There are four categories of DBT skills: 1) Core Mindfulness Skills, 2) Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills, 3) Emotion Regulation Skills, and 4) Distress Tolerance Skills. This list is not exhaustive of all the DBT skills, and I will be adding to the list as time goes by. You may not need all the skills, but you do want to have a tool kit of skills to draw from to keep you effective and emotionally regulated.
Core Mindfulness Skills
1. Wise Mind
Being in Wise Mind means tapping into your emotions, logic, and inner wisdom so that you can act effectively and with purpose and intention. We are in wise mind when we use our skills, knowledge, experience, and common sense to help us deal with every day situations. Everyone has a wise mind, but if we let our emotions get too high, or if we blunt our emotions with too much logic, we block our ability to use our wise mind.
Wise mind comes easily to some people and for others, they must fight hard to find it. It’s easy to confuse wise mind with emotion mind. You will know you are in wise mind when you have a certain level of peace as Wise Mind is not in conflict with the self. In order to find Wise Mind, we must calm down our emotions so we can use our logic and intuition. Related Posts: When Emotions Run Your Life and All Logic, No Fun.
2. Observe, Describe, Participate
Observe, describe, participate is a skill that allows you to step back from your situation and emotions and just observe what you are sensing, feeling, thinking, and seeing. To learn more about this skill read the post: Mindfulness Lesson from my Granddaughter.
To observe, still quietly and just notice what you are experiencing, without putting words to it. Notice your emotions and where you feel them in your body. Focus on the five senses; what you see, hear, feel, smell and touch.
Observe your thoughts as if they are leaves floating down the river. Acknowledge the thought, then slowly let it float away as you make room for the next thought. Do not attach yourself to any one thought, feeling, or sensation. Merely observe, acknowledge, and let go.
After you have sufficiently observed your emotions, describe what you are experiencing, thinking and feeling. Be as descriptive and factual as possible.
When you describe your emotions and thoughts factually, you step back from them instead of being consumed and overwhelmed by them. You stay rational and calm; able to access your inner wisdom. You become the compassionate friend to yourself that Kaylie has discovered.
Once you connect with your inner wisdom, throw yourself into the moment and choose your course of action, without self-consciousness. Mindfulness is a skill that helps us step back from difficult situations so that we use our wise mind and to make wise choices.
3. Non-Judgmental Stance
Taking a non-judgmental stance is an important skill in mindfulness. When we take a non-judgmental stance, we observe a situation without attaching any judgment to it. It allows us to see things more accurately, reduces our stress, and allows us to choose a more thoughtful course of action. To learn more about this skill read the post: Does Judging Increase Stress?
One-mindfully means focusing on one thing at a time while giving it your full attention. Too many times we are doing one activity but our mind wonders to things that we are upset about from the past, or we worry about something we fear might happen in the future. In practicing one-mindfully, we keep ourselves in the present. We are often so busy multi-tasking, letting our undisciplined minds wander without ever giving much attention to what we are doing in the moment. Some suggestions for practicing one-mindfully include:
- Eat while focusing only on the taste and feel of the food without distracting yourself with reading or watching TV at the same time.
- Brush your teeth and keep your mind focused just on the task at hand. If your mind wanders, bring it back.
- Talk with your friend, spouse, or child, without doing anything else at the same time. Give the person your full attention.
Learn more about ways to practice One-Mindfully by reading the related post: How Hillary Got Over Trump.
Acting effectively means choosing to behave in a way that increases the likelihood of getting the desired response. Too often we focus on our moral sense of what we think is “right,” “fair,” or “justified,” even if our behaviour isn’t effective. For example, telling someone to stop being so lazy and pick up after themselves may seem fair and justifiable, but it’s not likely to be effective if your goal is to encourage the person to pick up after themselves.
Being effective means letting go of judgment and moral indignation so you can access your wise mind and choose a course of action that will increase your likelihood of being successful in your life and relationships. In other words, letting go of the need to be right and doing what works is being effective.
