DBT Group: Week Seven – Part I – Accumulating Positive Emotions – Short Term

Module: Emotion Regulation

I’m going to split Week Seven into two parts because what we covered was the ABC Skills, and the first one, (A) Accumulating Positive Emotions: Short Term and Long Term, and I think each of these deserves its own post in order to more fully explore how important short term positive emotions and long term positive emotions are in helping us to reduce vulnerability, and towards living a more fulfilled, positive life.

Homework Take-Up:
Handout:
Emotion Regulation Handout 15 – Accumulating Positive Emotions: Short Term
Handout Reference:
Emotion Regulation Handout 16 – Pleasant Events List (3 pgs)
Worksheet:
Emotion Regulation Worksheet 10 – Pleasant Events Diary

Emotion Regulation Handout 14 – Overview: Reducing Vulnerability to Emotion Mind – Building a Life Worth Living
(A) – Accumulating Positive Emotions
          – Short Term
           – Long Term
(B) – Building Mastery and a sense of competence
(C) – Coping Ahead to better manage emotional situations
(P.L.E.A.S.E. – Treating Physical Illness, Avoid Mood-Altering Substances, Balanced Eating, Balanced Sleep, Get Exercise) – Taking care of your health and well-being physically deserves as much attention as taking care of your mental health and well-being

Starting with:
Emotion Regulation Handout 14 – Overview: Reducing Vulnerability to Emotion Mind – Building a Life Worth Living
First Box (Overview): (A) Accumulate Positive Emotions – Short Term
Moving to:
Emotion Regulation Handout 15 – Accumulating Positive Emotions: Short Term
Emotion Regulation Handout 16 – Pleasant Events List (3 
pgs)

As someone suffering with a personality disorder, among other issues, I am exceptionally familiar with negative emotions and negative experiences. Even some things that others might not find negative or overwhelming, including positive emotions and experiences, I can quickly become overwhelmed, frustrated, and suddenly it’s no longer a positive emotion or experience.

I’m sure my fellow Borderliners will understand what I mean.

Despite the struggles that any emotion can give me, or almost anyone suffering with a disorder, it is vitally important to make sure the positive emotions and experiences are not lost in the chaos.

Part of learning to manage emotions means creating, recognizing, and appreciating positive ones, and giving them just as much attention as we do to the negative ones.

It’s not an easy thing to do for some with BPD. I personally, tend to gloss over positive emotions a lot. In part because I often just don’t know what to do with them positive emotions or experiences, but also because I’m so used to negatives emotions and experiences, that I fear the positive ones will either be taken away or suppressed by a negative emotion.

An example of this would be when I feel proud of completing a task and instead of letting myself feel the pride, and acknowledge that I did something well. I will almost immediately feel guilt, fear, or shame, or all three. I’ll feel guilty for feeling proud when it was just some simple task. I’ll also feel shame that I was proud over such a simple task, but also because there are so many other tasks I haven’t completed. And then finally there is fear. The fear has two levels, one is the fear that someone will tell me that I am wrong to feel so proud, and the other is that the good feeling won’t last, something, or someone will just take it away. Usually it’s the shame and guilt that crap all over it, take it away. So I do it to myself, but I can’t help it. I feel like if I do it first, it will hurt less if someone else tries to take it away. It’s so ingrained in me that I actually often fear happiness or positive experiences for the reasons I listed above.

Having positive experiences and positive emotions is very important to have though because a life filled with only negativity can take up so much space in our minds and our lives, leading to depression, frustration, hopelessness, and anxiety. And frankly, it’s exhausting, to always be dealing with negativity, and feeling hopeless and helpless, and defeated.

The thing is, in the beginning of working with DBT and trying to heal from BPD, you actually have to work on building positive emotions. I know it seems like an odd thing to do but typically those with BPD, are so focused on negative experiences and negative emotions, that the positive emotions get lost in the chaos, if they even make it to our minds at all.

For me, it was surprisingly hard. I didn’t think having positive experiences would be so hard, but it was. First just choosing what positive experience, or “pleasant event” to do was hard. How do I find something to do that I find pleasant AND I can fit into my day, as naturally as possible? Then once I found ones that seemed doable, actually following through and doing it was an entirely different story.

Emotion Regulation Handout 16 – Pleasant Events List (3 pgs)
There are 225 items on this list, all considered to be pleasant activities or experiences. Of course, it’s all highly subjective, and I doubt there’s anyone that would enjoy all 225 of them. The list covers a wide range of interests, hobbies, and experiences; from hiking and playing team sports, to collecting and shopping, to working on cars or visiting museums. The list is pretty extensive and I think most people would be able to find several things that they would enjoy doing. Plus you can add your own.

I found about 75 things that I enjoy doing or would like to try. My next step was to do them. But every time I went through the list I had created, I found reasons not to do them; I had no money, or I didn’t have the time, or I didn’t want to go alone, or I was too afraid to try it, or it was something I couldn’t do because of where I lived, like being in the city, and wanting to go fishing.

Truthfully, the ideas seemed too small to even matter, or make any kind of difference, like reading a newspaper, or they were too big, like going on a vacation, or too new and difficult, like learning how to play the piano, or too scary, like joining a book club.

But the DBT facilitators insisted that I find at least a few things to do, even if they are all small, and do my best to fit them into my day over the next week.

So what I did was pick seven small, easy things, and schedule them into my week. I scheduled them in so that I would purposely make the time and I wouldn’t forget. It was surprising how easy it was to forget to do something pleasant. That’s how unnatural this was for me.

I ended up doing four of the seven things. I was proud that I at least tried, and out of seven, I did more than half. Taking time out of my day and doing something that I enjoyed, just for me, and doing it wholeheartedly, and mindfully; no multi-tasking, or cutting corners, I did it for me, all the way.

I gotta say, it was nice. It was nice to spend time doing something that I enjoyed for the sole purpose that I enjoyed doing it. I was pleased, and it actually helped my mood. There was, unfortunately, a downside to doing pleasant events, and that was maintaining it. Doing pleasant activities for myself every week, even if it’s only one or two, was actually really, really, hard for me.

It seemed like the negative stuff had no problems showing up and taking over my day, but the positive stuff actually takes work. What’s up with that? That seems unbalanced and unfair. Although, to be fair, I can’t say that if I didn’t plan it, nothing pleasant ever happened, but between the number of negative emotions and experiences and positive emotions and experiences, the positive ones definitely required more work.

I really hadn’t anticipated this being an issue. I thought fitting in positive experiences would be easy as hell, but it wasn’t. It was hard. In fact, it still is hard. Every week since this homework was assigned I’ve had to make an effort to have at least one positive experience at some point during the week. And I am sorry to say that sometimes I have fallen short, and I don’t do it. My biggest is obstacle is me and my mood.

There have been a number of times where I just didn’t feel like it. I don’t feel like doing something positive. I feel blue or disinterested. I try to do it as Opposite Action, and a couple of times it worked but not every time. It’s just so hard. But I know it needs to be done for me to take care of myself.

I think that’s part of my problem actually, sometimes I don’t feel worthy of taking care of myself. Sometimes I think, what’s the point? Does it really matter? The answer to that is, yes it does matter. It does make a difference, and I really need to take care of myself in all aspects of my life, not just when it’s easy or convenient.

I still am working on it…

Next Post will be Week Seven – Part II – Accumulating Positive Emotions – Long Term

Skills, Handouts, and Worksheets from DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan. Copyright 2015 by Marsha M. Linehan.

 

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