Finding a way to live a life that you want is something with which every person struggles. We all sometimes think “why not me?” when we watch the Olympics or Wimbledon, encounter someone successful in business or meet someone who simply seems at peace with their life.
However, when you have traumatic past experiences, live with a mental illness or have experienced painful life events, how you live your life can feel very much out of your control. Intense emotions like anxiety, depression or rage can make living the life you want seem entirely out of reach. Often problem behaviors like addictions, eating disorders and self-harm are attempts to escape intense emotional pain. People simply want to stop feeling miserable and can’t begin to imagine a life based on choice and what they want.
A core goal in Dialectical Behavior Therapy is to build a life worth living. In order to do so, DBT first focuses on getting problematic behaviors under control. The assumption is that life is emotional hell when you are engaging in behaviors that are self-destructive, life threatening or that seriously impact your quality of life. The only way to climb out of that hell is to learn new ways of dealing with the emotional pain that causes self-destructive behavior.
Often simply getting behaviors under control is not enough. People continue to feel miserable even after they have stopped cutting or begun to manage their binging and purging. At this stage, the focus of DBT is on emotional experiencing. Traumatic experiences, intense and painful life events and overwhelming crisis can be debilitating and lead to emotional inhibition. This next step involves strategies to help people experience a normal range of emotions.
And finally, with behavior under control and the ability to experience emotions, it is possible to consider what life you want to live. Solving the everyday problems you face and increasing your self respect can get you pointed down the road towards the life you want to lead.