6. Loving Kindness
Loving kindness is a mindfulness practice designed to increase love and compassion. To practice loving kindness, first we must start with ourselves. We need to actively work to stop critical, judgmental, harsh, and unkind words and replace them with words of compassion and understanding. When we are able to practice kindness with ourselves, we are able to extend our kindness to family, friends, difficult people, and even those who have hurt or wronged us.
Practicing Loving Kindness:
Sit or lie down and when you are comfortable, begin breathing slowly and deeply. Open the palms of your hands and rest them face up in your lap. Bring yourself to mind and focus on your core self. Say to yourself, “May I be happy” “May I be at peace” “May I be healthy” and “May I be safe.” If these words don’t sound authentic and right for you, choose something else. It’s important to connect with what you are saying.
After you have sent loving thoughts your way, allow a person you love and hold dear to enter your mind. Repeat the mantra slowly and focus on the meaning of each word as you say it in your mind. Continue until you feel yourself engulfed in loving kindness towards this person. Now think of a person who has caused you stress lately; someone you find annoying. Repeat your mantra for this person, focusing on generating a feeling of compassion and good will. Repeat the mantra for anyone else you would like, but end up back with yourself. Send your loving kindness wishes once again to yourself.
Practice each day and increase the circle of people you wish well, making sure you include those you love as well as those you don’t. The purpose is to eventually extend loving kindness to all living things.
7. Mindfulness of Pleasant Events
Mindfulness encourages us to stay in the present moment, to pay attention to things that we might otherwise overlook or ignore. We can worry so much about being successful and getting the things we want that we forget to notice all the things we already have. We are so busy planning for the “big” event that will make us happy that we overlook the small pleasures that occur every day.
Some ways to increase positive Events in Your Life
- Go to a concert or sporting event
- Read a good book
- Go for a walk in nature
- Spend time with a friend
- Take a bubble bath
- Bake something to give away
- Watch a funny movie
- Play a game
- Listen to uplifting music
- Call a friend
- Buy yourself flowers
- Take a child sledding, to the park, swimming, or to a play.
Mindfulness Exercise To Increase Positive Experiences
Marra (2004) suggests the following steps for increasing mindfulness of pleasant experiences:
1) Choose a positive activity and make the choice to do it even if you are not in the mood.
2) Focus your full attention on the present moment. Notice the colors, textures, smells, and sounds associated with the pleasant experience. Allow yourself to absorb your experience fully.
3) If you notice your attention drifting, specifically to thoughts of the past or future, refocus your attention to the present moment.
4) Accept your emotional experience without judgment. Don’t try to compare it to the past or to what you “wish” it would be. Accept it for what it is.
5) Consistently bring yourself back to your environment and to what you are doing. Engage in your pleasant experience with your whole heart and mind. Give yourself fully to the present moment and embrace all that you are experiencing with an open heart.
6) Be attentive, not serious. It doesn’t need to be difficult to focus your attention; just use gentle reminders.
7) Now, allow yourself to be impacted by your experience. Your pleasant experience doesn’t have to be dramatic or powerful. You are not aiming for a life altering experience, you simple want to allow yourself to experience contentment, peace, and pleasure in the moment. Allow yourself to experience emotions about what you are doing. Allow yourself to have an authentic emotional experience.
8) Afterward, don’t judge your emotions. Simply notice them and describe them. Perhaps you felt bored and made the judgment that you “should” have been happy. If you allow yourself to truly notice your authentic boredom and accept it fully, this is being mindful.
8. Mindfulness of Current Thought
The key to mindfulness of current thoughts is to practice separating thoughts about ourselves and the world from the facts about ourselves and the world. We can do this by observing our thoughts as thoughts, and not as facts. It is helpful to actually say to yourself, “I am having the thought that . . .,” rather than stating your thought as a fact.
It is helpful to tune into your thoughts by sitting quietly and observing them as if they are clouds in the sky or leaves floating down the river. Notice the thought, recognize it as a thought, then let it float away.
To read more about this topic read the post Your Self-Talk Defines You.
9. Focused Breathing
The goal of focused breathing is to concentrate your attention on your breath, letting all other thoughts drift away. If you notice a thought, acknowledge it, and return to your breath.
