Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: Interpersonally Speaking

Welcome to week four of our discussion about Dr. Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

Over the last three weeks we have addressed three of the four core modules that make up the DBT Skills Training –Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance. For our final week of exploration, we will tie it all together with an adventure into the fourth and final module – Interpersonal Effectiveness.

For many students of DBT, interpersonal effectiveness can feel like the most challenging module of all, because even if we think that the issues that motivate us to seek out the help of therapeutic professionals are caused by other people, we eventually discover that they are best solved by strengthening our relationship with the most important person in our life – ourselves.

So in the first three modules of our DBT work, we get to examine our traditional mental, emotional, and relational responses to the day-to-day experiences we have in our own lives, and then from there we begin to explore how adding new skills can increase our self-confidence and efficacy in meeting our own personal goals.

In the final module, we get to “take our skills to the streets”, so to speak, as we apply our newfound intrapersonal skills to learning the art of interpersonal effectiveness.  For most of us, when we take a closer look at how we have been approaching and managing our relationships, we realize there is a lot of room for improvement. But if we have been faithfully studying and applying the skills we’ve learned in the first three DBT modules, by the time we get to the fourth module we have a foundation of confidence that allows us to tackle this final challenge with our awareness of the payoff for doing this hard work firmly in place.

So when we first begin studying DBT’s interpersonal effectiveness module, we begin with a self-assessment of how we have traditionally handled issues like conflict, asserting our opinions and preferences, and meeting our needs in relationship with others. We look at whether we have been able to attract and foster relationships that are healthy and stable, weather tough times while keeping the connection and respect we feel for ourselves and others intact, and achieve personal satisfaction and fulfillment in the midst of interpersonal growth and development.

We then begin learning new ways of addressing interpersonal issues we have identified as less than satisfactory.

For instance, let’s say your spouse has a habit of barking orders at you the moment you walk in the door. You are usually tired when you get home from a long day at work, and after fighting to make your voice heard with your boss and co-workers (an opinionated lot to say the least) you have little energy left over to make the same degree of effort with your husband.

But now, with your newfound interpersonal effectiveness training, you understand that not speaking up for yourself actually takes more out of you, and uses up more valuable energy, than staying quiet. The next time you come home and the barking orders commences, you lay a hand lightly on your husband’s chest, meet his eyes directly, and calmly and clearly say, “I am tired. I need to shower, change into my comfy clothes, and have something to eat. You are welcome to sit with me while I eat and unwind. But I cannot talk with you about what you need from me until after I have had a chance to rest a bit from my day. Do we have a deal?”

From there, depending on how your spouse responds, you can progress accordingly with rolling out your new interpersonal effectiveness skills. Furthermore, since DBT training is most often conducted through a combination of weekly individual and group meetings, with optional individual telephone sessions for added support, you have the support of an entire team who is working with you to help you refine, manage, and develop your skills for the benefit of all concerned.

So give yourself the gift of new, shiny interpersonal skills in the New Year. Relationships are the heartbeat of what makes life feel like living, what motivates to us to crawl out of our warm beds on cold mornings, what encourages us when our job doesn’t deliver on its promises or our boss has a bad day, and what keeps our chin up when the economy takes a nosedive or natural disaster strikes. We naturally turn to our relationships for support, comfort, meaning, and reconnection – to share both sorrow and joy – and to remind ourselves that all the hard work we do throughout the rest of each day finds its fulfillment in the rewards of our relationships with ourselves and others at day’s end.

At Southlake Counseling, we have been studying and teaching the four core modules of DBT for more than two decades. We have seen hundreds of amazing transformations as individuals have learned, participated in our groups and in individual therapy sessions, and emerged to experience all the wonderful benefits that DBT skills-building has to offer. If your New Year’s intentions or resolutions include strengthening and deepening your relationships with loved ones, colleagues, friends, and family, we look forward to hearing from you at very soon!

Be Well,


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: Dealing with Distress

This Monday finds us kicking off week three of the New Year. For those of us who made New Year’s resolutions or intentions, this is the week when we may be starting to see cracks in our resolve, chips in our optimism, doubts where just a few days before, confidence was our daily companion.

Enter “distress tolerance”. This technical-sounding term comes courtesy of Dr. Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Distress tolerance is commonly defined as an ability to refrain from resorting to impulsive behaviors to manage strong emotions.

Picture this: you are at home minding your own business, when all of a sudden your friend calls with some very disturbing news. She starts to cry, and before you know it you are tearing up with her. Her emotions continue to spiral as crying turns to sobbing, and by the time you get off the phone all you can think of is that you need a glass of wine. One glass turns to one bottle….several hours later you wake up on the couch and realize you have forgotten to pick up your son from daycare. You are overcome with shame at your behaviors, followed by fear for your son’s wellbeing, and then a growing anger and frustration directed at yourself. Again.

Worst of all, the painful and sad emotion you drank the wine to avoid having to feel and deal with has come back tenfold – and this time it has returned with several of its best friends in tow.

