BLOG: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills
Author: Luke Fox, Taproot Therapy Clinical Trainee
The pressures of being a parent are numerous. It seems that the tasks are endless, sleep can be unpredictable, and efforts often go unappreciated. And these things don’t exist in a vacuum, they are mixed in with various other daily stressors. In times of exhaustion or heightened stress, parents might find they are reacting to their children in a way that is not as attuned, understanding, and supportive as they’d like. This awareness can be followed by feelings of guilt and shame about not being the perfect parent. This is where the concept of rupture and repair can be helpful. Ruptures in relationships are inevitable and there is no such thing as a perfect parent.
In a study with infants and their parents, Tronick and Gianino found that the pairs were in sync about one third of the time.1 This results in mismatches that can be stressful for the child and parent. Both child and parent attempt to correct this mismatch and repair the communication. This attuned effort toward repair helps the child develop self-regulation and resilience. It can be helpful to remember that closeness and attunement are the key factors in fostering repair and growth. Shaming oneself for not being the perfect parent can have the opposite effect. Shame often decreases our self-worth and leads to isolation and distance from others. Understanding that parents make mistakes, and that efforts to repair the relationship are key, it might be possible to move away from shame toward self-compassion. And through repetition of this repair process, children learn that they are worth being understood, that conflict can be resolved, and that they can manage uncomfortable feelings.
From a place of self-compassion, it is easier to practice mentalization. Mentalization is the “human ability to interpret the meaning of others’ behavior by considering their underlying mental states and intentions, as well as the capacity to understand the impact of one’s own affects and behaviors on others”2. When we are stressed and not grounded, we tend to focus less on the intentions of others and more on their behaviors, especially the frustrating aspects. Being grounded increases our ability to see beyond behaviors and consider the world of thought and emotion that influences these behaviors. While we can never know what someone else is thinking, curious exploration tends to increase patience, attunement, and the child’s sense of being understood. And mentalization also means understanding what is driving our behaviors and how we are experienced by others. Acknowledging and accepting our own experience helps us to better understand ruptures and conflict cycles and move towards repair.
1Tronick, E., & Gianino, A. (1986). Interactive mismatch and repair: Challenges to the coping infant. Zero to Three, 6(3), 1–6.
2Fonagy, P., & Target, M. (1996b). Playing with reality: I. Theory of mind and the normal development of psychic reality. The international journal of Psychoanalysis
Interested in working with a DBT therapist? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.