Notice how the sound of breathing in is different than the sound of the breathing out. Feel the gentle rise and fall of your chest and abdomen.
One form of focused breathing is the one nostril breathing exercise. You put one finger on your right nostril while you breath in, then hold your breath while you place the finger on your left nostril for the breath out.
It’s important to practice focused breathing regularly. If you only do it when stressed, you will have difficulty focusing. You need to train your mind to focus when there isn’t a going on so that when stressed, your practiced body responds by relaxing.
Try doing focused breathing for five minutes and work your way up. A general rule is to work towards one minute for every year of your age.
10. Pros and Cons List
Evaluating pros and cons helps us think through the positive and negative consequences of our behaviour so that we can act purposefully and effectively. Many people do a simple pros and cons list looking at only one angle, such as the pros and cons of quitting pot, breaking up with my girlfriend, quitting my job etc. However, it is more effective to do the pros and cons of doing something AND the pros and cons of not doing something. This four-part grid asks the following questions:
- What are the advantages of continuing as I am?
- What are the disadvantages of continuing as I am?
- What are the advantages of changing the situation?
- What are the disadvantages of changing the situation?
Although these questions look like they are similar, as you start to answer the questions, you realize that doing the four questions rather than the two, you get a bit more information and a greater perspective.
Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills
1. Self Validation
Step one: Identify your feelings, then put a period on the end. The period is important. It prevents you from going into a mantra of “What’s wrong with me?,” and “Do I have a right to feel this way?” I am angry, period. That hurt my feelings, period. That embarrassed me, period.
Step two: Give yourself permission to feel the way you do. Don’t question or analyze it. Just let it be okay. “I am disappointed that I didn’t get invited to the party, and I’m allowed to be disappointed.”
Step three: Understand, without judgement, why you feel the way you do. For example, “It’s understandable that I feel disappointed that I didn’t get invited to the party because I have felt lonely lately. I would have really enjoyed going out and meeting people.” As much as possible, recognize when other people would feel the same as you in the same situation. If other’s wouldn’t necessarily feel the same, then acknowledge the reasons why your response is unique to you. It’s critical not to judge.
To learn more about this skill read the related post: Are You Listening? Validate Yourself
2. Validating Others
We all strive for validation and understanding, yet we often forget to validate and understand the other person. In order to validate, we must communicate clearly that we are listening and understanding how they feel and think. It means listening and without judgment.
In DBT it believed that for every position there is an opposite position and in each position, there is some truth. Your job is to find the truth and the validity in another person’s perspective and then let them know you understand their perspective. Validating doesn’t mean you agree with their perspective; it means you understand why they feel or think as they do.
We validate another person by:
a) Giving the person our undivided attention,
b) Asking questions and clarifying your understanding of what they are thinking and feeling,
c) Refraining from stating own perspective until we are sure we fully understand their perspective,
d) Clarifying our understanding of their perspective by summarizing back to them our understanding of their perspective,
e) Acknowledging the truth in what they are saying. Remember, there is truth in your position as well. Acknowledging the truth in both positions doesn’t diminish your position in any way.
It is important that you only validate that which is true. If someone says the sky is green, you can validate why it might seem green to them, or even validate how frustrating it is to see a green sky when everyone else sees a blue sky, but don’t say the sky is green if it isn’t. For validation to be effective, it has to be authentic and genuine. Agreeing just to keep the peace or appear understanding is not true validation.
To read more about validating others read the post Does Someone You Know Lack Empathy and Insight?
3. Objective Effectiveness: DEAR MAN Skills
The Acronym DEAR MAN helps to remember the skills needed to be objectively effective in your relationships. To learn more about this skill read the related post: Does Your Directness Get You in Trouble
When you see something you don’t like, describe it as factually as possible. Stick to the facts and avoid judgment.
“I went into the kitchen to make a sandwich and your food was on the counter and your dirty dishes were in the sink.”
The facts make it hard for the person to deny the situation. By not judging, you decrease defensiveness and make it easier for them to offer an explanation or apology.
