It can happen in a flash. Maybe you are in a conversation, and someone says something that upsets you. Maybe you suddenly find yourself publicly embarrassed by a mistake. Or you have been anticipating something good only to feel deeply disappointed when it doesn’t come to pass.
Emotions Can Threaten Your Sobriety
In any of these situations—and many others besides—you might feel a rush of negative emotions. Those feelings of anger or embarrassment or disappointment or even sadness might feel overwhelming. And the next thing you know, you are lashing out—probably in a way that is out of proportion to whatever has triggered the reaction.
Most everyone has had this experience from time to time. But for some people, this cycle of negative emotions leading to outbursts leading to negative emotions…well, you can see how it could become a self-perpetuating problem. And in some cases, a person might seek to break the cycle by turning to drugs or alcohol as a way to calm down or to mask the negative emotions. Of course, this is not a positive way to address the problem—and it could easily lead to the development of a substance use disorder.
Even if you get treatment for the substance use disorder, the possibility of returning to the cycle of negative emotions and outbursts poses a real threat to your hard-won sobriety. So it is important to find a way to self-regulate more effectively. That’s where dialectical behavior therapy comes in.
What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?
The idea behind the concept of dialectics is a pretty simple one: it’s about balancing opposites. Oftentimes, it is black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking that can lead us to get upset. Dialectical behavior therapy involves learning a more balanced approach centered on what might be called “both/and” thinking—as opposed to “either/or” thinking.
The idea is that you can learn to consider two apparently opposite ideas or perspectives at the same time. At first blush, that might seem impossible. But developing this skill promotes a more balanced approach to the people and situations you encounter—an approach centered on acceptance.
The Four Features of Dialectical Behavior Therapy
So how does dialectical behavior therapy help someone manage difficult emotions, reduce conflict, and find a place of acceptance? The therapy focuses on four areas.
- Mindfulness: Ruminating about the past and worrying about the future can both contribute to the negativity that can upend your ability to regulate your emotions. Mindfulness is all about staying in the moment.
- Distress Tolerance: It is only natural to try to avoid or escape from negative emotions. But it is this impulse that can lead a person toward drugs or alcohol. By developing an ability to tolerate the presence of negative emotions, you can lessen the need for finding a potentially destructive way to escape them.
- Emotion Regulation: When we allow our emotions to get the better of us, we are more likely to lash out or behave in other ways that we might be deeply embarrassed by after the fact. Learning to regulate your emotions simply means acquiring strategies that can help you manage or change the emotions that may be causing issues in your life.
- Interpersonal Effectiveness: Often, overwhelming emotion undermines our ability to communicate clearly and build relationships. Instead, we find ourselves doing the exact opposite—expressing ourselves in unclear or unhelpful ways that actually turn people away and erode our self-respect. If we can acquire interpersonal effectiveness, we can avoid these outcomes.
What to Expect During Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy in its most robust form includes two aspects: one-on-one sessions with a trained therapist and group skill-building sessions. The individual sessions will focus on learning the skills noted above as well as thinking about how to apply them even when challenges arise.
The skill-building sessions allow you to practice what you have been learning via role-playing and other exercises. The group sessions also provide the emotional support that comes from feeling less alone in your struggles.
In some cases, it may be sufficient to only participate in one or the other of these options. But it is certainly the case that individual and group sessions can enhance and reinforce one another.
The Aviary Is a “Both/And” Kind of Place
When you seek treatment for a substance use disorder at The Aviary Recovery Center, you don’t have to choose between addressing your problems with a substance or with a mental health disorder. Our staff has the expertise and compassion to help you with co-occurring issues—and one of the tools we have at our disposal is dialectical behavior therapy. We are committed to the creation of personalized treatment plans, so we will listen to you and consider a range of factors to make sure we offer support and resources appropriate to your situation.