BLOG: Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills
Author: Fiona Smith, Taproot Therapy Clinical Trainee
A central pillar of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is the concept of Radical Acceptance. This DBT skill is featured in the distress tolerance module and encourages the complete and unrestrained being at peace with unwanted events, problems, or emotions. Instead of resisting, we are encouraged to accept that the unwanted situation is occurring. Depending on the scenario, total acceptance can be enormously difficult to achieve.
DBT posits that pain - emotional or physical - is a sign that something is off. It’s your body’s natural way of alerting you to this. Accepting a painful event or emotion does not mean you condone it, like it, or approve of it. Rather, the acceptance of it in your mind, body and soul - that it did happen or is present in your environment - eliminates the mental struggle against it. It frees up your energy to move forward skillfully. Radical Acceptance is built on the idea that changing one’s reality first requires acknowledgement of what that reality truly is. Rejection of reality morphs pain into suffering and thus, prolongs that uncomfortable sensation.
An important facet of Radical Acceptance is that practicing of this skill does not mean we tolerate or stand for any unhealthy or abusive behavior. Rather, it is a framework for acknowledging the reality in which we find ourselves.
The first step is to simply observe. Ask: am I telling myself “it shouldn’t be this way.” “Am I denying the fact that things turned out differently from how I wanted them to?” Am I ruminating: “If only it had turned out differently.”
Practicing Radical Acceptance in daily life can feel like embracing the flow of each day as it comes. Let’s say you missed your train to work and now you’re going to be late because they only stop at your station every thirty minutes. Rather than resisting the reality of this scenario (that you will not be on time), Radical Acceptance instructs us to release any resistance to how things are and seek an alternate solution. In this case, one next step might consist of consulting the train schedule and planning ahead by texting your boss or colleagues that you will arrive later than expected. There is no problem too small or too large for this skill.
This skill is not an easy one. It requires persistence in order to fully incorporate it into your reflexive mindset, but once mastered, it is a comforting and freeing perspective through which to view life.
Have you practiced dialectics in your daily life? What has or hasn’t worked for you? What have you found challenging? What has come naturally to you?
Interested in working with a DBT therapist? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.