Sometimes stating the facts is enough to resolve the issue. In other circumstances it might be necessary to express your feelings or thoughts to decrease the chances of it happening again.
Express your thoughts or feelings without turning them into an accusation. If you find it annoying to clean up someone else’s lunch mess, that is a fact, not a judgment. It’s possible to be annoyed without judging the other person. Make sure you convey non-judgment not only by what you say, but through your facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures.
Say clearly what you want to happen in the future. “I want you to clean up right after you eat so I can prepare my lunch without having to clean up first.” Be matter-of-fact when you assert yourself. It is tempting to assume the other person is wrong and to want to express your disapproval. Stay non-judgmental.
It’s important to reinforce your request with something positive. The reinforcement softens your request and makes it more likely the person will comply. Something as simple as, “I would really appreciate it,” is reinforcing. A positive comment helps the person feel good about doing what you want, and restores positive feelings.
The DEAR part of the skills tells you what you do to communicate effectively and respectfully. The MAN part of the skills tells you how you communicate.
When we are mindful we pause and think about what we are about to say. We make sure that we are not judging, making assumptions, or behaving reactively. If the other person responds defensively or angrily, we keep our own emotions in check. We stay on track and don’t let ourselves get sidetracked by irrelevant topics.
If you respond to the other person with defensiveness or aggression, you will probably not get what you were asking for, and you increase the chances of creating hard feelings.
The direct person needs to work on being confident, not arrogant, and the indirect person needs to work on being confident, not passive. Both styles need to strike the right balance. When you are confident you know you have a right to ask for what you want. You know that making a request doesn’t guarantee you will get what you want. Assertive people accept that they can’t make anyone do anything, so diplomacy is necessary.
No matter how reasonable your perspective is, the other person has their own perspective that is likely just as compelling to them. “I only have half an hour lunch so I don’t always have time to clean up right after I eat. I come back on my break to do it.”
Rather than arguing about whose perspective is “right,” you may need to negotiate. Before you negotiate, hear the other person’s side and appreciate the truth in their perspective, regardless of how it conflicts with your own.
4. Self Respect Effectiveness Skill: FAST
In effective communication, we have three goals to keep in mind; being effective, preserving relationships, and preserving our self-esteem. FAST is an acronym to help you remember the steps in preserving your self-respect. To learn more read the related post: Direct and Indirect Communication Styles
a) Be Fair to the other person and to yourself when trying to get what you want
b) Don’t Apologize for what you want or the way you feel. Only apologize for your behaviour if it wasn’t fair or effective,
c) Stick to your values and don’t compromise on your integrity,
d) Be Truthful. This doesn’t mean you have to say whatever you think, but what you do say should be the truth and not a lie.
5. Relationship Effectiveness Skill: GIVE
The GIVE skills help us to preserve the relationship with the other person.
1) Be Gentle, nice and respectful in your approach; no attacks, threats, or judging,
2) Act Interested by listening attentively and reading between the lines,
3) Validate the other person’s perspective; let them know you understand how they feel,
3) Use an Easy manner; be lighthearted when approaching someone with a complaint.
To learn more, read the related post: Direct and Indirect Communication Styles
6. Thinking and Acting Dialectically
In Dialectics, all things are interconnected and in a constant state of change. In dialectical thinking, we recognize that every position has an opposite position and we are constantly trying to walk the middle path. Being dialectical helps us stay away from extreme positions in our thinking and actions. It is a world view which helps us resolve disagreements while searching for the truth in both positions.
There are four main ideas in dialectical thinking:
- The universe is filled with opposing sides and opposing forces. For everything that exists, there is a an opposite. There is dark and there is light. There is up and there is down. There is cold and there is hot. There is male and there is female. Everything that exists is made of opposing forces that both hold things together and create constant change. Dialectics tells us that opposing points of view can both be true. We must constantly seek for what is left out in our point of view so that we can understand both perspectives.
2. Every person is connected in some way. Dialectics reminds us of our connection to the universe. Understanding the interconnectedness of all things increases our understanding of our influence on others and theirs on us. It becomes easier to understand and validate both ourselves and others.
