Beyond DBT: Sitting with Emotions

The wonderful thing about DBT is all of the specific tools Marsha offers us for responding to our emotions and situations. But occasionally, she is quite vague.

In the handbook, she mentions “Sitting with Emotions”. But how??? Really? Marsha, how?

Mostly, when people attempt to “sit with their feelings”, they end up going over and over the story of what happened, what they did wrong, what the other person did wrong. Just triggering and re-triggering the painful emotion. Basically TORTURING themselves with escalating pain. Yuck.

Cycling through the same painful story over and over and over again is called Ruminating. Lol and I love this word because it is also the word for how cows chew their cud–a ball of mashed feed that they chew, swallow, regurgitate and then chew again. See the similarity?

So sometimes, we have to borrow an acronym from someone else (this is kind of a joke, because DBT is already waaaaay too full of bad acronyms).

I look to Tara Brach.

Tara Brach is a wonderful buddhist psychologist with a broad following. If you are interested in a secular style of buddhist psychology I strongly endorse her podcasts. https://www.tarabrach.com/talks-audio-video/ She has a wonderful way of incorporating humor and story telling to invoke a sense of inner peace and reflection.

Anyway, Tara Brach teaches a Meditation called The RAIN Meditation. And it is by far the best tool I have encountered for “Sitting with Your Emotions”.

RECOGNIZE THE EMOTION you are experiencing. Put a name on it. Is it Anger? Sadness? Joy? Jealousy? The more specific the better.

ACCEPT THE EMOTION–Allow yourself to feel it. Don’t fight it. Don’t push it down. Remember that you are the ocean–vast and strong, and this emotion is just a wave. A wave cannot drown the ocean. You are a big enough container to hold this emotion.

INVESTIGATE— Approach the emotion with scientific curiosity. As you do this, you want to stay away from the “Story” that triggered the emotion, and stick with trying to understand what it is like for your to feel these feelings.

What is MY experience of this emotion? What kinds of physical sensations accompany this emotion? What is the Nature of the thoughts I have when I experience this emotion? Are they blaming thoughts? Or minimizing thoughts? Catastrophe thoughts? Mean thoughts? Compassionate thoughts? What do I feel like doing when I have this emotion? Do I want to hide? Or attack? Do I feel more opened? Or closed off when I feel this way?

NURTURE— And now you nurture yourself. We start by self-validating. “Given all that has happened, it makes sense that I feel this way.” Given your history, given the morning you had, given what just happened, it makes sense that right now you are having this emotion. Then you call on your deepest sense of compassion and apply it to yourself. You speak to yourself the way you would speak to someone that you love. As though you were your own best friend. “I love you. I am so sorry this happened. This is so hard. You will be ok. I am here for you. Always.”

For most clients, the nurture is very hard. It feels unnatural because they are so used to being mean to themselves. They were raised on “you are over reacting”. “What’s wrong with you?” “You really screwed up this time.” Words that add a lot of shame to the emotion you are already dealing with.

Instead, you approach yourself from your Wise Mind. And this is a wonderful way to start to transform your self talk. So that your inner critic no longer punishes you when you are struggling. Instead of repeating the story, you are truly exploring the emotion.

Tara Brach offers several versions of the RAIN meditation on line. I invite you to experience the original version at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wm1t5FyK5Ek

I have also recorded a version that I like to use with my clients. I hope you will also give that a try. You can come back to this resource again and again whenever you are overwhelmed by emotions. In my dbt class, we practice the RAIN a lot because I want clients to be able to drop into it whenever they are having trouble tolerating their emotions.

The First Video is an Introduction to the Rain Meditation where I offer brief insight into how to approach the meditation. The second video is the actual Guided Meditation of the RAIN.

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Diana is a licensed professional counselor based in Nashville. She has been teaching DBT skills for the last ten years after writing her master's thesis about making DBT skills training interesting and engaging. She loves using story telling to help illustrate how skills can be used.

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