One of the favorite parts of my job is the work that I get to do with families in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). When there is a meaningful change in an unhealthy dynamic within a family system, we often see exponential growth within its individual members.
Here are the basic DBT beliefs that everyone really should know:
1. People Are Doing the Best They Can
No one really wakes up in a day thinking about how they can mess up that day unless they are struggling with significant challenges.
People who seem to try to do the bare minimum effort or none at all can have a lot of psychological barriers to pushing themselves harder, barriers that can feel like complete obstructions.
The major elements that create internal satisfaction are relationships with others, approval from others, accomplishments, and feeling valuable.
When people are unable to get moving or try harder, chances are that they have very little belief that they can do a good job and/or that doing a good job will have a positive outcome for them.
Sometimes addictive behavior creeps in as a replacement for true satisfaction, but no addict really feels good internally. It may look pretty pitiful to you, but everyone is really doing the best they can. Drop your expectations to match where they are, not where you want them to be.
2. We Cannot Read Minds
After all of the years of graduate training in psychology and clinical practice of psychology, I would like to think that I am pretty great at reading people. Truth is, I can read people really well if I don’t know them well because I have no bias that is influencing my judgment.
“Even when you know that you know, be open to the idea that you very well can be wrong.”
As soon as you know someone well, your ability to read them drops significantly. We tend to create stereotypes and rely more on our internal stereotypes rather than being open to new information.
My hero, Brene Brown, introduced the idea that you should check your internal stereotypes with the people you trust, simply so that you can learn how inaccurate your mind reading really is. A simple approach is to say to the trusted person “when I saw you do X the story in my head was Y.”
The more you realize that your internal story is inaccurate, the easier it is to take people at face value and rely less on your internal dialogue.
Here is a simple example that plays out often in the Daley household: husband is drinking coffee and watching morning news while wife busies herself with some of the household tasks. Wife begins to get irate thinking that husband is never going to get engaged with completing the necessary tasks.
She explodes about how lazy he is, and he gets pretty frustrated with her insanity. Same scenario without mind reading: wife checks in with husband about what he is planning to accomplish that day and shares that the story in her head is that he is planning on watching TV for hours. He explains that he wants to get through that program and then intended to get started with his own list.
End scene with argument and bad feelings completely by-passed.
3. There Is No Absolute Truth
In eyewitness testimony, people who are very certain that their version of events is the most correct are also likely to be inaccurate.
I have a pair of earrings that one of my daughters often asks to borrow. I have never allowed her to wear them because they would be costly to replace. A few months ago, I went to wear the earrings and they were missing.
I immediately “knew” what had happened- daughter had taken them without permission. I approached her with the accusation, and she vehemently denied it. I punished her because I “knew” she was simply lying.
“The more you realize that your internal story is inaccurate, the easier it is to take people at face value and rely less on your internal dialogue.”
A few weeks later, I happened to open my travel jewelry case and saw the earrings- I had forgotten that I packed them for my last trip. I owned my mistake, apologized profusely, and made amends, but I also know that the false accusation was a dent in our relationship.
Even when you know that you know, be open to the idea that you very well can be wrong.
4. Live the Values You Want Others to Have
I cannot tell you how often I hear people giving others the expectations for behaviors that they are unwilling to perform themselves.
We have all been there- some well-meaning person hops in to give you advice for a scenario and you can tell that they have never actually had to walk that situation.
For example, parents often want their children to read, but the best way to encourage reading is to be a reader and model it to your children. People won’t question your desire to leave the smartphone off at dinner if it is something that you already regularly practice.
Not to get all biblical on you, but the whole “pay attention to the log in your own eye before you point out the sliver in another’s” is a pretty great approach to relationships.
Focus on being the best version of yourself, and remember that everyone is doing the best they can.