In this hypothetical scenario, we can see a classic pattern of distress-avoidance emerging:

  1. A situation arose during the course of your normal day which triggered strong emotions
  2. You perceived the emotions as intolerable
  3. You impulsively turned to alcohol (other impulse decisions could include substance abuse, binging/purging, spending, etc.)
  4. You experienced a reliable and thus “trustworthy” short term payoff from your retreat to the impulsive behavior
  5. You ultimately emerged from your attempts to elude your own emotions feeling even more out of control than before

This is just one of many scenarios in which cultivating improved distress tolerance skills can literally save the day. With distress tolerance skills training, you can learn to manage, feel, and release strong emotions without resorting to destructive behaviors.

DBT’s distress tolerance skills are designed to build resilience in the face of intense emotions we perceive as intolerable. There are four core modules of distress tolerance skills-building that are carefully designed by Dr. Linehan to build in positive copings skills where self-destructive tendencies used to rush in.

However, distress tolerance does not in any way translate into distress avoidance, and it is important to recognize that building your skill at tolerating emotion still requires that you feel and deal appropriately with emotions as they enter your sphere of influence.  In this way, you can think of distress tolerance skills-building as the safety net you need to begin to learn how to feel and deal appropriately and self-respectfully without fearing your own destructive tendencies.

At Southlake Counseling, we have more than two decades of experience teaching and guiding individuals and groups in learning to implement the powerful principles and practices of DBT. We are the foremost provider of DBT-based individual and group services in the Lake Norman area, with a full range of services for females and males of all ages and from all backgrounds and walks of life. If you are determined not to greet one more New Year fearing what emotions each day may bring, contact us at for more information about how DBT can help you say “no” to distress avoidance and YES to distress tolerance – and your own wonderful LIFE!

Be Well,


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: Making Friends With Our Emotions

So here we are again, in week two of a brand new year!

How is it going so far? How do you feel about those New Year’s Resolutions you probably couldn’t resist making a week or so ago? Is the New Year already shaping up into all that you hoped and dreamed it would be – or simply delivering more of the same?

It is so tempting to study our outsides for telltale signs of change. We have grown accustomed to seeking exterior affirmation, confirmation, or negation of the changes we dream of making. We look around and either see positive changes or we don’t.

But in doing so, we consistently forget to remind ourselves that all real change starts within.

In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT for short, one of the four cornerstones of successful transformation lies in mastering the art of what founder Dr. Marsha Linehan terms “emotion regulation”. 1

Well, this sounds good, doesn’t it? But what does it mean?

The best place to start in conducting our investigation is to look at what is meant by the word “emotion”. According to a commonly-accepted definition of the term, an emotion occurs whenever there is “a mental state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort and is often accompanied by physiological changes.”

Put this way, the appearance of an “emotion” sounds sort of like a sneak attack, doesn’t it!? And since sneak attacks usually are not particularly pleasant or welcome experiences, especially when they are accompanied by frightening-sounding “physiological changes”, it is not hard to see how a system that was originally intended to serve as a reliable guide through life begins feels more like an inner enemy stalking and scaring us at the least opportune moments.

What is most important for us to recognize, however, is that when we begin to distrust and even fear our own emotions, it becomes increasingly hard for us to remember that we and not our emotions are the master of our lives.

Here is where learning the DBT skill of “emotion regulation” can come to our rescue. When we become skilled in emotion regulation, we can train ourselves to be less vulnerable to the continually shifting play of our emotional landscape. By applying DBT skills designed to enhance our ability to regulate our responses to our emotions, we become proficient in identifying and labeling emotions, identifying where we tend to become emotionally “stuck”, increasing our affinity for positive emotional states, bringing mindfulness into our emotional lives, and other wonderful life skills that can make the experience of feeling and experiencing our own emotions beneficial rather than detrimental to our growth and well-being.

At Southlake Counseling, we understand how challenging it can feel to forge an alliance with our ever-changing emotions. We also know that emotions in their essence are helpful guides and teachers that can lead to more fulfilling lives. Our professional and compassionate staff has more than two decades of training and expertise in helping you apply the life-changing principles of DBT for improved health, growth, and well-being. If you are struggling to understand and manage your emotions, don’t let another year go by before you take action on your own behalf. Contact us today at to say “no” to emotional distress and YES to your own full and vibrant life!

Be Well,


1 Marsha Linehan, PhD, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Founder

Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: How to Bounce Back (Developing Emotional Resilience)

Resilience. We’ve all heard the word….but what does it mean? There are plenty of definitions out there, but my favorite is actually a very simple explanation credited to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic: “[to have resilience is to] improve coping skills so that you can handle life’s hardships better.”

Beyond that, something else that is less recognized about resilience is that it also allows us to better enjoy life’s wonders. When we possess resilience, we retain our grasp on the bigger picture even in the midst of momentary valleys…or peaks.  In other words, when we develop emotional resilience, we learn to find a mid-point from where we can become mindful observers of as well as productive participants in our own lives. We can weather a storm because we know it will not last. And we can welcome a joy, even while knowing that at any moment, the winds might shift again and present a sorrow in its place.  

