Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Becoming an Emotional Grown-Up

Emotions are a hard subject when you have spent your life learning to suppress them.  Then comes the big SMACK in the face when you learn that this is counter intuitive.  You can suppress emotions all you like, but they will find other ways to come out.  For years I turned my emotions into self harming actions because as a child  I learned that showing my emotions only brings hurt and pain.

Now I am slowly learning to let those emotions out.  Naming, feeling, showing... all parts of emotion education that I missed.  I find myself wanting to go back to my maladaptive ways.  I have even gone so far as to find NEW maladaptive ways to handle the on pouring of feelings that comes with opening yourself up to a significant other.  My wife has been very supportive in my recovery process.  So much so that it's become a problem.  So part one of taking responsibility for my own emotions was asking her to NOT support me if I engage in a self harming behavior.  I even outlined what that was, what to look out for, and how to not support me.  I asked her to not comfort me, bandage me, or help me recover after an episode of self harm (SH).  Also, I asked that she tell me when she's upset, disappointed, disgusted, etc with my SH.

This started during my outpatient program.  Having a program therapist who understood my need to extinguish, not just lessen, my SH behaviors helped.  I soon learned how to do a behavior chain and then found myself doing many- one for every time I engaged in any form of SH (including self injury, disordered eating, and therapy interfering behaviors).  This helped to stop the latent SH behaviors and to help me start learning to see the patterns building up to urges and behaviors.

A couple of weeks ago I started part two of claiming responsibility for my emotions: making a safety contract. In the fourteen years that I have done therapy I have only ONCE signed a safety contract and that was because that therapist gave me no option.  It was a cover-her-ass move.  It basically said that I had to try to contact her or any help line I could (not that she ever gave me the number) and that I would do everything in my power to not harm myself.  I did everything in my power to never mention self harm to her again.

This time I made my own safety contract.  I held myself to the fact that I would not engage in self harm, disordered eating, and therapy interfering behaviors.  If I unintentionally do engage I have to fill out a behavior chain.  If I intentionally engage in my target behaviors it is at the discretion of my therapist whether or not I continue in therapy with her.  She added some bit about making an appropriate reference, but that's not the point.  The point is when I do these behaviors I now have actual consequences.  No more "are you okay?" and late night post-harming phone sessions.  Now if I engage in behaviors I just have to do a behavior chain and bring it in the next session.

Another thing I have done is changed the format for therapy phone calls.  Instead of being able to call and discuss crisis with my therapist she is now acting as a phone coach.  I have to use at least three skills before I can call, I have to tell her what skills I've used, and I have to be open to any suggestions given.  Five to ten minutes tops.  It's a more effective way of handling crisis and it makes me have to use my skills.

I am finally become an emotional adult.  No longer will I hide behind excuses.  There may be external causes to my behaviors, but ultimately it is my choice to give in or to use the skills I have worked so hard to learn.

Anyone interested in what skill sets I'm talking about, you can find more information here:
An Overview of DBT
Basic DBT Skills Outline
How Therapists Integrate DBT Skills

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