Archives for May, 2010
It can be so easy to compromise ourselves. It happens in just a moment, with the smallest action. You skip a class because you know you can get away with it. You claim sickness and avoid a tough day, even though you know you could have made it. You turn a blind eye towards someone’s self destructive behavior because you don’t want the conflict if you tell them you think they’re wrong. You give in to a friend’s request, even though you are tired and really need to take care of yourself. You don’t stand up for yourself because you’re afraid the other person will belittle you. Sometimes we do things that get us what we want or need, like lying or acting helpless, or giving in to someone else so we don’t create an argument. In the short run lies and giving in work to avoid problems or get us what we need, but in the long run, they make us feel worse about ourselves.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we are faced with situations beyond our control that elicit anger, frustration and anxiety. The dishwasher that overflows, a boss that yells, intense relatives, morning traffic, a broken air conditioner, leaky roof, bills and car trouble are stressors that we’re generally unable to avoid. We don’t have complete control over whether we are insulted or disrespected, experience physical pain or lose out on something important like a raise, job or relationship. Whether it’s a personality difference or one of the realities of life, like bills, no one is immune to experiencing things that are not "right,” or irritating and unfair. Extreme emotions are more likely when we’re faced with situations or people that interfere with our ability to reach our goals. The traffic jam that keeps us from an important meeting, the bills that keep us from taking a vacation, the difficult boss that is a barrier to a raise or promotion or the interruptions of our down time by house upkeep or unsupportive people in our lives can cause emotions like panic, outrage and exasperation. It’s when we’re overwhelmed by emotion that we act in ways that can cause problems rather than solve them.
The central goal of DBT is to change problem behaviors. This is accomplished through focusing on changing the thoughts and emotions that precede problem behaviors, as well as by solving the problems you face that contribute to problematic thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Making change is an incredibly complex and difficult process. Problems with money, eating, aggression, self-injury, gambling, substances or relationships often feel intractable. We may want to improve finances and physical or mental health, spend more time with family or get out of a job rut. A 2003 study in The Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions found people who express a commitment to change are significantly more likely to change than those who do not. So how do you select that all important goal that will improve your life?
If you’re unable to find solutions to the problems that crop up in your life, the issue may not be that your problems are unsolvable. It’s possible that negative emotions like fear, sadness, anger and shame are interfering with your ability to see clearly, make decisions and attempt different resolutions.
I read a story today about the efforts of environmentalists in Russia to protect a freshwater lake from pollutants. The fate of this lake, unique because of its ecosystem and rare species, has been disputed for decades. Environmentalists described the governmental forces they are up against as not “playing by the rules” and indicated that in the face of governmental power, their cause is hopeless. The government officials, they believe, will protect their business interests at any cost.
My daughter is finishing up her first year of elementary school. Over the course of the year, I’ve anxiously asked her what she has to work hard to understand and she tells me school fun and easy. Now as the first year comes to an end, I can see her self-confidence. We all know that early experiences help shape our view of the world for much of our lives to come. I had hoped that my daughter would learn that she is capable both socially and academically in early school experiences.
Psychology Today had a section on bad advice this month. It got me thinking about the bad advice we often hear and, in many cases, internalize. Throughout life we receive advice from parents, family, friends, teachers and other authority figures. Some of this advice is repeated so frequently or presented so definitively that we take it as truth. Over time, we may not realize where advice originated. We can take it as fact and incorporate it into our internal belief system. Unfortunately, bad advice and internalized negative beliefs can lead to numerous life problems.