DBT Distress Tolerance Skill: Prayer

This week in DBT, one of my fellow group members went over her Diary Card. She shared that she used the skill of Prayer, a Distress Tolerance Skill that falls under the "Improve The Moment Section."

One thing at a time

(Above list from page 165 of what I consider to be the essential DBT Bible: Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Dr. Marsha Linehan)

It's interesting, because I had just received an email from Amanda Smith of My Dialectical Life (a DBT-skill-a-day email subscription), just days before, in which she also shared that she had recently used prayer as a DBT skill to cope.

Up until now, I've honestly been very hesitant to talk about this particular skill since it can be a 
sensitive issue for many. But, since two other BPD sufferers recently opened the doors by sharing their experiences, I felt safe enough to blog about this with my dear readers.

I personally do not have a particular religion that I identify with.  I was brought up Catholic and sometimes consider myself a mix of Christian - Buddhist - Agnostic - Atheist.

I think many people with Borderline Personality Disorder can understand my ambiguity around this.  One of the criteria for having BPD is:

Identity disturbance: Markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self 

I found an in-depth elaboration of this on PsychCentral:

There are sudden and dramatic shifts in self-image, characterized by shifting goals, values and vocational aspirations. There may be sudden changes in opinions and plans about career, sexual identity, values and types of friends. These individuals may suddenly change from the role of a needy supplicant for help to a righteous avenger of past mistreatment. Although they usually have a self-image that is based on being bad or evil, individuals with borderline personality disorder may at times have feelings that they do not exist at all. Such experiences usually occur in situations in which the individual feels a lack of a meaningful relationship, nurturing and support. These individuals may show worse performance in unstructured work or school situations

Not unlike my struggle to discover and commit to a career path or job has been an issue with my having BPD, a religious preference or decision has been also. I do have a hope that there is a supreme being or a supernatural force at large in the Universe. I am comforted by many spiritual things. Other times, I feel anger or fear toward teachings I've received and don't want anything to do with any of it.

I've also met other people with BPD who have a strong faith and consider this their anchor, like the woman who shared in group this week. When our therapist asked her what she meant when she said she "used Wise Mind from a religious perspective," she said that in considering her religious views while angry with another person, she was able to become compassionate and have empathy for their imperfectness.  She said that this helped her dissolve the illusion that they were a villain and that she was a victim. Our therapist said that it sounded like she was able to reduce judgment and be as effective as possible with this perspective.

I do think it's great that Western medicine is respecting the importance of religion and/or spirituality for some patients in their recovery process.

What about you? Do you ever use the DBT skill of prayer?  Do you have a faith that helps you get through difficult times, or are religion and spirituality not a part of your life?

Thank you for sharing and reading.
More soon.


  1. Being a Christian I think this is great. I struggle with prayer though when I'm down, I feel like I can't talk to God when I'm depressed.

  2. With regard to the potential conflict, I think the most important thing to recognise is that we all have the capability to look at situations from a moral perspective, no matter what our faith is. I think that some Christians believe that atheists and people of other faiths do not have basic morals, and that some atheists think they are being accused of having no morals... It gets into such a sticky situation because everyone is assuming something negative about each other!

    Anyway, for me, it is like this - I am diagnosed BPD, and self-diagnosed ADD. I think that the latter means that I really thrive when I have checklists and rules to follow. I could probably just use my brain to alleviate the black-and-whiteness of my thoughts, but I don't always trust my brain, so it helps to call on God during that time. I don't allocate specific time to prayer (I don't consider meditation to be useful, as I am a serious over-thinker) but I chat to God throughout the day.

    Remembering to thank Him for the amazingly good things in my life helps me to recognise how good those things are. Likewise, praying that people who do and say bad things will learn to be better lifts them out of the "villain" role and places them (in my mind) as someone on a journey to become better. It's still trying to read people, but I feel that it's more constructive.

    This builds my optimism, as I move from that to thinking about how the world over time has become kinder and more tolerant (more voluntary charity, more acceptance of differences, etc). I find that particularly useful when I am in a "frozen by fear" kind of mood - it helps to life me out of it.

    1. Hello Becca,

      Thank you so much for sharing your perspective and experience with this. Lots of great insights. ♥

  3. Prayer helps me cope with life. I know God is uncondionally loving and just talking to Him and, at times, crying out to Him, always gives me a renewed sense of peace and hope. He is always with me, and knowing this gives me comfort. I would not be here if I did not have my faith.

    1. Hi Ann. Thanks for sharing how practicing prayer is helpful to you in your recovery. ♥

  4. My higher power is my father. he passed in 2010..his death has been my downfall...got severely worse after losing him. when i am having an episode or losing my patience or im crying and i can't stop...i ask much father for the strength to get thru it. i talk to him alot...when im alone...it sometimes helps me cope....sometimes it makes me worse cuz i miss him so much. but most of the time its soothing to talk to him....especially on the drive home from a bad day at work.

    1. That is so beautiful, Christina. I am glad you find comfort in connecting with your father in this way. I have many family members who look to those who have passed on for support as well. ♥

  5. I commend you for being able to bring up religion as it is a sensitive subject to most; especially with the turmoil it brings in today's society. Personally I have successfully avoided this exercise in DBT for almost a year now. I would define myself as an Atheist but I do incorporate a lot of Buddhist teachings into my life style. Ironic considering I was raised Presbyterian, went to private Christian schools my whole life and attended a Presbyterian college to get my BA in Philosophy. LOL! Funny how it all works out, huh? But in the end I think it has made me a fairly well rounded person knowledged in many areas. Again, I commend you for just having the courage to speak out about such a sensitive subject involving our therapy. :-)

    1. Hi Julie., Thanks for your honest and kind comment. I think it's really neat that you are finding yourself through all of your experiences with spirituality. That can be a real challenge when you face identity disturbance issues. ♥

  6. Hi Debbie, nice post. Regarding spirituality I always have found that some concepts in Buddhism like impermanence help me understand and cope with feelings. However the most useful tool for self-soothing and even spiritual growth I´ve found has been meditation. Whether you do it for religious reasons or not it has a powerful relaxing effect, clears the mind and focus it for good. Hope you have a nice week. Miguel

    1. Hi there Miguel. Thank you for sharing your experience. I agree that meditation practice can be so powerful -- both as a calm to our nervous system and for spiritual connection. ♥

  7. I find that prayer gives me the comfort I need during the loneliest and scariest of times. I could choose to fill that empty hole inside of me with so many things (usually bad because why seek after good things during low moments when I hate and feel no gratitude or peace?) but if I can find the strength within myself to let go of my pride and pray to my Heavenly Father who loves me dearly and wants to help me, then I feel that comfort and love. And he becomes my anchor.



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