Saturday, February 17, 2018
By Nancy G. Hall, MA, LCPC
Let’s demystify therapy a bit. It is not taking inventory of all of our faults. It’s not sheepishly listing all the ways you “failed” at recovery. But most of my clients excel at that skill. They can list all their missteps, outline how they fell short, and describe in excruciating detail all the evidence that confirms they are unworthy pieces of garbage. But what happens when I ask what went right? How were they good enough? Blink … blink … that’s a tough one. I’ll admit that it’s tough for me too.
Evolution has wisely provided us with a negativity bias, which means that our brains tend to hold on to negative experiences rather than positive ones. How is that wise? Well, it was more important for our prehistoric ancestors to remember where the saber-toothed tiger was instead of where the pretty flowers grew. The negativity bias helped ensure our survival. But this useful survival tool can become a hindrance in our relationships and sense of self-worth.
So how do we introduce intention to our negativity bias? Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) offers a few ideas to remind us that we don’t fail at everything all the time.
We can use the skill of Building Mastery to tap into that sense of accomplishment. These do not have to be monumental, life-changing challenges. They can be small—working a crossword puzzle, trying a new recipe. Or taking up a new sport of craft.
Building Mastery is a key component in what DBT calls Coping Ahead. Emotions can be tough to manage or regulate. And they’re even tougher when we’re in pain, not rested, or hungry. So we need to tend to those needs but also reach further. By choosing to set daily challenges for ourselves, we foster a sense of accomplishment and competence. We become mindful of what we can do instead of ruminating over what we cannot do. So when the difficult emotion starts to dislodge our inner anchor, we have a series of experiences that remind us that we are competent and able and can withstand the current challenge.
It’s hard to understand how doing a daily crossword puzzle can help when anxiety knocks you off your feet. But each reminder of our competency counters the self-judgment that waits to pounce at the slightest hint of imperfection. So set those daily challenges. And bask in your triumphs!
Nancy is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she facilitates the adult DBT group and the Eating Disorder Therapy Group. Like her on Facebook and subscribe to her personal blog.