We all benefit from learning to regulate ourselves; whether it’s regulation of our emotions, impulses, or actions.
“What does that even mean?” is the typical response I get when I tell people what DBT stands for; Dialectical Behavior Therapy. So what is a dialectic? Probably not what you’re thinking, it has nothing to do with dialect or the language of a particular region.
Marsha Linehan, the founder of DBT, describes a dialectic as “a synthesis or integration of opposites .” I describe dialectics as holding two differing ideas or emotions within ourselves and giving them both space to exist; basically saying two opposing ideas are both true. That sounds a little abstract, let me give some examples. When someone you love behaves in a manner you don’t find acceptable you may experience frustration or anger or upset; while also loving them. This is a dialectic.
In regard to treatment it’s the balancing of acceptance (for where you are) and change (for where you’d like to be). To put it into one word, it would be “bittersweet” or that feeling of happiness that is accompanied by sadness. In candy form it would be a Sour Patch Kid; both sour and sweet.
I’m going to leave you with a dialectic idea that recurs throughout DBT, it’s the thought that “You’re doing the best you can, AND you can do better.”
A “simple” trick that I have many of my clients do - to begin to sit with ambiguity and to highlight the dialectics that occur within our everyday lives - is to switch the use of the word “but” to “and.” Let me give an example.
Let’s say you’re describing a day that started out quite excellent, which then was interrupted with an inconvenience. Many people would describe the situation in a way like this.
“Oh I was having the greatest day. I woke up fully rested, I had an excellent cup of coffee, and my partner had taken the dog out for a walk; it was excellent. But then I went to start the car and the battery was dead.”
When we use the word but, it negates everything that came before it. We no longer care about that great morning, we instead are focused on the one perceived negative of the dead battery. A more effective way of describing the situation, that allows the positives of the day to continue would be to swap “but” out for “and.”
“Oh I was having the greatest day. I woke up fully rested, I had an excellent cup of coffee, and my partner had taken the dog out for a walk; it was excellent; And then I went to start the car and the battery was dead.”
It changes the tone of the thought we’re having and the story we’re telling both ourselves and others. No longer is the positive discarded; instead both events are given space and it balances out a bit.
Give it a try!
Recently I came across this wonderful illustration by @positivelypresent and it cemented my thoughts that everyone would benefit from reminding themselves of this “simple” fact. My expectations (and yours) are not those of others. What you expect from a situation or a person, isn’t going to match up with the expectations of that person or that situation.
And that is fine.
This is where mindfulness and non-judgmental stance (DBT) come into the picture. By accepting people, places, events, and things as they are we will make our interactions with them run much more smoothly. When we begin to perceive that things are going “bad” or “poor” we would benefit from taking a step back, taking a breath, and re-orienting ourselves.