The following is a synopsis of a weekly Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) group lesson, based on the work of Marsha Linehan out of the University of Washington. This week’s lesson is actually outside of the normal DBT content, it is solely based on the codependency literature, specifically the work of a wonderful fellowship called CODA.
New Disclaimer: I LOVE doing this, I think it is desperately needed, and I WANT to do it. However, I have zero time to do it so, while I am committed to giving it my all, I may fall behind or skip a week or two. I apologize in advance for that, and for the fact that I will not be spell checking, fixing formatting, or doing a read through before I post. No offense, but I gotta draw the line somewhere!
Dialectics and Wise Mind: The Foundation of Mindfulness
It’s been a couple of weeks that I didn’t blog, my apologies but we have been spending a lot of time on preliminary things such as today’s topic, plus I’ve been either way too busy or at the Jersey shore! So let’s start with the basics of dialectics:
The basic definition of the very complicated concept of Dialectics is that two opposites can both be true. We encounter dialectics in our daily life all. the. time….You want that shiny new sportscar….but if you buy it you will feel awful because you can’t afford it. You love your family, but you can’t stand being around them for long stretches of time. I enjoy doing this blog ever so much, but I just can’t find the time to do it the way I’d like to…..Dialectics are all around us. They are in everything. To every action there is an opposite reaction. It’s physics (I guess I have absolutely no clue what physics is really).And like so many things in DBT, it is super complicated, but also really really simple: EVERY thing, one, moment, etc. has good, AND bad in it. This is the yin and yang of reality.
So right about now you’re saying, “But Suzanne, who cares? What does this have to do with Borderline Personality Disorder, self harm, etc?”. Well, the answer is simple too. My biggest hero in the Psychology field is Albert Ellis (R.I.P.). He told it like it is, he made sense, and he recognized the craziness in all of us. Ellis, and other Cognitive Theorists like him, believed that human beings have crazy ways of thinking. We distort reality with this crazy thinking, and so therapy is a means of untwisting our twisted up thoughts. Well dialectical thinking is a great way of doing this too. Many of us, particularly those with BPD, have very extreme thinking patterns (Black and White or Dichotomous thinking). This thinking is NOT reality, it can’t be, because reality is a dialectic. There is good and bad in every thing, it can’t be an extreme of everything, always, never, etc. It is a reality check, as it helps us stay balanced and grounded in reality. Where we need to be. So we can deal with it. POP QUIZ…which is a dialectical statement?
a. I have no friends.
b. The world is a wonderful place.
c. I want to overcome my past, but it’s hard.
The dialectical statement is the one that’s balanced, sees multiple sides of an argument, and avoids absolutes. Thinking dialectically challenges us to see reality, and it is useful to help those struggling with BPD to think dialectically as well.
One of the most important benefits of Dialectics is that it helps us be in Wise Mind. According to Linehan (1993), there are 3 states of mind that we move in and out of; Reasonable Mind, Emotion Mind, and Wise Mind. We want to use mindfulness and mediation practices to help us stay grounded in Wise Mind. Some of us spend too much time in reasonable mind, over-valuing logic, reason, and problem solving, and thereby under-valuing emotions and their impact on us and others. Some of us are controlled by our emotions, to the point that we cannot think clearly or rationally enough to see the dialectics in front of us. Ultimately, it is not wrong to be in emotion mind or reasonable mind at times, but they are extreme states of mind, and balance is best, so we want to practice getting ourselves into Wise Mind.
Wise Mind is being centered. It is when we can be at peace, feel our feelings, and consider them in the moment, while still being able to problem solve and think clearly. In wise mind, there is instinct to guide us, and because we are centered, we can be wise enough to follow it. Impulse however differs from instinct, in that impulsive behaviors happen in emotion or reasonable mind, whereas instinct is a visceral (physical) response that pulls us in one direction or another. In reasonable mind, we may have an urge to punch someone because we are so angry at them. In reasonable mind, we may have the urge to punch someone because they did us wrong, and therefore it makes sense that we should retaliate. Neither of these are instincts, they are impulse, and will not end well. If someone attacks me from behind and threatens my safety, I may instinctively punch the person in self defense, but that is more likely coming from wise mind than from emotion or reasonable mind. Instinct is tricky, but we have all felt instinct, (the hair on our neck stands up, our gut tells us that something is wrong, or right, etc.) the trouble is we don’t follow it. We should almost ALWAYS follow our instincts, as when we feel them, we are tapped into a moment of centeredness. In extreme cases, like self hate or addiction, our instincts will be wrong, and we cannot trust them (ex. you may think it’s a great idea to sleep with a married man you have fallen in love with, because it feels good to get the attention and you’ve known him for over a year. That sounds like a balance of emotion and reason, but is likely a decision that is coming from low self esteem, rather than wise mind.
Mindfulness is what gets us to wise mind, and although we started to discuss the first skill of mindfulness in group this week, this will be addressed in the next blog.