How many of us give as much consideration to updating our emotional toolbox as we do to other aspects of our lives? In our pursuits for greater senses of happiness, self-acceptance, or ease of life we often look outward. We may find ourselves wondering if a newer cell phone, wardrobe, or relationship might make life feel more manageable, or maybe (if we are really honest) make us feel more desirable or accepted. This endless quest for the next best thing is often more of an empty promise that ultimately won’t leave us feeling satisfied for very long. While these are not invalid ideas, they may tend to fall short of the desired outcome if what we truly long for is to create healthier relationships with others and perhaps even more importantly with ourselves. Instead of shopping around for an upgrade why not consider another type of investment; one that addresses what is going on within ourselves? Perhaps some of the dissatisfaction we experience stems from how we are coping? What if part of the problem is us?
We often don’t take the time to assess how well we deal with life’s stressors, and instead, may rely upon old ingrained responses. While once effective, these reactions may now have become something long since outgrown, not unlike our childhood clothes, superhero lunch boxes or Big Wheels. While it is easy to look down and see that we can no longer fit into the shoes we wore when we were six, it is a little more difficult to see whether our emotional responses have become ill fitting. For example: as a child, becoming loud and demanding might have been effective at eliciting a helpful response; as an adult, this behaviour is more likely to drive others away! It is often these autopilot reactions that keeps us from getting the responses from others that we truly want!
One effective route towards this journey of self-discovery might be through therapy. An approach that I have found to be especially helpful for developing a well stocked emotional toolkit is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, or DBT for short. This is because unlike some approaches to therapy, which may offer greater insight into our emotional experiences but less in terms of how specifically to initiate change, DBT provides concrete exercises to help us navigate what life may throw our way. DBT is an evidenced-based therapy developed by Marsha Linehan that has proven to be effective for a number of mental health issues, including emotional regulation, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and borderline personality disorder. While comprehensive DBT, including group work and individual therapy, may be best for addressing the previously mentioned, DBT skills are valuable to anyone looking for new ways to approach old problematic behaviours.
The overarching goal of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is to create a life worth living. This is done by synthesizing the need to both accept reality as it is and to recognize that in order for life to get better some things may need to change, including how we respond to life’s challenges. So what does this look like in practice?
The foundation of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy rests on the concept of mindfulness, which is the practice of staying present in the current moment. One of the benefits of this practice is that we can learn to observe our thoughts, behaviours, and emotions as they occur, which can help us respond more effectively. When we stop and take a moment to check-in with how we are feeling and what we are thinking we can act from a more informed space. Mindfulness is not simply meditation (although this is a form of mindfulness). It can be done while engaging in our daily tasks, and DBT provides a variety of exercises in which to shape our mindfulness muscles.
Mindfulness acts as the foundation upon which to build numerous skills that help to address aspects of our lives that may be challenging or problematic. In addition to mindfulness skills, DBT also offers concrete skills to help develop distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Most of us already have developed ways in which to cope with our distress, emotions, and interpersonal demands. However, they may not be as effective or skillful as we would like for them to be. Again, this is true, in part, because we do begin developing many of these coping strategies in childhood, and eventually we outgrow their effectiveness. What worked for us as children may no longer be working for us as adolescents or adults.
It is worth taking time to check-in with ourselves and how we are coping with our lives. If you find that you are ready to add a few new strategies or skills to help you manage life there are a number of resources. Several self -help books for managing emotions and DBT are available.
If you would like more direct support, we are here to help. Alongside You offers Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) in both groups, and individuals sessions. If you’d like more information, please give me a call at 604-283-7827 ext. 710!