DBT Group: Week Eight – Part I – Building Mastery

Module: Emotion Regulation

I’m going to split Week Eight into three parts because what we covered was the remaining two of the ABC Skills, (B) Building Mastery, and (C) Coping Ahead. The first one, (A) Accumulating Positive Emotions: Short Term (click here for post) and Long Term (click here for post). And the P.L.E.A.S.E. Skills (Treating PhysicaL illness, Balanced Eating, Avoid Mood-Altering Substances, Balanced Sleep, and Get Exercise.

I think each of these skills deserves its own post in order to more fully explore how important these skills are towards managing our emotions, helping us to reduce vulnerability, and towards living a more fulfilled, positive life.

Homework Take-Up:
Emotion Regulation Handout 19 – Build Mastery and Cope Ahead
Emotion Regulation Worksheet 12 – Build Mastery and Cope Ahead

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
Second Box (Overview): (B) Build Mastery
Moving to:
Emotion Regulation Handout 16 – Build Mastery and Cope Ahead

Building Mastery is something that at first I didn’t quite understand what it meant, or how it would apply to DBT. I had equated mastering something to a skill like learning how to play the piano, or learning a language, but with DBT Skills, how do you “build mastery”?

As it turns out, when learning DBT, you are learning skills, and as a skill they require mastering just as much as any other skill would. Some of the things you may work towards building mastery could be easier things in your life, like flossing every time you brush your teeth, or building mastery to a eating more balanced meals, or it could be something a little more complex like how you handle relationships, or how you can work towards a goal.

Regardless of what you choose, building mastery means doing something every day that helps you move towards mastery. It’s probably best to start with something small, if anything, to get into the habit of building mastery.

I actually did choose, as a small one that was realistic, flossing when I brush my teeth every day, because it’s something I know I need to do, and it’s something that is relatively easy to track and work towards. I know it seems odd to work towards “mastering” flossing, but sometimes even the small stuff can be hard to keep up when you’re depressed or struggling with a disorder.

I personally drop the ball on everything from sleep, to food, to medicine, to flossing, to the bigger stuff, like bills, and the house. It’s all stuff that falls to the side when I’m in the midst of a depression, or when my BPD is particularly prominent.

I am getting much better at the few things I’ve now started to work on mastering, like flossing, eating more balanced meals, and my sleep, but then I wanted to work on something internal, like the accepting myself and others as they are. And I got confused again, how do you “master” something you can’t really see or touch? I can track if I’m flossing, but how do I track becoming more accepting?

I was so confused with how to start this that I enlisted my DBT coach/therapist for some help. This also finally helped me get a head start on the goal in my Values and Priorities.

Here’s how she helped me break it down.

I am going to start with the acceptance of myself, and then work on extending that to others. What she first asked me was when I think of accepting myself, what thoughts, judgments, or assumptions come to mind?

What expectations do I have of myself?

In no particular order, here are some of my personal expectations:
– I expect myself not to make mistakes
– I expect that on any given task, that I am to do it correctly the first time
– I expect myself to understand and new skills or instructions completely on the first try, without having to ask for clarification or help
– I expect that any task I am given, if I cannot complete it successfully on the first try, then I won’t start it to begin with, or I will procrastinate until I can figure it out
– I expect that people expect me to do things right the first time
– I expect people will see my failings and will not understand or accept me because of them
– I expect people to not like me because I am not worthy
– I expect to be picked last, if I am picked it all
– I expect to fail at any task I am given because I believe I am not good enough

These are just a few of the expectations that I have of myself.

When I see them written down like that it really hits home to me how unrealistic they are. It’s no wonder I don’t even meet my own expectations. They are astronomically rigid. I don’t allow myself any room for learning or making mistakes, or that’s even okay to make mistakes. Yikes.

From these expectations, are the judgments and assumptions that follow:
– I am not good enough
– I am a failure
– No one likes me
– I can’t do this
– I’m not good enough to do this
– I am unworthy
– I am unlikable
– I am unlovable

And I feel for myself, that when I fall short of my expectations that is is “unacceptable”. That I am “unacceptable. I need to do better, and be better, no exceptions. Anything less is totally unacceptable.

What my DBT coach/therapist then said to me was to challenge those judgments and assumptions, and to challenge the expectations I have of myself.

Part of challenging the judgments and assumptions goes back to a favourite of mine, and “checking the facts”.

Judgment/Assumption: I am not good enough.
Challenge: This is a blanket statement that I use when I am unsure of myself or when I feel that I am failing.
Further Challenge: When I feel that I am failing, is that an accurate statement? Am I actually failing or am I struggling to learn or achieve something? Does trying to learn something, does this automatically mean that I have failed?
Reframing Judgment/Assumption:
– It’s okay to make mistakes
– I’m okay to make mistakes
– It’s okay to not know everything, no one does
– It’s okay to ask for help
– Not everything has to be perfect
– Accept the dialectical truth that I am doing the best that I can and I can do better

All of this is working towards building mastery at being more accepting.

The steps to building mastery are not always easy to define or see. When I was working on building mastery to more balanced eating, I started by working out the stuff that was okay for me to have, then I started to plan meals, write out grocery lists, and even did some prep work for my meals and snacks so that I couldn’t use the excuse that I didn’t have time to make something. It still takes me time to get myself organized, and some weeks I am way more successful than others. I try not to consider myself a failure on the weeks that it doesn’t go so well but it’s hard. Some weeks I just go one meal at a time so I don’t get too overwhelmed and think I’m just a failure and should just give up. That’s hard too.

When you’re trying to master something, like being more accepting that’s not tangible or something I can track. It can be difficult to figure out how to do it. For those of you in DBT, I suggest enlisting support from your DBT coach or therapist. If you’re learning DBT on your own and have a psychiatrist or therapist then ask them for some help. You can always search online too, there are some good BPD sites and blogs that can help you challenge some of your own judgments and assumptions.

Theoretically you could be trying to build mastery on a number of things at once but I would suggest starting with just one or two things that are smaller and more realistic. It helps to work towards bigger stuff when you’ve got smaller stuff working for you. I suggest starting with things you can track too because it works as a great motivator to moving forward, and then building mastery on stuff that isn’t able to be tracked.

The purpose of building mastery is to have a sense of control over your life, and to also have some ground beneath you that helps to reduce your vulnerabilities, allowing you to better manage your emotions and situations where high emotions are triggered.

It seems so simple and almost too easy but it’s actually somewhat difficult to do. It’s simple but not easy. It might feel like a no-brainer that you should eat right, get a good night’s sleep, or be patient with yourself, but when most of your life those things have been chaos personified where food, sleep, emotions, etc have been all over the place, with one thing contributing to the next pulling it all down into a vicious cycle where nothing is regulated and you end up stuck in a bundle of emotions. It can be hard to reign all that stuff in and actually start paying attention as well as taking care.

I am starting to build mastery with a few things:
– regulating my sleep
– regulating my eating
– trying to be more accepting of myself and others

It’s hard work, believe it or not, to build mastery for almost anything that isn’t already a part of your day, or rather I should say a part of my day. But I’m working on it.

Wish me luck!

Bye for now!

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


2 thoughts on “DBT Group: Week Eight – Part I – Building Mastery

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