Today's Distress Tolerance DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) class focused on the Acceptance skill. When our therapist began describing how we would practice this skill, it felt very counter-intuitive to me. What? You want me to ACCEPT the intense anxiety I've been experiencing? Heck no! I want to kick at it and scream at it and push it away. I want it gone, now!
Well, admitting that, thus far, this approach has not done much to alleviate me of the emotion, I became willing to listen and participate in the assignment. After all, if there was even the tiniest chance that I could feel better, that was motivation enough.
Our therapist kept redirecting us back to ACCEPTING the emotion, rather than trying to push it away or change it (though those can be coping skills also). Since pushing away or trying to change it haven't been working, I'm glad that there is another possible way to cope.
In the first column, you acknowledge the emotion that you need help accepting. How I could ever "accept" feeling obnoxiously anxious, I couldn't fathom, but, again, I was being willing.
Next, you are asked to identify the judgment around the emotion. For me, it's been: "I should be able to snap out of this anxiety. I know better."
Next, you dispute the judgment. I came up with: "While I do have skills to handle anxiety, sometimes the biological aspects take a while to catch up with my Wise Mind's decision that I am safe and all is well."
Next, you allow yourself to be mindful of the emotion. My process went like this: "I feel this anxiety. It's about being alone, with my BF thousands of miles away as I await an impending sexual harassment investigation interview." The bottom line? "I have no control over any of this."
In the next column, you come up with some statements to reassure (soothe) yourself: "This, too, shall pass. Emotions are transient. I can still take care of myself even when I'm feeling anxious. Just this moment, just this breath."
Finally, you come with a statement of how you will accept the emotion. Even if it doesn't feel "real" at the moment, this will be the point of practice: "It is what it is. I experience anxiety, and I can tolerate it."
I have to tell you, it's been a few hours since class let out, and I feel quite a bit more at ease. There's something about letting it go - about surrendering it to the Universe, if you will, that frees us. It's not as if spending one more moment of my life stressing and panicking about those upsetting things will change them. So why should I needlessly suffer in the meantime?
What seemed impossible seems to be having a positive effect.