I feel it’s time to continue discussing DBT and what it looks like to use the tools that it has to offer. I’ve discussed the topics of Gnosticism and logical fallacies in an attempt to explore two of the primary road blocks why Christians often fear dipping their toes in the therapeutic waters. While it is true that the human condition has often been pathologized in order to diagnose and medicate following a medical model in many cases, too many people overly spiritualize their trauma and mental health issues which, in turn, hinders them from getting the appropriate help resulting in unnecessary and longterm suffering. We needn’t be afraid to pursue help from mental health clinicians. We just need to be wise. We are careful about who does our taxes. Not all accountants are good. It is the same with mental health practitioners, cardiologists, gynecologists, pediatricians, and podiatrists.
On to DBT…
Dialectical Behavior Therapy is comprised of many tools, and the first tool that I am reading about in the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook is distress tolerance. Increasing distress tolerance starts with radical acceptance. What does this mean?
“Often, when a person is in pain, his or her first reaction is to get angry or upset or to blame someone for causing the pain in the first place. But unfortunately, no matter who you blame for your distress, your pain still exists and you continue to suffer. In fact, in some cases, the angrier you get, the worse your pain will feel. Getting angry or upset over a situation also stops you from seeing what is really happening. Have you ever heard the expression ‘blinded by rage’? This often happens to people with overwhelming emotions. Criticizing yourself all the time or being overly judgmental of a situation is like wearing dark sunglasses indoors. By doing this, you’re missing the details and not seeing everything as it really is. By getting angry and thinking that a situation should never have happened, you’re missing the point that it did happen and that you have to deal with it. Being overly critical about a situation prevents you from taking steps to change that situation. You can’t change the past. And if you spend your time fighting the past–wishfully thinking that your anger will change the outcome of an event that has already happened–you’ll become paralyzed and helpless. Then, nothing will improve…So, what else can you do? The other option, which radical acceptance suggests, is to acknowledge your present situation, whatever it is, without judging the events or criticizing yourself. Instead, try to recognize that your present situation exists because of a long chain of events that began far in the past…Denying this chain of events does nothing to change what has already happened. Trying to fight the moment or say that it shouldn’t be only leads to more suffering for you. Radical acceptance means looking at yourself and the situation and seeing it as it really is….Keep in mind that radical acceptance does not mean that you condone or agree with bad behavior in others. But it does mean that you stop trying to change what’s happened by getting angry and blaming the situation. For example, if you’re in an abusive relationship and you need to get out, then get out. Don’t waste your time and continue to suffer by blaming yourself or the other person. That won’t help. Refocus your attention on what you can do now. This will allow you to think more clearly and figure out a better way to cope with your suffering.” (The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook 10-11)
I was stopped in my tracks when I read this passage a few weeks ago. I read it after writing a post on living a lifestyle of acceptance. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the idea of radical acceptance is positively foreign. It is not in my nature. Me? I fight. I don’t fight people. I fight myself. It’s how I’ve survived. If I see something in my circumstances that needs to be changed, then I focus on it like a laser until it’s different. I accept nothing. I forge ahead. Never stop. Always, always, always keep moving. Never give up. Never, never, never. But, then, this is not what the passage is saying. It is telling us not to judge and criticize ourselves and others. Stop looking back and saying, “It shouldn’t be this way. How did I get here? Why is it like this?” And, I have to admit, I have been doing that.
So, what does radical acceptance look like then?
How is it done? Well, there are coping statements that one can use, and the workbook has a suggested list.
- All the events have led up to now.
- I can’t change what’s happened already.
- Fighting the past only blinds me to my present.
- The present is the only moment I have control over.
- It’s a waste of time to fight what’s already occurred.
- The present moment is here, even if I don’t like what’s happening.
- This moment is exactly as it should be, given what’s happened before it.
- This moment is the result of over a million other decisions.
You have an opportunity to write your own. I wrote this:
- I can change my future, but I must accept the present.
I don’t like to feel stuck in the moment. So, my statement has to have some sense of empowerment.
The authors of the workbook provided an exercise in which we were to practice not being judgmental or critical. They are:
- Read a controversial story in the newspaper without being judgmental about what happened.
- The next time you get caught in heavy traffic, wait without being critical.
- Watch the world news on TV without being critical of what’s happening.
- Listen to a news story or a political commentary on the radio without being judgmental.
- Review a non-upsetting event that happened in your life many years ago, and use radical acceptance to remember the event without judging it.
Radical acceptance is the first tool used in distress tolerance.
We humans are resilient. I encourage you to begin the practice of radical acceptance. Don’t be afraid to discover what lies beneath your own criticisms and judgments. Allow yourself to feel. It’s an act of self-love. Once we are able to nurture ourselves in this way we are finally able to offer that nurturing to others. Loving ourselves is part of how we learn to love others, and that is indeed part of every person’s destiny.