DBT Practice: Creating a Life Worth Living and Interpersonal Effectiveness

One of the main goals of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is for the patient to take steps toward "Creating a Life Worth Living," according to DBT's founder, Dr. Marsha Linehan.  Today I had a chance to practice this while also practicing Interpersonal Effectiveness skills - one of the four modules in the program.

Creating a Life Worth Living will look different for every person. I will share my current perspective on it (as it changes for everyone over time), and I encourage you to think about what it means to you.

I'll start out by mentioning that I've written several blog posts on the painful loneliness I have experienced as  person with Borderline Personality Disorder. Because I sometimes have difficulty with my emotions getting too intense, frequent mood swings, and difficulty with boundaries (to name a few issues), my relationships with others have been tumultuous.

I'll go from liking a person to admiring them to putting them on a pedestal, and sometimes, for the strangest of reasons or excuses, I will suddenly go to the other extreme and consider them "bad" and dismiss them.  Once my emotions would settle down, I would apologize and hope to start over. This happened many times with many people, and, to be quite honest, I had pretty much given up on my ability to be a good friend and to maintain friendships.

Only recently did I decide that I do want to have a social circle. No huge commitments. No hanging out every day or anything. I just wanted to reach out to people I had been close to in the past (and to one new person, a coworker) to just have some casual fun  and hopefully practice being a good friend.

This weekend was my first practice. I went out yesterday with a friend to a French café . 

I'm not going to lie. I was nervous. So much so that my appetite all but vanished. I used opposite action to the anxiety and began to behave in a calm way, taking a picture of the beautifully colored macaroons.

I then waited for my friend, who was a few minutes late finding parking.  When she arrived, I got up, hugged her, gave her eye contact, and we then sat down and ordered some lunch. 

We ended up sitting there talking for 2.5 hours! It was awesome, really. I didn’t do all of the talking, and although I was anxious, I did not disclose this. I continued to urge surf and focus on our conversation.

Though I wasn’t consciously calling up the skills, in retrospect, because I set an intention of being receptive, friendly, and making sure the conversation was 2-way, I ended up practicing the following DBT skills from the Interpersonal Effectiveness module:
  • GIVE, which stands for Gentle, Interested, Validate, (use an) Easy Manner
    • Gentle: “Be courteous in your approach.”
    • Act Interested: “Listen and be interested in the other person. Listen to the other person’s point of view, opinion, reasons for saying no, or reasons for making a request from you. Don’t interrupt (this is difficult for me, as I get excited about responding) , talk over, etc….”
    • Validate: “Validate or Acknowledge the other person’s feelings, wants, difficulties, and opinions…”
    • Easy Manner: “Use a little humor. Smile. Ease the person along. Be lighthearted.”
      (the above section on “GIVE” is from Skills Training Manual for Borderline Personality Disorder by Dr. Marsha Linehan)
Today, I spent the day with a co-worker. It was also a success, though I felt a bit more vulnerable, anxious, and self-conscious.

We started out our day bowling.


The fact that we both stunk really bad at bowling made it fun. I took this picture at a point where we were tied. Several of the employees offered us tips as we were playing, and by the end, I got 3 strikes…but that’s neither here nor there. ☺

We had a good time laughing, talking, high-fiving, and encouraging each other. I did notice that as I began to feel hot (and, sorry for the details, but, sweaty), I got anxious. I started looking around at other people to see if they looked hot.  I was unsure about my own experience and was looking for outside validation. I even casually said to her, “Geez, it’s hot in here, huh?” It wasn’t until she agreed that I really felt “safe.”  I just noticed that, and I acknowledged that I was just experiencing anxiety and again surfed the emotion until it passed.

She’s actually a big picture taker, like me, and this made it even more fun. For me, it also kept me grounded in the present. She took this photo of me getting into the game.


After bowling, we went and had a nice Mexican lunch and then split a cannoli for dessert.

As we were eating, she said, “You know – you worry A LOT – you didn't impress me as someone who worried.”

Oh great. The façade had worn off. I was exposed as weak and vulnerable. That’s what my emotion mind said, anyway. I took a deep breath and said, “Yeah, well then show me how to live!” I smiled, and she laughed. I also then became more mindful of my words and mannerisms.


We actually ended up talking about some pretty deep things about our families. I got to know her well, and she got to know a lot more about me.

At times, I noticed the urge to over-disclose, but I pulled in the reigns.

I also noticed the urge to come on too strong and a sense that I was suddenly very emotionally close to her. I recognized these as manifestations of BPD and, again, took a deep breath and pulled in the reigns.

Overall, I would say the weekend has been a success in terms of practicing Creating a Life Worth Living and Interpersonal Effectiveness, and I managed to have a good time. 

What does Creating a Life Worth Living mean to you? What types of things would you need to get/push yourself to do to make progress this area?

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.



  1. Fq'n amazing workt this weekend chicky! :)

  2. Sounds like you had a wonderful time. :)

  3. Thanks for sharing this, it is so encouraging to see how you dealt with your anxiety and how you are expanding and improving your life through your own efforts. Also, where you said about looking for external validation of your internal experience, that was very interesting as I find that difficult and have started to notice that I often ignore the evidence of my own senses in favour of other's opinions or even my idea of what others' opinions would be. I hear the phrase 'building a life worth living' a lot in dbt, but at the moment it is still just a phrase to me, I don't have a clue where to start or what could be in it, so it is inspiring to see you being able to take steps towards doing this.Wishing you continued success :)

    1. Thank you for your kind comment and for sharing how you can relate. I am so glad to hear that you are beginning to contemplate the concept of creating or building a life worth living and that this blog post helped stinulate some thought around that. Thank you again!



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