DBT Pushing Away Skill: When is it a GOOD idea to push your thoughts and feelings away?

When is it a good idea to push your feelings and thoughts away? In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) there is actually a skill called "Pushing Away," and it falls under the Distraction Skills. These are considered "Crisis Survival" skills to be used when there is nothing more that you can do to solve a situation and you want to reduce your stress.  Reducing your stress reduces your vulnerability to acting in ways that make the situation worse or cause you more suffering. This skill works even if the situation is not at the crisis level.

When should you use this skill?

Dr. Marsha Linehan recommends the following process for determining whether you should use this skill. It involves answering two questions:

1.) Can I do anything about this right now?
2.) Is it a good time to work on this?

Here's an example. You're up at 2 a.m. stressing about not getting along with your co-workers. You ask yourself the two questions:

1.) Can I do anything about this right now?  Obviously not, no.
2.) Is it a good time to work on this? No, I need to be sleeping or I am going to feel exhausted at work and more vulnerable to the emotional situation.

If you answer no to one or both of the questions, it's a good time to use this skill. You can use it to push away the thoughts and the accompanying feelings.

How to use this skill:

It takes some imagination.  Imagine putting the problem in a box and then placing that box up on a shelf to be dealt with later.  How can this possibly help? Imagery is very powerful when it comes to our mind processes. My DBT therapist explained that this exercise sends a message to the brain that thinking about the problem right now is ineffective, and, in simple terms, it tells the brain to "cut it out."

I use this skill when I begin to ruminate over something over which I have no control and I need to be focusing on something else (or sleeping).  It actually works!

Have you ever used this skill?  What other kind of imagery comes to YOUR mind when you think about consciously and skillfully pushing away feelings or thoughts?

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

P.S. Have you seen this post on DBT Games that bring the skills to life?


  1. Thanks so much for this. I really have avoided using this skill because I've demonized how I used to just put a lid on my emotions and pretend they weren't there. I'm seeing though, that that is more avoidance, and this is effective distraction. I've never quite known how to tell when to use it, and this helps immensely.

    1. So very glad this was helpful for you, Aeshe! ♥

  2. About two months ago I started to realize that I have BPD. It gives me a sense of comfort to know that it actually has a name. I hadn't heard of DBT until I started reading your blog. I love how positive and honest all your posts are. Most of the reading I've found about BPD is so negative and offer no hope. Your posts inspire me. I started DBT exercises on my own after buying a work book a month ago. Thank you for the positivity and inspiration!



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