are needs are, and then it finds a way to meet that need. At times what our brain comes up with is based on a distorted way of thinking because of what we have learned. Although the strategy might work for a while, after a time it is no longer a useful strategy and even causes more distress, so we need to learn something new. DBT can help you do that through learning to accept emotions, and regulate them so that you can make a more informed decision about how to act.

Lastly, DBT is grounded in the awareness that we are social beings and ultimately healing of wounds and developing a meaningful life is done in the context of relationships. So in DBT you will learn skills to be more effective in relationships. Much of that learning is based on first being mindful of how your thoughts feelings and actions impact others and vice versa, and learning, again to slow down long enough to decide how to respond to what you notice. In addition to learning relationship skills, a DBT instructor helps you learn through experience. The experience of participating in a DBT group, working with a DBT trained therapist and learning and practicing skills in your daily life is how your brain ultimately learns what works best now, instead of going back to old ways of coping.

If you want to learn more about DBT, learn skills and experience a more meaningful life, we at Balance would like to help you out! Please contact us.