So far you have been on quite the journey! Earlier, we learned that trauma has a way of throwing everything off balance, including our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviors, and our relationships. Since trauma by definition represents an extreme situation, trauma sends each of these areas of our lives into extreme positions. For example, in order to deal with trauma as it’s happening, we learn to both over-feel / under-feel, both over-think / under-think, and both over-act / under-act relative to our normal baseline. The entire purpose of DBT is to restore balance in each of these areas.
We learned the concept of mindfulness, which we defined as “paying attention, on purpose, in the present, without judging” (Siegel, 2007). Next we learned the magic formula of applied mindfulness: awareness, acceptance, action. Action without awareness or acceptance is pretty much mindless reaction…and we don’t always make the best decisions when we just react! However, the more we can increase our awareness and acceptance of life, the better we become at taking action more effectively. In this chapter, we specifically learned to become more mindful of thoughts, feelings, needs, and goals.
We learned that awareness, acceptance, and action do not just happen overnight. All three skills require lots of practice and tend to unfold in stages. We also learned that our “blind spots” are the first and biggest barriers to awareness, acceptance, and action. When we have blind spots, we are not aware, we do not accept, and we do not take appropriate action. In this chapter, we learned practical tips to break through our blind spots in order to reach greater levels of awareness / acceptance / action. However, sometimes we also need the help of an honest but supportive friend, mentor, or counselor to point out our blind spots so that we do not stay stuck in unhealthy patterns.
We learned that fight, flight, and freeze is a great way of dealing with danger or crisis—but not such a great way of dealing with the rest of life. That’s why we learned Extreme Acceptance as well as many specific coping skills to provide our brains with other options. As we learned, effective coping is all about learning to “survive the moment without it making it worse.” Coping skills are designed to be short-term interventions to help us deal with intense triggers, stressors, urges, or cravings. They are also designed to replace other forms of (ineffective) coping, such as drugs and self-harm. In short, coping skills are designed to be efficient ways of restoring us to the Balanced Mind whenever life knocks us off balance.
We learned specific ways of using the Balanced Mind to restore balance to both our thoughts and feelings. In chapter four, we learned to identify unbalanced thoughts through the acronym ANT’s (Automatic Negative Thoughts). In addition, we learned to balance these ANT’s by working the TOM (thought, opposite, middle) and playing the DS (dialectical synonyms). In Chapter five, we learned to balance our emotions by taking care of our bodies, eliminating myths, checking the facts, learning to solve problems, acting opposite, adding positives, building mastery, and coping ahead.
We learned that trauma even affects our relationships. As a result of trauma, we learn to become either too passive or too aggressive, either too independent or too dependent. Therefore, we once again discussed the need to find a middle path. When it comes to relationships, we found this middle path by learning to assert, appreciate, and apologize; by learning to use the Adult Voice; by learning to balance our needs with the needs of others; and by learning to recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship. We even learned the balance between transforming relationships that can be redeemed—versus terminating those that cannot. Finally, we learned that we cannot possibility deal with other people’s thoughts, feelings, triggers, and reactions if we can’t even manage our own!
Now that you have made it this far in the journey, we need to start pulling all these skills and concepts together, and keep the balance we have worked so hard to achieve. Earlier on, we learned that we have not truly and fully changed until we maintain that change over time. Now that we have found some balance, how do we stay balanced?
Next, we will learn two practical exercises that will help you implement all of these skills on a daily basis: The Diary Card and the Pattern Wheel. In addition, you will write yourself a series of letters to help you both process and heal from your previous traumas. Remember the DEAR Adult tools we learned previously? Soon you will be writing DEAR Self letters to your traumatized Self! Finally, we will learn a short and simple yet extremely powerful poem which will help you review where you’ve been and what you’ve learned throughout this workbook.