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,


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