Saturday, 18 October 2014

Opposite Action - the Suck it and See DBT Skill


I've gone against the grain today. I don't often feel the urge or need to spontaneously embark upon household chores. However, today I was feeling low - have been struggling a lot for the past couple of weeks.

Of course, when things are going well I don't pay attention to all of the DBT skills. I become complacent, lazy even, and revert to a few well worn skills which risk me not challenging or changing my difficult emotions at all. We are, after all, creatures of habit. When the foundational maintenance skills of the Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation modules, have not succeeded in preventing me from swinging down or up, I need to bring out the 'big guns' of Distress Tolerance and Emotion Change.

Often I don't really fancy the idea of Opposite Action, for two reasons. One is that the painful emotion is what I have become accustomed to and so I fail to recognise that I don't need, or deserve, to feel this way. The second reason is that it requires action and effort. When I am battling difficult emotions I am often weary. What I fail to remember every time I feel like this is that when I do 'give it a go', by moving and changing my posture and intention, I actually give myself a break from the draining emotions. I know that I have been told that opposite action to how I'm feeling will result in me no longer feeling as bad as when I embarked on doing the opposite action. That's why I now call it the 'suck it and see' skill.

If I'm not getting anywhere by allowing the emotion to dictate how I am behaving, then maybe doing the opposite to what I feel like doing, is worth trying.

This is how I have found myself discovering the delight of bright sparkling windows in my south facing kitchen just as the sun breaks through some threatening clouds. Having achieved this small triumph, I continued to produce sparkling dishes, enjoying the feeling of cleared worktops for the first time in a number of days. This is a reminder that when I was at my lowest my house resembled the aftermath of a house ransacking, not unlike how the ravages of my emotions had left me internally. It is this reality which means for me that Opposite Action is particularly effective. If my environment can reflect my inner turmoil, working to improve it can help me to overcome the same turmoil.

This leads me on to another aspect of Opposite Action which reveals a vital element of DBT Mindfulness; Willingness. In the past, I have struggled to understand this beyond feeling when I was challenged about it during treatment, that it meant I was being 'contrary' or 'difficult'. I have since learned that it is much deeper than that. When I decide to engage with people and life around me, then I willingly engage myself in life itself. If I shut myself away because of fear, anxiety, anger, mistrust or whatever feeling is driving me at the time, then I am saying that I am not willing to engage with the world around me. This means that I fail to enjoy the positives of life, because I fail to engage with them, for fear that in engaging with the positives, I will have to face the painful and difficult.

Today I was in danger of allowing my low mood to prevent me from engaging positively with my life as it is, rather than how I wish it could be. In deciding that I had nothing to lose in trying to do some small chores, I managed to overcome my low mood, for a time. I also have learned that my moods do not need to dictate the direction of my days. If I can overcome a mood for a minute, then I can learn to overcome it for an hour, a day, perhaps, a week and eventually I hope I will find that my moods no longer control me, but I control my moods.