February, aside from cold weather, brings Valentine’s Day and the commercialized spirit of expressing affection to loved ones.
However, , while letting those you care for know you appreciate them, there also exists the need to shed relationships that do not reciprocate our affections. These two acts are equally valuable in building a life that is satisfying.
At THIRA Health we find great value in principles of Dialectal Behavior Therapy, which permits us the ability to untether ourselves from ineffective relationships through exercises such as radical acceptance, mindfulness, and building strong interpersonal skills.
This Valentine’s Day, we hope that you find the people worth melting for, as well as allow yourself the freedom from those that make you feel like you are melting away.
Moving Away & Leaning In
According to the ever-growing mountain of research on the benefits of interpersonal relationships, it has been shown again and again that as humans, we are inherently programmed to be connected to one another. The benefits of meaningful relationships are found not only in our emotional health – they can be physical as well.
Relationships can provide us with a sense of purpose or belonging, and decrease feelings of isolation that often lead to anxiety and depression. Simply put, being connected to others allows us to also connect with ourselves when we experience mutual trust, support, and emotional intimacy.
A common misconception (no thanks to romantic comedies with their unrealistic depictions of relationships) is that relationships should feel effortless, easy, and exist without conflict. The truth is, relationships can feel easy, and conflict can be managed, but it does not come without work.
With this truth in mind, it is essential to explore when we should either lean into (or invest) in relationships, or move away from relationships that deplete our energy and provide nothing in return.
How DBT Helps
We can find the heart of Dialectical Behavior Therapy in the definitive term “dialectical,” meaning a “synthesis or integration of opposites.” DBT helps clients to understand the gray area that exists in emotions and the human experience, relying on mechanisms of both acceptance and change to move individuals to a place of growth, resilience, and awareness. DBT builds on facts and intuition to make decisions and teaches skills that emphasize self-awareness as key to achieving effectiveness, mindfulness of the present moment, tolerating distressing events, and regulating emotions. Relationships are a complex experience that require an ability to tolerate differences, mutual respect, and understanding others’ emotions with care and humility.
Within the treatment setting, DBT empowers clients to move out of a place that is dark, helpless, and out of control, through emotional tolerance, and into an emotional experiencing that is mindful, peaceful, and clear. From this context true connection and relationship to others may begin.
Through the lens of DBT, below are some exercises and questions for reflection to start to move us into knowing ourselves in the context of our relationships.
When leaning in…
- Review the DBT skill: “How to Make Friends and Get People to Like You.” Finding quality friends will take some effort on your part. Know where and what to look for in the friend-finding process, and how to develop your conversational skills.
- Know your own emotional cues. Many of us walk through the world with wounds – either from past trauma or present circumstances – and without adequate tools to manage them. For example, when we feel uncared for because our partner is too busy to talk to us, it might remind us of other unmet emotional needs or relationship losses. When we are clear about our history and what may be prompting our response, it creates breathing room to reflect and “check the facts” of the situation.
- Say what you mean and say what you need. Learning how to communicate in effective ways, by methods that aren’t blaming or stigmatizing, may require undoing the ways we have navigated past relationships. Simply put, assume that your partner, friend, or loved one requires context for what you are feeling or needing. Be careful to avoid the assumption that they care, that they should already know what you need. Let others understand you well by communicating with intention, as well as practice saying “no” when needed. Only through clear communication can true intimacy grow.
- Observe Deeply. Listen to others as if you are hearing something for the first time, and stay curious about their experience. Don’t just wait for someone to pause so you can say what you’ve been dying to tell him or her – those who do this are too focused on their response to listen to the speaker with any understanding. Active listening pushes us to be in the present moment. Focus on what the other person is saying by taking an interest and letting go of the need to be right, or getting the last word. When you notice judgmental thoughts, do your best to adopt a nonjudgmental stance and let them go.
When moving away…
- Speak firmly, with love. Breakups, whether romantic or platonic, are painful. If you choose to move away from a relationship for your mental health or peace of mind, speak from a place of love by exercising empathy, but also remain steadfast and firm.
- Stay in your Wise Mind. Decide to end relationships from a calm and centered state when your emotions and reason are in balance.
- Set and Observe Your Limits. Be clear and expressive about how you wish to be spoken to and treated, ways in which your personal limits or rights have been violated, and be about what you expect from the other person going forward.
- Tolerate the distance. The ending or distancing of relationships may bring up past traumas, memories, or difficult emotional experiences. Support yourself through journaling or speaking with a therapist to ground yourself in truth about the destructive or interfering relationship.
THIRA Health is dedicated to helping women and girls with life-threatening mental illnesses achieve a life worth living, rebuild positive relationships and create distance from distressing relationships and interactions. To learn more, please contact us at 425-448-8808.