Mindfulness is at the center of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). You have read about what mindfulness practice consists of, I’d like to continue with how it is practiced according to DBT. Remember the goal of mindfulness in DBT is to achieve Wise Mind, that balance between your emotional and reasonable mind. As you read the following, think about how you could apply them to a current issue in your life.
Mindfulness “How” Skills
From Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan (1993) The Guilford Press
- See but don’t evaluate. Take a nonjudgmental stance.
Just the facts. Focus on the “what”, not the “good” or the “bad”, the “terrible” or the “wonderful”, the “should” or the “should not.”
- Unglue your opinions from the facts, from the “who, what, when and where.”
- Accept each moment, each event as a blanket spread out on the lawn accepts both rain and sun, each leaf that falls upon it.
- Acknowledge the helpful, the wholesome, but don’t judge it. Acknowledge the harmful, the unwholesome, but don’t judge it.
- When you find yourself judging, don’t judge your judging.
This skill provides a valuable tool for tackling the negative self-talk that so many trauma survivors experience. This skill is about not labeling what you do as “good” or “bad”, but instead focusing on the outcome.
- Do one thing at a time. When you are eating, eat. When you are walking, walk. When you are bathing, bathe. When you are working, work. When you are in a group, or a conversation, focus your attention on the very moment you are in with the other person.
When you are thinking, think. When you are worrying, worry. When you are planning, plan. When you are remembering, remember.
Do each thing with all of your attention.
- If other actions, or thoughts, or strong feelings distract you, let go of distractions and go back to what you were doing– again and again and again.
- Concentrate your mind. If you find you are doing two things at once, stop and go back to one thing at a time.
Being fully present in your life means learning how to focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking can be another way to distract from the moment and what you feel. As such it can get in the way of learning how to cope effectively with your experiences. This tool can be especially useful for those trauma survivors with dissociative disorders; working on focusing on one thing across different parts of you, for example, could be a step towards building co-consciousness (the ability to be aware of and/or present with different parts of yourself simultaneously).
- Focus on what works. Do what needs to be done in each situation.
Stay away from “fair” and “unfair”, “right” and “wrong”, “should” and “should not”.
- Play by the rules. Don’t “cut your nose off to spite your face.”
- Act as skillfully as you can, meeting the needs of the situation you are in. Not the situation you wish you were in; not the one that is “just”; not the one that is “more comfortable”; not the one that…”
- Keep an eye on your objectives in the situation and do what is necessary to achieve them.
- Let go of vengeance, useless anger, and righteousness that hurts you and doesn’t work.
This last skill reminds me of the familiar question “do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”. Trauma survivors have experienced so much injustice, so much that was not fair or right in any way, it is understandable that they may be triggered in the present by situations that bring up those feelings. Learning how to compromise, not sweat the small stuff, or pick your battles is what effectiveness is all about. Viewing effectiveness as a skill you can master to improve your life gives you a more positive way to conceptualize such situations.