3. Change is the only constant. Dialectics helps us radically accept the changes that are continually occurring. This helps us become more flexible and makes it easier to go with the flow.
4. Change is transactional. Dialectics helps us analyze how we are being influenced by our environment and how we are influencing our environment. It leads to a better understanding of our own behaviour and of our relationships. Dialectics focuses on understanding, not blaming.
Emotion Regulation Skills
1. Identifying Primary Emotions
A primary emotion is the first emotion we feel when something occurs; it is immediate and instinctive. If someone jumps out at me, I feel fear. If someone takes something away from me, I feel angry. Is someone says something unkind, I feel hurt. A secondary is an emotion we feel in response to our primary emotion or in response to our thoughts. For example, someone scares me and the fact I got scared makes me feel anger or embarrassment.
It is important to examine our emotions and separate our primary emotions from our secondary emotions. Our primary emotions need to be validated and accepted. It is a fact that something hurt, scared, or angered us and we have a right to feel the way we do. Secondary emotions need to be examined and challenged. We often jump to secondary emotions as a way to avoid feeling primary emotions or because responding in a certain way is habit or learned behaviour. Our secondary emotions may also be the result of faulty thinking and beliefs. To help us become more authentic, we need to understand our emotional responses and what influences them. To read more on primary and secondary emotions, read the post: 3 Ways we Complicate our Emotions.
2. Check the Facts
An important part of regulating our emotions is making sure we respond to facts, not assumptions and misunderstandings. Too often we treat our thoughts as if they were facts, and we respond accordingly. For instance, you might tell yourself, “My mother-in-law doesn’t like me and she thinks I’m an awful spouse,” and then treat this thought as if it was a fact. While it may be a fact that you think she doesn’t like you, it’s not a fact that she doesn’t like you, unless you have proof to back up this thought. Most of the time we don’t have proof; we have assumptions based on faulty reasoning. To keep our emotions regulated, we need to focus on that which we know to be true, and let go of the assumptions that keep us hooked into negative ways of thinking and behaving. To read more about this topic, check out the post How to Stop Faulty Thinking Habits.
3. Opposite to Emotion Action
Every emotion causes an urge. When we are anxious, we get the urge to run away. When we are angry, we get the urge to lash out. When we are depressed, we want to stay in bed all day with the covers over our head.
Often our urges push us to do the exact opposite of what is helpful. When we’re anxious, we need to face our fears to realize the danger isn’t real. When we’re depressed, we need to get out of the house. If we’re angry, we need to stay calm and understand the other person’s perspective. All these things are the exact opposite of what we feel like doing.
How to Do Opposite to Emotion Action
To do opposite action, first you need to find the emotion you want to change. Check the facts to see if your emotion is justified. It’s justified to be slightly nervous when meeting new people, but fear and dread is not.
Identify the urge that your emotions create and ask yourself if acting on the urge would help or make things worse? If your urge is counter-productive, find the opposite action to the urge and commit to doing it. Don’t do it half-heartedly by going to the party and sitting in the corner. If you are truly going to do opposite action you must go to the party and throw yourself into having a good time.
If you apply opposite action consistently to your urges, you will start to notice a decrease in your emotions over time. If you constantly expose yourself to things that make you anxious, your brain learns there is nothing to fear. The more you learn to trust yourself, the safer you become. To learn more about this topic, read the post: Trust Yourself and Heal from Social Anxiety
4. PLEASE Skills
PLEASE Skills is a DBT technique that helps you reduce your emotional vulnerability. While we all know we “should” follow a healthy lifestyle, what we don’t always know is the impact that an unhealthy lifestyle has on our emotions. When we have a balanced lifestyle we are less likely to lose emotional control during stressful situations. The acronym PLEASE helps to remember how to take care of yourself so you are not susceptible to intense emotional outbursts.
- Treat Physical Illness
Be sure to make your physical well-being a priority. See a doctor regularly for check-ups and mention any physical symptoms that are troubling you. If you are prescribed medication to treat an illness or disease, take the medication as prescribed. Take care of yourself when you are sick by getting adequate rest. Remember, when you are feeling well, you’ll be less likely to spiral out of emotional control.
