Dr. Susanna La
Skills to Start Living Your Best Life
Updated: Mar 10
Do you struggle with overwhelming emotions? Do you find it difficult to maintain relationships? Do you engage in self-destructive behaviors? If you answered "yes" to these questions, know you are not alone. You are trying your best.
We are born with the capacity to experience a wide spectrum of emotions, but we are not usually taught how to cope with them. Emotions, such as sadness, anxiety, and even anger, can be difficult to manage, especially if our early caregivers invalidated our emotions. This can lead to difficulty understanding and processing emotions as adults. Some underregulate emotions through extreme reactions/outbursts; others overregulate through disconnecting and numbing out emotions. Both strategies prevent us from fully experiencing and accepting our emotions. As a consequence, our emotions can cause us to lash out or isolate ourselves from others as well as cope in unhelpful ways that can actually hurt us.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
It makes sense that we can struggle with emotional coping if we were not taught the proper skills. The good news is we can learn different strategies to deal with challenging circumstances, so we can build a life that works for us. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan to help people cope with depression, anxiety, trauma, substance use issues, and relationship problems (Linehan, 2020).
The dialectics within DBT describes how we can focus on both - making meaningful life changes within our control and accepting life circumstances we cannot change (Linehan, 2020). Often, the challenges we face in life and the way we respond are valid, but they may not help us move towards our desired outcome.
The Four Skills of DBT
Below are descriptions of the four key DBT skills and how they can be helpful to use.
Mindfulness skills help us to focus on the present moment, so we can pay attention to our current thoughts, feelings, and sensations. We can approach problems more effectively through becoming aware of our experience in an open and nonjudgmental way. If we are overwhelmed by an emotion or memory, we can ground ourselves by focusing our attention on our five senses or our breath, which can allow us to come back to the present moment. With more clarity and calmness, we can approach a situation more thoughtfully. You can learn more about mindfulness here.
2) Distress Tolerance
Some emotions can hurt, especially if they are intense. Distress tolerance skills help us to survive an emotional crisis through exercises, such as relaxation, encouraging statements, and self-soothing. While we cannot escape pain, we can reduce the suffering that comes from fighting our emotions or our current reality. When we can lessen our psychological pain through healthy ways of coping, we can decrease potential self-destructive behaviors.
3) Emotion Regulation
We have to name it to tame it. Our emotions communicate different messages to ourselves and others. Sometimes, our emotions fit the situation while other times they do not, especially if we don’t have all the information in the moment. Emotion regulation skills help us decide if we can focus on problem-solving or engage in another activity to change our emotions. This skill also emphasizes the importance of caring for our basic needs like eating, sleep, and exercise, so we can have a healthy foundation to deal with difficult emotions.
4) Interpersonal Effectiveness
Relationships take work as does effective communication. Interpersonal effectiveness skills help us to interact more clearly with others. We learn to prioritize our needs by asserting our boundaries and expressing to others how we want our needs met. We also learn how our behaviors and language impact other people, which can help us better understand and validate others. Essentially, this skill communicates everyone's wants/needs matter, so let’s figure out a balanced way of navigating the relationship.
All of us have inner wisdom; our internal compass helps us determine which choices are most likely to benefit us in the long-term to live a worthwhile life. Sometimes, we need some support in building our coping skills toolkit, so we can have more options and the ability to live our desired lives.
If you are interested in learning and/or practicing DBT skills, you can reach out to us here.
Stay tuned. Our next topic is “Connecting With Your Inner Wisdom.”
Linehan, M. (2020). Building a Life Worth Living.
Written by Susanna La, Ph.D.
Edited by Elena Duong, Psy.D.