Does DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) Work? My Story: A Case Study

I am currently attending two DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) classes per week. One is an ongoing group/class that goes through the four major skill sets: Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. The other just focuses on the Distress Tolerance skill set.

Things have been going well. Before DBT, I felt as if I were at the mercy of my emotions and impulses. When I had a feeling, I reacted. I continually made emotional and impulsive decisions that I later regretted, and I engaged in a number of self-destructive behaviors.

While I won’t say that my life is perfect or that I have it all together, I will say, I have come quite far! 

One of the mental health issues that manifested for me (and that was a red flag for my doctor in the process of my diagnosis), was a very overwhelming, terrifying realization/feeling that I did not know who I was.  I referred to it as a realization, because it was as if, all at once, I looked at myself in the mirror and was confused at who was looking back. I had become so fed up with all of the energy that I needed to expend in order to be everything to everyone – to act a certain way with this person and another way with that person.  I wondered, “If all the people I know got in one room with me, how would I behave? How would I act? Would they even know me? I don’t know me!”

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It was scary. I realized that I was like a chameleon, shaping and molding my likeness to whatever I thought the person across from me would like, approve of, and accept.  I now hold great compassion in my heart for this survival strategy that my unconscious/subconscious self was doing. As a child, I lived in a very abusive, scary, and sometimes life threatening environment.

I had to be one way with my Mom and another with my Dad in order to avoid abuse.  I was often unsuccessful, because I would act up and lash out. As I got older, I learned to “be” how I thought my Dad would want me to be so that he would love, accept, and not harm me. I think that the behavior took off from there and extended to all of the relationships and connections with others that I would have as the years went on.

As I continue in DBT, I am beginning to catch glimpses of the real ME. Not the me that I have constructed for anyone else, but the Me Me. I’ve caught myself, a few times, saying things like, “That’s just how I am…” or “I’m sorry, but this is part of who I am…”  I don’t remember saying things like this much in the past – especially when whatever it was that I was saying was in contradiction to someone whose acceptance and approval I desperately sought.

I am getting a bit more confident and independent in my thinking. I am trusting myself more. And, back to what I mentioned earlier in this post, I am putting space between experiencing an intense emotion and taking any action – as opposed to acting quickly in an attempt to relieve the discomfort, distress, or pain that I might be experiencing in any given moment or situation.

My life is radically improving. I am slowing down and THINKING before I act. I am weighing pros and cons and looking at potential consequences. I care. I am creating a life worth living, and I feel so fortunate to have found the path that I am currently on.

DBT works. It really does.

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