By: Allison Strong
When I first did intake for group dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), I sorta ‘flunked.’
It was determined that I’d been traumatized and I was transferred to their Trauma Resolution and Integration Program (T.R.I.P.) for individual work. I accepted their professional opinion. My mood state with regards to Bipolar Disorder was fine, but I was battered beyond belief from the surprising amount of stigma and rejection I’d encountered over the last ten years living with the side effect of Tardive Dyskinesia (TD). Physically, because it’s a visually disturbing movement disorder, it demands an explanation nobody wants to hear.
TD had solidified my status as a terminally misunderstood, terminally unique outsider - a victim. Self pity-and self-absorption had driven everyone out of my life. I didn’t have one female friend. I had to look at that. I knew the treatment team was right. I needed individual therapy for a few months to get healthy enough to participate in the group.
I met Ellen, the first therapist who has ever helped me.
From the very first day I described certain emotion-driven thoughts and behaviors and that cause me pain. Obviously I want I to stop repeating them. But they were familiar, ingrained patterns like the tendency to overcommunicate and approval-seek, only to get blown off for being manic or seeming 'high maintenance.' She and I put this in a treatment plan and worked on it once a week, when we met.
Two months later, I was placed in a group on 'skillful,' (or effective) interpersonal communication. I continued my one-on-one work with Ellen. So much of the interpersonal material is new and awkward.
I’m crawling before I’m able to walk.
Last month I had the rare opportunity to meet someone in a position of authority regarding my writing and advocacy. As homework, I had to choose my goals, in order of importance, fill out a practice script and rehearse it in group.
I picked from the three choices for interpersonal communications:
A: An ‘Objective;’ i.e., Wanting something from the other person.
B: Strengthening or Building the Relationship.
C. Maintaining self respect.
I’d been feeling a bit trounced by her organization so I chose C, for maintaining self respect. The skills for C skills are initialed ‘F.A.S.T.’:
‘F’ is to be Fair to the other person.
‘A’ Means absolutely NO APOLOGIES. Even if you regret something you say.
‘S’ is for Sticking to your Values.
‘T’ means to be Truthful.
It all seemed right at the time, but in hindsight I don’t think I was fair to her. At one point in the conversation, she even said, “Allison, you’ve got to stop taking all these things personally. We’re NOT the enemy.”
She had a point.
Maybe I should have picked B, for building the relationship. I could have forged a positive, proactive bond with her instead airing a bunch of beefs. But that’s why DBT is called ‘class.’ We’re learning.
I wish I could apologize to her for focusing on the negatives, but that’s why F.A.S.T. prohibits penance. My old behavior is to overstate my case and later, to grovel away my self-worth. The discomfort is still top of my mind, a month later. It’ll keep me from making the same mistake again…well, at least I’ll improve as I go along.
If I keep trying.
Which I will.
DBT class is once a week, but if I try to use the skills each day, in my life, that’s considered doing my homework. I get an ‘A’ for effort on that assignment….even though I didn’t do it perfectly.
We rarely do.