DBT workbook – Part I

Last December, I came across a post with an intriguing excerpt from a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) workbook and a link to the full text. I saved the link, planning to read the whole thing when I had more time, but neglected to save the text itself, and when I came back later, the site was offline.

However, today I found a working link to the same workbook! This time, I saved it immediately. The excerpted page was page 29, Reality Statements for Interpersonal Effectiveness, and if the whole workbook is like this page, it could be very helpful to me. So I’ll read it, and I’ll probably have some thoughts and comments about it which I might leave on this blog. Feel free to join me!

The first glance at the actual book has me a bit more wary and guarded than the excerpt: right after the title (on page 2), there’s a very woo-ey quote.

…willingness is saying yes to the mystery of being alive in each moment. It bows in some kind of reverence to the wonder of life itself…

—Gerald May

What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Sure, there are things about being alive we don’t know yet and which might be mysterious in some sense (I’m mostly thinking of details of brain functions here), but what the hell is it supposed to be that we’re saying yes to here, and what would saying no look like? “No, I am not alive” is a self-contradictory statement – if I’m able to make (or think) statements, I am obviously alive. “No, there is nothing mysterious here” depends on people’s opinions of mysteries.
And “willingness” is much more than saying yes to a certain thing. If I’m willing to say yes to browsing tumblr, that is willingness that has nothing whatsoever to do with mysteries of being alive, and yet it’s clearly willingness all the same.
And that was only the first sentence. I won’t even bother with the “reverence” part.

The table of contents looks interesting and fairly unobjectionable. (Except for the fact it’s in Comic Sans maybe. Although that’s more of a learned reaction based on general social disapproval for the font than any actual objections on my part – I don’t even know what’s supposed to be so bad about Comic Sans, and I’ve heard it’s a dyslexic-friendly font, which sounds good.)

The book is divided into seven parts, though the last two are called “Emotions Glossary” and “Skills List Cheat Sheet” and might not contain much content any more. The parts also seem quite varied in length. I’m going to start with Part I (Opening Materials) today and see how far I get, although it might be a good idea to split these blog posts up into parts corresponding to the book sections regardless of when I read the sections/write the posts.

Anyway, let’s jump in!

Page 5 brings more woo in form of a poem about wind whistling through bamboo and a lake. I might understand what they’re trying to tell here, but I didn’t come here for poems, and poems are a really shitty way of conveying information in any case.

Page 6 are group guidelines for the therapy group the workbook was made for. It’s not relevant for me, since I’m not part of any therapy group, and it might not be relevant for the book, but I skimmed it anyway, grinned at rule three (“Limit napping to times outside of group. Maintain responsibility for keeping yourself awake during group”), and felt uncomfortable with rules seven and eight:

7. Keep trauma-related information and self-harm experience to yourself and do not share this with other patients either in group or outside of group.
8. Strive to be non-judgmental about what other group members say. Find something that you agree with in what they say, even if there’s part of it that you disagree with.

The first feels like a gag order more than anything else, and runs counter to the impression I have of therapy groups (isn’t the point of therapy groups that you can talk about and work on trauma and bad impulses?). The latter feels dangerous because someone might say something I wholly disagree with.
But, well, fortunately I’m not part of any group.

Page 7 very nearly has me noping out of there again:

Two things that seem like (or are) opposites can both be true.

No, they can’t! If they are opposites, they cannot be simultaneously true by definition!

All people have something unique, different, and worthy to teach us.

This is possible, but not necessarily true. I believe your confidence in this statement to be unwarranted and am appropriately leery of both the statement and you.

A life worth living has both comfortable and uncomfortable aspects (happiness AND sadness; anger AND peace; hope AND discouragement; fear AND ease; etc).

Well, factually, this is true, since all lives we know of contain comfortable as well as uncomfortable aspects. But it doesn’t have to be – a life worth living might very well contain only comfortable aspects in theory.

All points of view have both TRUE and FALSE within them.

