Sometimes, in order to slow down and calm you mind, you have to first calm your body. Emotion can affect our ability to think clearly and color our view of the world. Racing thoughts and rumination are difficult to interrupt. The weariness and dissatisfaction of shame can overpower common sense. Anger and sadness skew our thoughts and interpretations toward the negative. When you need to stop fighting reality and want to do what works, the best place to start may be with your body.
In my last post I discussed the concept of acceptance and the need to calm the body in order to get the mind into a place of acceptance. There are many relaxation techniques designed to calm the body. If you have one that works for you, you can use that. I will present exercises in my next two posts.
These initial exercises are focused on breathing.
Be present. Let go of fighting. Acknowledge and tolerate what is. At a crossroads, choose to listen to reality and commit over and over again to doing just what is needed in each stressful situation. Don’t give up, try to fix everything or refuse to tolerate the moment. Simply be and allow the world to be as it is.
Many mistakenly believe that anyone who intentionally harms their own body is trying to end their life. The legal and mental health systems are challenged by a lack of clarity about suicidal behavior. Police stations, jails and some psychiatric facilities will often put someone on ‘suicide watch’ for self harming behaviors.
Better to inflict pain on myself than to let other people do it. –Tracy Thompson, The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression
People self-harm for many reasons. Often people who engage in self-harm behaviors have been victims of abuse or have otherwise had experiences in which they felt helpless to control their emotions and circumstances. The ability to harm yourself is the ultimate control over your own body. For some, it is the only control they feel they have.
Every movie I’ve ever seen about the end of a school year has students racing off into the summer in a state of near euphoria. These movies tend to gloss over or completely ignore the anxiety, sadness and overwhelming emotions that can accompany the end of a school year.
Cultivating non-judgmental thinking is taught in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Skills Groups as a part of the Mindfulness Training. Mindfulness teaches individuals to observe and describe their own behavior, which is necessary when any new behavior is being learned, when there is some sort of problem, or a need for change.
In DBT mindfulness skills are intended to improve an individual’s abilities to observe and describe themselves and their environment non-judgmentally, which enhances the ability to participate in life effectively.
A central goal in DBT is to cultivate a non-judgmental stance towards our lives and ourselves. However, when you experience intense emotions and have stress and significant obstacles in your life, it’s difficult to refrain from passing judgment.
Judgments are spontaneous and often inaccurate interpretations of our environment that influence our thinking and behavior. Social psychology research shows that our motives and expectations slant our judgments. When we are motivated to avoid painful emotions, we are likely to judge those who hurt us, conflict with us or remind us of our shortcomings. Often we’ve internalized the judgments of others and save our harshest judgments for ourselves. As a result, when we face an obstacle, don’t get our way or don’t succeed in our efforts, we are likely to attribute our problems to the personality defects of those around us and ourselves. They are lazy and stupid. We are incompetent, needy or a failure.