In short, resilience brings steadiness into our daily life experience. It gives us hope and optimism during tough times, and hope and optimism during wonderful times too.

This is also why emotional resilience is considered to be a key facet in our developing emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence, or our ability to identify, assess, and maintain our own emotional wellbeing within the larger context of encountering the emotions of others and groups we belong to, factors heavily into determining our chances of achieving life success.

The good news is that emotional resilience is a learned skill.

You may also find it reassuring and encouraging to know that one of the most valuable lessons I have learned from the difficult times in my life is that difficulty is often a gift in disguise.

When we successfully confront and navigate life’s unexpected challenges, we also receive the opportunity to gain strength and find new meaning in life. Interestingly, in developing emotional resilience we experience something akin to what happens when we break a bone – at first, the bone is fragile and takes some time to knit back together. But, once the new bone has completely grown in, the result is a bone that is stronger than it ever could have been before!

So now we will look at eight key characteristics that can help you develop emotional resilience:

A Sense of Hope and Trust in the World:  When you are resilient, you lean into your belief in the basic goodness of the world when times get tough. You are vigilant about maintaining your trust that things will turn out all right in the end, and this positive attitude allows you to weather life’s storms by always seeking the ray of light peeking out through even the blackest of clouds.

Interpreting Experiences in a New Light: When you are resilient, you have developed the ability to look at a situation in a new way (a skill called “reframing”). This approach helps you to minimize the emotional impact a difficult situation brings. Resilient people take a creative approach toward solving a problem, and are willing to approach new challenges with optimism and an open mind.

Understand and accept emotional experiences: When you are resilient, you know that your feelings and emotions exist for a reason.  Rather than judging your emotions and spending precious reserves of time and energy labeling them as “good” or “bad”, “necessary” or “unnecessary”, you instead channel your efforts into reading the road signs of your emotional map to find your way back to centeredness, peace, and wellbeing even in the midst of life’s unexpected and stressful moments.  

A Meaningful System of Support: When you are resilient, you know that you can’t get through hard times without help. Furthermore, you are willing and able to tap into networks of support when you need help because you understand that isolation is not your friend during a crisis. Resilient people aren’t stoic loners. They know the value of expressing their fears and frustrations, as well as receiving support, coaching or guidance from friends, family or a professional.

A Sense of Mastery and Control Over Your Destiny: You may not be able to predict the future, but when you are emotionally resilient you can put aside that which you are unable to control and focus your attention on elements that are within your sphere of influence. Resilient people know that ultimately their survival and the integrity of their life values depend on their ability to take action rather than remain passive. Tough times call for you to tap into your own sense of personal responsibility and ability so that you can “be the change you wish to see in the world” (thanks, Gandhi!)

Self-Reflection and Insight: When you are resilient, you understand that your life experiences provide fertile ground for learning and growth. You use times of challenge as an opportunity to ask yourself questions and learn more about who you are and what matters to you. You know how to use your thoughts and feelings to gain insights you need to find your way through emotional distress to hope again. Resilient people learn from life situations and understand that the only sensible approach to challenge is to stay centered in the moment, where anything is possible.

A Wide Range of Interests: When you are resilient, you can always look around and find something new and interesting to focus your attention on. The wider your range of interests and activities, the more motivation you will have to do the hard work of maintaining optimism during troubling times. Your array of interests and relationships will also help you stay open to new approaches and perspectives for problem-solving. Resilient people have learned to productively channel some of the unavoidable worry and anxiety that hard times bring into rewarding pursuits.

Sense of Humor: When you are emotionally resilient, you know exactly how powerful a good laugh can be! By cultivating your ability to see the absurdity, irony, or genuine humor in a situation, you also rekindle your sense of hope and possibility during even the toughest situations. Humor has both psychological and physical benefits in relieving stress because it encourages a swift change in your perception of your circumstances—when your thoughts change, your mood quickly follows.

At Southlake Counseling, we understand that it takes time to develop emotional resilience, and that having the support of skilled and caring professionals as well as friends and family can be a tremendous support during times of emotional distress. Furthermore, we know that an ounce of preparation for the inevitability of life’s hard times can be priceless in terms of the message it sends to us each and every day that we are worth surviving and thriving for.

Southlake Counseling professionals are highly trained in a wide variety of modalities that are useful in developing emotional resilience, chief of which is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT. Students of DBT learn four core skills to develop emotional resilience, including mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.  

Southlake Counseling is the recognized leader in the Lake Norman area for DBT-based individual and group support – our commitment to providing superior quality DBT training is fueled by our commitment to helping you say “no” to emotional distress and YES to life lived in the presence of the hero within.

If you would like to learn more, please visit us at today.  We look forward to your call, email, or visit!

Be Well,