This is incorrect. “The lamp on my desk is blue” is a false point of view. It does not contain any truth. With all the “alternative facts” around in society right now, and due to the tendencies of many groups to try to push a view in which all opinions are equally valid, no matter how unfounded or contradictory to actual facts, I have strong negative emotional responses to statements like this.

You are right AND the other person is right.

This can very well be true if and only if we are right about different things. Due to the many ambiguities of typical human communication, it is entirely possible that we are indeed talking about different things without realizing, and I am perfectly willing to explore this possibility.

You are doing the best that you can AND you need to try harder, do better, and be more motivated to change.

Well, that’s just fucking depressing. If I’m doing the best I can, and it’s still not enough, apparently my best just isn’t enough.
Although it does beg the question of what exactly I need to do this for. By which standards do I need to do better in this scenario? What happens if I do, and what happens if I don’t? Is it actually in my interest and accordance with my values to do better? The same questions apply to the next statement, “You can take care of yourself AND you need help and support from others.”

Despite my many issues with this part of the page, I’m fine with and willing to do what they say being dialectical means below, though. So I’ll move on and see how they want me to implement this and whether it requires me to believe any of their wrong statements or not. (Heh heh, un-dialectical all-or-nothing thinking.)
I’m a bit more cautious about approaching this now, though.

Page 8 (and given that I’m only on page 8 of 95 by now, I think part I will be more than enough for today) helpfully has guidelines for dialectical thinking.
Aaaand there’s trouble!

Find the “kernel of truth” in every side”, they write in bold black letters. Well, what if there is none? Do I have to create one? Do I have to lie to myself in order to think dialectical? Because this is something I am not willing to do at any price. Been there, done that, and once I take a step away from caring about whether something is true, there are dark paths I could take that don’t end well at all. If I have to choose, I will prioritize truth above dialectical thinking.

Remember: NO ONE owns the truth. Be open and willing.

I’m not sure what this means – you can’t “own” truth, only know it (copyright issues and such aside). Given the context, I am inclined to think it means more of the “everyone is right!” thinking that is incorrect and not something I will adopt.

If you feel indignant or outraged, you are NOT being dialectical.

Well, so much for that, then.

Use “I feel…” statements, instead of “You are…” statements.

The beginning of this is weirdly reminiscent of NVC, but as long as I’m allowed to do statements that are neither, I am okay with that.

Accept that different opinions can be legitimate, even if you do not agree with them:
“I can see your point of view even though I do not agree with it.”

What does it mean for an opinion to be legitimate, in your (heh) opinion? Generally, “legitimate” means “not illegal”, and of course there are many perfectly legal opinions out there that I disagree with. But I don’t think that’s what’s meant here, and I don’t know what is.

In sum, they have eight Do‘s and two Don’t‘s on this page. About four of the former and both of the latter are things I can endorse. (“About four” because one of them is the one about using “I feel” statements, which I can endorse more because it will be easy to avoid rather than because it’s something I actually think is good.) Two of the Do‘s are things I don’t understand and therefore cannot take a position on, one is one I actively disagree with (finding the kernel of truth in everything), and one is kind of moot because I’m already feeling indignant and outraged with a lot of this.

Page 9 has a “Dialectics Homework Sheet” which gives seven groups of three statement each, with the instruction to circle the dialectical one. Can you spot the dialectical one in the example giving below?

a. It’s hopeless. Why even try? I give up.
b. My problems are gone, this is easy.
c. This is hard for me, and I’m going to keep working at it.

Most of them make me indignant once more, paradoxically because I think about them too dialectically to feel they’re mutually exclusive:

a. I’m totally right about this—it’s the truth!
b. I’m stupid. Everyone else is always right about things.
c. Well, I can see it this way, and you see it that way.

c can be true regardless of whether a and b are true! If I am right about something, I see it a certain way, and someone else might see it another way. If I am wrong about something, the same applies. While a and b are mutually exclusive (they are contradictions that cannot be true simultaneously, regardless of what page 7 said), either of them can be combined with c to form a single point of view.

The seventh one also has my toes curl again:

a. I hate you for doing what you did. I am done being your friend.
b. It shouldn’t be any big deal if other people hurt me.
c. You really hurt my feelings and we will have to work it out.

