We are all stressed during COVID-19 lockdown. In many families, tension and anger are becoming a problem. Couples and siblings are fighting because they are stuck together 24-7 and isolated from their usual routines and support systems. They are also struggling with an unpredictable future.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is a great counseling modality that helps people manage emotions and decrease conflict in their relationships. Don’t worry, I’m not going on and on about DBT theory, but I do want to share one extremely helpful component of DBT: explicit skills instruction.
Here are 5 skills from DBT you can learn to help manage irritability and family conflict during shelter-in-place.
1. Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills.
The acronym for this set of skills is DEAR MAN (DBT loves acronyms and they actually do help you remember what you are supposed to do). Learn these skills to manage difficult family discussions effectively.
D: Describe the issue you want to discuss in an objective way.
E: Express your feelings to the other party but stay in charge of your emotions.
A: Assert your desired outcome as well as what you don’t want.
R: Reaffirm why your desired outcome matters to you.
M : (Stay) Mindful. Remember to listen proactively and objectively rather than getting distracted by your past.
A: Appear confident and maintain eye contact.
N: Negotiate. A bit of give and take makes the world go round, but keep your goals in mind.
2. Relationship Effectiveness Skills
The GIVE Skills help you to reach a solution where everyone feels respected and validated.
G: (be) Gentle. Adopt a friendly manner and avoid being hostile or defensive so that the other person can express themselves freely and honestly.
I : (show) Interest in what the other person has to say and don’t interrupt them.
V: Validate your listener’s feelings and position.
E: (keep things) Easy. Your goals are serious and important, but keep things light and free
These next DBT skills can be taught to others or used yourself to manage feelings of anger, fear, and anxiety.
3. Radical Acceptance
Radical Acceptance helps you face the present moment and frees you to use your energy to examine your resources and to plan and problem-solve. It allows you to figure out what you can do and let go of the rest.
Here is my favorite visual to help you breathe slowly and deeply. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9Q8D6n-3qw You can save it on your phone and use it whenever you need it.
Focus on the color of the sky, the trees, the houses around you, and the sounds you hear.
If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to the moment and the sights and sounds around you.
5. Validate! Validate! Validate!
Don’t judge your feelings. Identify them without shaming.
Name what you are feeling (anger, frustration, loneliness) and sit with your emotions without reacting to them. You always have a right to your feelings.Accept how you feel in the moment and comfort yourself the way a loving parent or friend would.
When others in your family are escalating with strong emotions, validation of their feelings can help them de-escalate and regain their emotional equilibrium.
Pay Attention. The simplest way to let our family members know that their emotions are valid and important to us is to give them our undivided attention.
Stop what you are doing and put your cell phone or laptop down. If that is not possible, arrange a time to talk when you can do that.
Use eye contact and receptive body language.
Repeat back what they say in your own words. By reflecting back their concerns you show that you care about understanding correctly. It also helps confirm that you are not misunderstanding.
Don’t express judgments or call them unreasonable, just listen. Remember you are validating their experience, which may not reflect your perspective.
Ask Questions. Ask them to “help you understand” if you find their reasoning or emotional intensity confusing. Often, when they feel that their point of view is understood they may be open to feedback regarding their interpretations, or the intensity of their reactions.
Normalize their feelings. Communicate to them that their point of view is understandable. Let them know if you or others you know have had similar feelings. Do this without saying things like “everyone goes through that,” or “that’s life” which seem to invalidate and minimizes their experience.
Try to see what context or personal history explains their reaction or strong emotion. Does it make sense given a previous event? Ask them about it. Every behavior has a reason.
These powerful skills taught in DBT training groups are evidence-based, effective tools to negotiate conflict and disagreements, and internal emotional struggles.
Struggles like these are bound to crop up in our present, destabilizing social distancing environment. It’s largely situational. Do yourself a favor and learn these skills. They will serve you well now and moving forward into whatever the new normal turns out to be.