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Focusing on What You Don’t Want Creates Emptiness

One of the very first questions I ask a Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO DBT) client in around session two or three is, “What are your value goals?” This stumps most of my clients. Maybe they say a few things like, “I want to be less depressed,” or “I want to find some friends and be less lonely.” But what you might notice is these are the negative of what the person wants, not actually goals.

Here’s some more things I might hear when I ask the value goals:

  • I want to feel less hate.
  • I don’t want to be around people that are _____ (liberal/conservative/fat/too obsessed with their looks/racist/uneducated/too intelligent/ insert subgroup here).
  • I dislike people that talk too much.
  • I don’t want to get another divorce.
  • I want to fight “the man.”

It’s pretty hard to work on getting rid of something, if you don’t have a road map to where you are going. Making a value goal in RO DBT is about working to make sure your actions are in-line with the person you want to be and how you want to live.

Sometimes actually taking a stand is scary as H*LL. Saying out loud to someone, “I want to find a spouse!” or “I want people to see me as warm and caring,” “I want to fight tyranny” or even “I really love music and want to go to EDM concerts… A LOT!” takes a level of vulnerability, openness and courageousness.

About three years ago, I sat down and wrote my value goals on a piece of paper. I had about eight, which was too many to work on at one time, so I picked three and started to work on them the first year. After three years, I have accomplished all but one, and even the not-yet fully realized goal is in the works.

Yes, it was scary, and yes, I screwed up a lot on the way to fulfilling the goals. For example, one of my goals was to start a blog on RO DBT to help people with overcontrol. If you look back at my first posts, they are not nearly as well written or succinct as my later posts. I also got better at taking criticism, because when you put your work out there, people do criticize you. I also learned not to give up. I didn’t expect to learn most of this through writing a blog, but I’m so glad I stuck with it.

You don’t have to move quickly, but you do have to move. Refusing to work on your goals or even write them down is an excellent way to stay stuck. To move away from loneliness, emptiness, and depression is accomplished through value goals, not by their opposite.

Focusing on What You Don’t Want Creates Emptiness

Hope Arnold

Hope is a Radically Open DBT Senior Clinician and 1-day trainer for Radically Open LTD organization. As a self identified overcontrolled person, she works to help her clients learn to relax, take themselves less seriously and be the person they want to be. Perfectionism, anxiety, rigidity, detailed focus, risk aversion and loneliness are some of the areas that overcontrolled people struggle to navigate. In her writing Hope uses humor and real life stories to help overcontrolled individuals make the changes that will bring happiness to their lives. Hope is licensed as a LCSW in Colorado, Texas, and Virginia. She has a private practice in Denver, Colorado.

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APA Reference
Arnold, H. (2019). Focusing on What You Don’t Want Creates Emptiness. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 9, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Jul 2019
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