Dialectical Behavioural Therapy makes use of a variety of skills.
Mindfulness is a skill that has been practiced for centuries by many religions and cultures. It has experienced a recent resurgence lately, which is an understandable reaction to our hectic and over-stimulated senses. Mindfulness is using the mind as a microscope, and narrowing thoughts and conscious awareness to just one thing that is happening instead of the many things we usually attend to.
Mindfulness can be paired with another calming tool called taking a “non-judgmental stance.” This is a good choice when faced with a situation that could make a person feel overwhelmed with emotion. Try to imagine that a situation is happening on a video, and notice what is happening. Our emotions get involved when we assign meaning or a label to an action.
For example, if someone cuts in front of me in a car, honks the horn, and speeds up, I could judge that as a sign that the other person is angry and feel scared/angry/defensive in response. In reality, the fact of the situation is that a person driving a car near me changed lanes, honked, and sped up. Perhaps the driver was frustrated at having to drive the speed limit, or maybe a wasp flew into the car and the driver was panicking. A non-judgmental response is not the same as having no opinion – it’s just holding off on interpreting a situation until our first wave of emotion passes. Of course, if someone lunges at you with a knife, please don’t practice a non-judgmental stance. This would be a good time to allow emotion to inspire you to run away!
One opportunity to use both mindfulness and a non-judgmental stance together is during an emotionally challenging encounter. Think of someone you have argued with. Mindfulness may be focusing on the sound of the other person’s voice. As feelings and reactions rise up, just notice them and then allow them to pass by. Instead of thinking, “How dare that person!” take a deep breath and try to notice what is happening without assigning any judgment to the situation.
For example, when your partner says, “You forgot to take out the garbage,” you can understand the statement/implied request but resist from thinking, “You’re an annoying jerk for complaining and insinuating I don’t pull my weight around here.” It takes practice, but the subtext we give other people’s words – and the assumptions we make about what they mean – contribute a lot to an argument. We don’t always respond in the best manner when we feel hurt, angry or upset, so the skill of non-judgment can be an effective way to keep a conflict from escalating. At first, it seems unnatural and robotic to keep a non-judgmental stance during an emotional conflict, but it becomes easier and more natural with practice. Start small, and try combining mindfulness with a non-judgmental stance during a situation today.
Marie Amos, MA, is a Mental Health Clinician with Child and Youth Mental Health, Chilliwack.