Just because you are one thing does not mean you are not another. We are complex beings with a range of thoughts and emotions that can often contradict each other- but that does not mean they are not all equally valid. This the central idea of my favorite type of therapy- DBT, or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.
In my residential program all of the groups were DBT based, and I think there is a lot to be learned from it. I know not everybody gets the chance to go through therapy, let alone DBT, so I’d like to share a few of the most helpful things I learned from my experience with this method. Whether you are struggling with mental illness or simply want to gain better insight into your emotions and make wiser decisions, DBT poses a few core concepts that can guide you on your path.
The root of DBT is the D: Dialectical. A dialectic, to quote from the dictionary, is the inquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions, or the art of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions. To put it more plainly, it means examining conflicting ideas and discerning the best way to move forward.
Say you’ve just lost your job, and you’re understandably upset. You’ve lost your source of income, and maybe you really liked your work or the people there. On the other hand, you can’t help but be excited by the opportunity to start fresh with a new company, or maybe even explore a whole new career. Anger, disappointment, sadness, excitement, and optimism may seem like they contradict each other, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t feeling them all or that any one of those feelings needs to be ignored or suppressed.
When we acknowledge the full range of our emotions, no matter how confusing or conflicted they may seem, we gain a better view of our whole self.
The next step towards the goal of taking responsible action is radical acceptance. This means giving yourself permission to have all of those thoughts, feelings, and opinions, and not denying or negating their existence. In order to make choices that you can fully embrace, you must first radically accept every part of your experience and thought process, so that nothing gets set aside or pushed under the rug.
It is also important, however, to take a step back from those feelings and examine the situation through a more logical, objective lens. Separate, if you can, your gut reactions from what you know the facts of the matter to be. What kind of financial support do you have until you find a new job? Who are your dependents? If you are considering a change in career, what are the prospects of someone entering that field for the first time?
The final and perhaps most important concept in DBT is using your wise mind. Wise mind is the intersection of your emotional and rational brain; it is where how you feel and what you think collide. A truly wise decision does not come from one place or the other, it comes from both. You must learn to balance the realities of a situation, its observable truths, with how they make you feel.
If you were to make a choice using only your logical reasoning, you would run the risk of neglecting your emotional well-being and may end up damaging your chances for success by setting yourself up for unhappiness. If you act impulsively on your emotions, however, you can easily damage yourself or others in very realistic ways that will bring unwanted consequences. In order to proceed mindfully, you need to consider all of the sound arguments without ignoring your emotional needs.
If you can balance these two concepts and find a way to move forward intelligently without swallowing your true feelings, then you are more likely to be both successful and happy in your decision.
It is never easy to apply these concepts in real life, but with practice it does come more naturally. Since integrating DBT skills into my decision making process, whether that involves deciding whether or not to go back to school or simply choosing how best to react to something my husband has said, I have found myself filled with fewer regrets.
Of course, I have to clarify here that I am not a therapist- the descriptions and explanations I have given are based solely off of my understanding of the material I was given. Consider this a student’s book report on a DBT manual.
I do hope, however, that my summary of what I have taken away from this method can be helpful to anyone at all in their pursuit of health, wealth, and wisdom.