DBT Skills for Developing Self-Compassion

Although not frequently discussed when referring to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills training, self-compassion is a beneficial and powerful side effect of this specialized type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). 

Part of the reason DBT can result in a greater sense of self-compassion is that throughout the DBT modules, students will learn to activate their “wise mind,” which is essentially a stronger and more powerful awareness of yourself, your emotions, your instincts, and your experiences. The goal is to tune deeper into who you are are your core, how you feel, and what you are capable of in order to increase your ability to weather distress, regulate emotions, increase your interpersonal effectiveness, and cultivate mindfulness. 

Most people have been continually conditioned to criticize themselves relentlessly, thereby cultivating a sense of shame or guilt or confusion about our own identity. Supposedly, this type of self-criticism results in motivation… but at what cost? There are better ways to stay motivated than a toxic shame cycle. 

Your instinct is probably to react defensively in challenging situations or relationships - born out of an attempt to protect yourself and control your environment.

DBT therapy includes specialized skills training that can help you increase your ability to accept yourself and your situation, and self-acceptance is the gateway to self-compassion. 

While many different modules and types of skills training taught throughout DBT are helpful in cultivating self-compassion, probably the most successful and targeted is the concept of Radical Acceptance. 

What is Radical Acceptance? 

Radical Acceptance concerns our ability to accept the situation we are in, even when circumstances are out of our control, based on the premise that our reaction TO a situation is what causes the most emotional suffering, not the situation itself. In order to practice this DBT skill, you have to get good at avoiding judgment toward your experiences. Instead, you detach from them in a way that acknowledges your emotion about the situation, without allowing the situation to control and amplify your suffering. 

Most of the time, our reactiveness to a negative situation results in an emotionally destructive spiral that can derail our day, our feelings, our relationships, and the opportunities we might be able to see if we weren’t so fixated on the negatives at hand. 

Practicing Radical Acceptance 

In order to use Radical Acceptance you must first recognize when you’re losing control of a situation (like when a loved one dies, someone breaks up with you or cheats on you, you lose a job, are in a major conflict, etc) and then accepting that any grief or fear or anger is normal, without playing into the resulting emotions. 

Radical acceptance reminds us that pain is an unavoidable part of life, but without the helplessness that can leave us judging ourselves or our situation, or frozen, or spiraling. Radical acceptance can move you toward calm and rational thoughts, even in crisis. 

The more you practice radical acceptance, the greater compassion you will have for yourself… and others! Remember, accepting a situation doesn’t mean you believe it is OK or are offering approval, but it does mean you can avoid emotions that spiral into anxiety, depression, addiction, and other mental health conditions. 

In order to put this concept to use, begin by working to focus on the things you can control when some things are out of your control. Here are some positive thoughts you can choose about yourself and your experiences that will help you embrace self-compassion through radical acceptance:

  • I can only control my reactions. 
  • When I fight my situation, I am enabling it to have a bigger negative impact. 
  • I can’t change what’s happening. 
  • I can accept my present moment. 
  • I can work through these difficult emotions. 
  • I will get through this. 
  • I know these feelings will fade, even if they’re painful in the moment. 
  • I can feel these feelings, but still find ways to stay calm and in control. 
  • I can choose a new path. 
  • When I remain grounded, I can make good choices to solve my problems. 
  • I release myself from judgment or blame. 
  • I choose to stay grounded in the moment.

Radical Acceptance dictates that you focus on thoughts like THAT, instead of like this: 

  • No one cares about me. 
  • Everyone is working against me. 
  • I have the worst luck. 
  • I never catch a break. 
  • I wish things were different. 
  • I can’t accept this. 
  • I’m never going to recover from this. 
  • I shouldn’t have to deal with this. 

No matter where you’re at on your mental health journey, we believe you deserve to feel greater compassion toward yourself and the healing you’re chasing. 

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