- Balanced Eating
Focus on eating balanced meals that make you feel good. Avoid eating too much or too little at meal times, and ensure that what you do eat is satisfying and nourishing to your body. Don’t eat or drink foods that you are allergic to or that make you feel ill or overly emotional. Eating healthy food improves your sleep, attention, memory, energy, and mood. Avoid crash diets and extreme hunger as this increases emotional vulnerability.
- Avoid Mood Altering Drugs
When you are inebriated or under the influence of a substance, it’s much harder to maintain emotional control. Focus on doing things that are fun and enjoyable, without the need for drugs or alcohol to enhance the experience. Staying sober is an important tool in helping you be authentic and finding out what and who you truly enjoy.
- Balanced Sleep
Getting enough sleep is important for your overall emotional well-being. Be sure to get the amount of rest that feels right for your body. Some people need 10 hours of sleep while others can operate just fine with less. Get the amount of sleep you need to feel relaxed and alert. Lack of sleep makes most people irritable and prone to emotional outbursts.
- Get Exercise
Get in some type of exercise every day. You probably know that research has shown that exercise is a great way to reduce stress. Exercise improves body image and increases energy levels. When your body is strong and healthy, you are better able to withstand emotional upsets.
- Achieve Mastery
Do something that makes you feel good and increases your level of competency each day. When you feel good about who you are, your abilities, and your accomplishments, you’re less likely to over-react to perceived slights or misunderstandings.
Taking care of yourself builds resiliency and allows you to handle stress with more ease and comfort. Following the PLEASE skills does not guarantee emotional stability, but it decreases your vulnerability and helps you stay better in control.
Distress Tolerance Skills
1. STOP Skills
STOP is an acronym which helps you stop what you are doing long enough for you to think mindfully about how to proceed in a manner that will be effective; in other words, in a way that will preserve your dignity and self respect, another person’s dignity and self-respect, and the relationship.
Freeze, stop whatever you are doing, and don’t move. Try visualizing a red STOP sign in front of you. This is a time for you to stop whatever you were doing, saying or thinking, so that you can change the direction you were heading in.
T: Take a step back
You can do this in your mind or you can physically take a step back. The point is to pause and give some space between you and your emotions, thoughts, and behaviour. Take a moment to notice you’re breathing. You may be holding your breath or breathing shallowly. Try to take a few deep breaths and relax.
O: Observe what’s going on both inside of you and around you
Observe your thoughts, feelings and actions as if they were occurring to a third person. Be curious about what you are experiencing. If there are other people around you, notice what they’re doing or saying and be curious about them as well. When you’re in a crisis, it is easy to focus on a small piece of the picture and miss the bigger picture. Take a moment to take in the whole scene, including any possible consequences for your actions.
P: Proceed Mindfully
When your emotions have calmed down, you will be able to access your wise mind. Ask your wise mind what you should do in order to be effective, preserve your self-respect, and avoid damaging the relationship.
2. TIP Skills
Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by our emotions that we need something to do that will immediately bring our emotions back into control. TIP skills are strategies to use in these situations.
TIP is an acronym that stands for:
T-Temperature change: Changing the temperature in your body will quickly bring your emotions down. You can do this by bending over and placing your face in a bucket of cold water. This mimics diving in water and your body responds by immediately lowering your pulse, which in turns, decreases emotional intensity. If this is not possible, you can place ice on your face. You may also find that taking a hot or cold shower or bath will also decrease emotions by lowering the pulse rate.
I-Intense exercise: Running around the block, doing jumping jacks, dancing, riding your bike, are all things that will use up the energy that is fueling our strong emotions.
P-Progressive Relaxation: You want to calm your body and mind down as quickly as possible so some form of progressive relaxation will be useful. You can squeeze your muscles one at a time as hard as you can, then release, going through every major muscle group in your body. You can find guided progressive relaxation video’s on youtube. You can do progressive relaxation by deep breathing or practicing meditation. To read about more strategies to help you relax when you are tense, read the post Give Your Mind a Needed Break.