In earlier blog posts, you learned that trauma has a way of throwing us off balance. Just about everything can get thrown off balance by trauma: our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions. And since trauma by definition represents an extreme situation, trauma tends to force our thoughts, feelings, and actions into extreme positions as well. In other words, we learn to either over-think or under-think, over-feel or under-feel, and over-act or under-act. These extreme positions were necessary to survive the original trauma. For example, in order to survive sexual abuse, maybe you had to learn to over-think your abuser’s every mood and move while under-feeling your own pain and suffering. However, even after the original trauma has long ended, sometimes we continue to maintain these extreme positions. In short, we have lost our balance because we no longer know how to operate in the middle; we are constantly stuck at one extreme or the other.
The same applies to our relationships! In fact, research shows that trauma which is caused by people causes much more emotional damage than trauma caused by natural disasters—such as hurricanes and tornadoes (Fowler, Allen, Oldhamab, Frueh, 2013). That’s because as people we need people. And when people hurt us…it really, really hurts. Therefore, when trauma involves people, all of our relationships are potentially affected: personal relationships, professional relationships, intimate relationships—and even spiritual relationships. Not only are our relationships knocked off balance, but they are also forced to the extremes…just like everything else.
Relational imbalance starts when we learn to either over-rely or under-rely on other people. On one hand, we over-rely on other people when we become too needy, too clingy, or too helpless. We want other people to heal all of our wounds and fix all of our problems. On the other hand, we under-rely on other people when think we should be able to fix everything on our own…and sometimes we even burn bridges that we cannot afford to burn. In other words, trauma can sometimes cause us to become either too dependent or too independent.
So far in this workbook, you have learned lots of skills. You have learned how to become more aware and more accepting. You have learned how to cope better with stress, triggers, and urges. You have learned how to manage your emotions and think with greater flexibility. In short, you have been learning how to regain your balance, which is the entire point of DBT!
Now that you are learning greater balance with your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, it’s time to start finding balance in your relationships as well. But do you see why you had to learn all of these other skills first? Since relationships by definition involve you and other people, you can’t possibly find balance with others if you are still off balance yourself! In order to improve your relationships with other people, it’s really important that you are using and practicing the skills you have learned so far.
Think about it this way: How can you be aware and accepting of other people—if you are not even aware and accepting of yourself? How can you deal with other people’s triggers—if you cannot even deal with your own triggers? How can you respond to other people’s thoughts and feelings—if you cannot even regulate your own thoughts and feelings? Trust me, you will need all of these skills when it comes to relationships!
Fortunately, however, just like you have been learning skills all along to achieve balance in other areas of your life, there are also skills you can learn to restore balance in all of your relationships—whether personal or public, private or professional. In this chapter, you will learn the middle path between too much dependence versus too much independence. You will learn a simple formula (DEAR Adult) that will help you assert your perspective, appreciate someone else’s perspective, and apologize when you have caused hurt or harm. In addition, you will learn how to do all of this with the right delivery, by using the Adult Voice (as opposed to the Child Voice or Parent Voice). By using the Adult Voice, you will learn to maintain your calm and composure in any situation, ranging from crisis to small talk. By the end of this chapter, you will also learn how to nurture relationships that are worth nurturing, as well as untangle yourself from dysfunctional relationships that either need to change…or end.