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#StopSuicide & DBT Distress Tolerance Skills Overview

Here is a general overview about DBT and who DBT can help.

This post will discuss Distress Tolerance skills.

First, lets define dialectic. Dialectic means to be able to believe there are two (or maybe multiple) ideas or thoughts or feelings that can be true at once.

We all know what it’s like to have mixed feelings about something or to have mixed thoughts about what is “right.” We’ve all had the feeling of being so angry in an argument that we are put into fight or flight mode and then we can only see our point of view. We get blinded by the physiology of our emotions. In fight or flight mode, our focus narrows so we can defend or flee. Our minds and emotions close down.

This either/or reaction is also known as black and white thinking, which is a symptom of depression and other mental health conditions. Getting stuck in black and white thinking shrinks your world and feeds the mental health disorder with a continuous loop of bad feelings. Experiencing the full spectrum allows you to live life more fully, as you open up and allow for other possibilities, thoughts and feelings to exist at once.

But, I can’t stop this from happening, you say!

Yes, some people are by nature and/or nurture able to experience the spectrum of life naturally. Bu most people can benefit from skills training where you methodically learn emotional intelligence and behavioral skills.

And the DBT Distress Tolerance skills are great tools to further your emotional intelligence and reduce psychic pain in your life.

So let’s take a look at the Distress Tolerance Skills. The DT skills teach us to move more skillfully along the dialectic of acceptance and avoidance. What does that mean?

The thing is, some of us are better at tolerating distress than others. And this is for a variety of reasons: usually a combination of a chaotic and/or abusive home life, subsequent traumatic life experiences, lack of education and genetics.

With training, we can all get better at tolerating distress. By practicing DBT skills, you can learn to tolerate distress more skillfully and effectively. So you can lead a better life, and not be constantly hit by tidal waves of emotion.

When to use skills that help you Tolerate a Distressful situation?

Distress Tolerance Skills are coping skills to apply:

  • short term

  • when you’re feeling an emotional tsunami

  • when all you can is STOP yourself from doing something destructive

  • when all you can do is know what NOT to do

  • when you can’t think of anything positive to do

  • to help you survive a crisis situation without making things worse

  • to help yourself survive terrible psychic pain

  • to quiet your fight or flight response

  • when things feel unfair and all is stacked against you

  • when you feel overwhelmed and stuck in bad feelings

  • when your thinking brain is offline

One of the basic ideas behind Distress Tolerance is that pain and distress are a part of life and they can’t be entirely avoided or removed.

We all know that sometimes things just can’t be changed. We can either let this thing eat us alive or we can learn to non-judgmentally accept it and eventually move on.

So, the first thing about acquiring the ability to tolerate distress is to realize that pain and suffering is part of life and can’t be avoided or removed. And learning to detach from the situation and not judge yourself and others for their reactions helps move you through the immediate crisis.

The DBT skills are about accepting yourself, others and situations as they are.

It’s important to understand that Acceptance doesn’t mean approval.

But the thing about learning to tolerate distress is that you use the skills so that you can help yourself move forward, don’t feel stuck in terrible psychic pain and don’t do something impulsive to make things worse.

What does non-judgmental acceptance of a situation do for you in your life? It helps you live a realistic life where there is still normal pain (as pain is part of life) but not that awful feeling of overwhelm and being stuck. Linehan (2015) describes it like:

Pain + Non-Acceptance = LOTSA suffering and STUCKNESS
Pain + Acceptance = Normal pain (still intense) but
Moving Forward is possible


Useful DBT Skills Training articles:


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