I've been revisiting the DBT Skills in a more structured way recently. It has brought unexpected challenges to my day to day practice. It has been some time since I have found myself noticing and, therefore recognising the distinction between primary and secondary emotions. Coming back to DBT skills after a time when I had become accustomed to a narrow range of skills which suited me and with which I had become comfortable, has reminded me that continuing to manage my emotions effectively starts with being able to notice and name the feelings I may be grappling with.
One day I found myself feeling unutterably irritable, angry even at the world in general, other people, but (an echo from the past) most of all at myself. It was an uncomfortable feeling as I have managed to achieve a reasonable level of equilibrium. However, I am embarking on a number of new projects which I find challenging.
In the past I would have been tempted to wallow in the discomfort, allowing it to grow into the impulse to self harm. The Poison Tree by William Blake, has always summed up the dangers of nurturing bitterness, anger and hatred, particularly when it is turned inward. 'I was angry with my friend, I told my wrath, my wrath did end, I was angry with my foe, I told it not, my wrath did grow...'
As someone who is emotionally sensitive, I find it easier to forgive others than to forgive myself. Self directed anger needs a range of skills to manage, particularly so it does not become a spur to self harm. Naming it is vital. Spiky was how I would describe my general sense of how I was feeling, but it took me a long time to name 'anger' as the surface emotion. The problem then became, angry at what?
Rather than sit and ruminate, nurturing and feeding the destructive emotion, I decided to 'stomp' it out. So, along with my dog, I embarked on a two hour brisk walk. One hour in, the feeling of anger moved and changed into another feeling. I realised then that I was feeling sad, I was missing some key relationships from my time in Mental Health Services. I have moved forward to a point where I can use my skills, I have learned to self reflect. However, there will be times when I need coaching and encouragement. I am moving into a phase where that needs to be something I do for myself, having previously relied on my Care Co-ordinator and DBT Therapist to guide my reflections.
It is good to reflect that the storm of irritability lasted around three hours from when I first felt angry to resolving the feeling into sadness and allowing myself to feel sad about good relationships that have past. It is ok, it is understandable. In the past most of my emotional life was dominated either by a feeling of numbness when I was engulfed in an amorphous cloud of numerous emotions, or outright irritability and anger at myself which periodically exploded against those closest to me, but primarily at myself.
'Telling' my feelings allows me to look the challenger in the face. I was able to move forward when I acknowledged that I was angry, used opposite action to deal with that feeling until the main emotion, sadness was ready to be named.
I am learning that when I can't immediately tell you what I am really feeling, I know it is just on the tip of my tongue... I am learning to make space and give myself time until I am ready to tell my feelings and stop them from becoming an all devouring monster.