Sometimes, being done being one’s friend is an entirely appropriate response to having one’s feelings hurt. We are not and should not be obligated to “work it out” with everyone who hurts us.

Page 10 deals with validation, which, according to them, means “telling someone that what they feel, think, believe, and experience is: real logical understandable“. They follow this up with:

Self-validation is when you are able to quietly reassure yourself that what you feel
inside is real, is important, and makes sense.

I’m not sure if they meant for those two words to mean such different things, or if they were trying to put the same thing into other words and failed. Making sense might be some mixture of logical and understandable, but being important was not in the original definition at all.
Both importance and logic don’t really make sense without a frame of reference – logic refers mostly to the way different propositions fit together (e.g. the logical conclusions of the propositions “all men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man” is “Socrates is mortal”), and importance is relative.

Another interesting point is that not all emotions are valid under all circumstances by these definitions. My experiences of gender dysphoria certainly did not seem to make any sense, nor did they follow logically from anything I believed – they only started to do so after I (tentatively) arrived at the beliefs that there was a kind of gender distinct from physical characteristics and one’s gender assignment, and that this gender could differ from the others. (Given those, though, a lot of my experiences suddenly started making a lot of sense.)

So, even though I’m not the expert here, I’d cautiously modify their approach to validation and add that sometimes, feelings and experiences are not understandable from the present point of view (or possibly at all), and sometimes they don’t seem to make sense, but that doesn’t mean they’re not real or less important. It just might mean they’re harder to deal with because there’s no obvious starting point.

We ask ourselves:
DO I really feel this?
SHOULD I feel this way? (Is it the “right” thing to feel, even if it inconveniences someone else?)

The second question can be invalidating (and certainly feel so when other people try to tell us how we “should” feel), but it can also be a value-neutral question to ask in trying to decide on a course of action. For example, I don’t think I should feel as anxious as I do around other people and asserting myself, therefore I try to work on that. This is not invalidating my feelings of anxiety: they’re real, and they’re obviously important, and they are understandable given certain experiences. But they’re a problem in many situations, and I should feel differently.

Page 11 has validation strategies (or at least that’s what the title says).

If you are validating someone else, use good eye contact

No. (Is there even such a thing as “good” eye contact, as opposed to eye contact that feels forced and uncomfortable? For some people, there probably is.)

State the unstated—Note the presence of feelings, beliefs, etc. that have not been voiced: “You seem to feel angry, but also hurt by what that person said to you.”

….can everybody please never do this to me?

I know statements like this are a common recommendation in active listening, and now here as well, but when people do it too me, it usually just feels rude, presumptuous, intrusive, and mildly threatening.
Maybe it’s because I intuitively feel like certain negative emotions are character flaws (in me, not in other people), especially emotions like anger, and having others rub my nose in them (and then force me to confirm them) is highly unpleasant. Maybe it’s because they’re wrong sometimes – telling them so feels rude on my side (after all, I’m embarrassing them by pointing out their errors), and realizing they got the wrong impression makes me worry about what I’ve said or done to give them said impression.
In any case, I’d rather they wouldn’t try to guess at my feelings out loud.

Find what is true/valid about the experience and note this. Without feeling that you have to agree or approve of the experience, find a piece of it that makes perfect sense, and validate this.

Ugh, again. Although this is easier with feelings and/or whole experiences than opinions: usually, people do feel something for a reason, and even if that reason is a false belief, the feeling itself makes sense given the belief.

If validating someone else, even if you disagree with their behavior, find something
that you can empathize with—“When you get that angry, you want to strike out at

This is even worse than stating the unstated. What if they don’t feel a need to assault people when they get angry?

Page 12 contains exercises for validation practice, similar to the exercises for recognizing dialectical thinking on page 9. They’re mostly interesting – they were probably written specifically for the institution the workbook was made by and give some insight into the inpatient setting there – and I don’t really have any comments on them.

Which means we’re done for today, after the first twelve pages out of ninety-five and a mere 2713 words!


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