DBT GROUP NOTES: PARTICIPATE SKILL EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING

MINDFULNESS

Is This Wise Mind?

Accessing wise mind is a practice.

And it’s extremely useful for the Participate Skill, because your wise mind can help you override the embarrassment or discomfort that you feel about engaging with a task. It can also help you mellow the judgements of reasonable mind. We are engaging your wise mind to help you move forward with practicing the Participate skill together in group today.

Is This Wise Mind? Guided Meditation

PARTICIPATING IS ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE

Remember, participating is not about the quality of what you are doing, it’s about the quality of your experience. For example, being involved in someone else’s creative project that perhaps is not the quality of work you prefer. But you made a commitment. You can still throw yourself in and find whatever joy and belonging is available to you–since you are doing it anyway. Can you think of an example of a time when you had that experience?

For example, Throwing yourself into dancing doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to be a fabulous dancer, but it does mean that you are going to have a fabulous time doing it.

PARTICIPATING: WHAT TO DO? HOW DO YOU DO IT?

  • Enter into present experiences. Immerse yourself in the Present.
  • Throw yourself completely into activities.
  • Don’t separate yourself from ongoing events and interactions. Engage completely; immerse yourself in the moment; become involved; Join with; Opt in.
  • Become one with what you are doing.
  • Let go of self-consciousness by acting opposite to it. Do the opposite of what you feel like doing. If you feel like withdrawing, throw yourself in more.
  • Abandon yourself to the moment. Concentrate in the moment such that you and what you are doing become “merged” as if there is only now, only what you are doing.
  • Act intuitively from Wise Mind, doing just what is needed in each situation.
  • Go with the Flow, respond with spontaneity.

WHAT RISKS ARE YOU WILLING TO TAKE?

We are preparing for some group experiential exercises, starting with a Laughter yoga exercise. In this exercise, I will lead us in different types of laughter, after each “laugh” we will clap together and say, “Very good, very good, Yay!”

In order to prepare, everyone has time in a break out room with a partner to discuss:

What risks are you willing to take?

What will get in the way of you being able to fully participate?

Pros and Cons of taking this kind of risk?

What will you lose if you participate?

Usually the thing holding us back, making us embarrassed is a sense of threat. What is the threat? What is the danger of holding back?

LAUGHTER YOGA

The practice of laughter yoga can bring up alot of discomfort. Together, we laugh. Its even more awkward on Zoom than in person. But the invitation is to throw yourself in. It doesn’t matter if you are laughing at me or with me, let yourself laugh. For some people this exercise is excruciating! It feels so embarrassing!

Notice the self-consciousness. And all of the accompanying thoughts that pull you out of your experience. Can you apply your wise mind to them?

At home now, please watch these two videos and laugh along.

Fake it til you make it. There is a desire to laugh when it feels authentic, but your body doesn’t know the difference between fake laughter and real laughter, and generally if you get started, an authentic experience will follow.

For clients that struggle to overcome self-conciousness, remember the idea here isn’t that by some miracle you will suddenly shed self consciousness because other people are more disinhibited. Instead, this is a mindfulness exercise, just to help you take baby steps in awareness of what holds you back. Any laughter is a victory over anxiety.

COMPARISON SKILL

Comparison can be a trap. If you are comparing yourself to others and feeling inadequate, the invitation is to step back and remember that you are participating by being in the room. By trying, your presence, your laughter supports the group. And your shyness may be validating for other people who are uncomfortable. All of this is worth noting , and then leaving behind.

To help us shift how we are doing comparison, let me introduce the comparison skill:

Comparison is a tough skill.  I have several clients who are downright cruel as they compare themselves negatively against the lives and accomplishments of others.   I didn’t like the comparison skill when I first learned about it.  It seemed to me to be the gloating skill, because the idea is to compare yourself to those less fortunate.  I didn’t like the superiority of it.  On the other hand, I found it invalidating; in the sense that my own troubles are completely overshadowed by the suffering of pretty much any refugee, so why am I being such a baby? (Those kinds of thoughts.)

Sometimes, when I was first learning skills, I would come across a skill and toss it out. “I won’t be needing that.  I don’t even like that skill.”  This is what I did with the comparison skill…at first.

One Friday night, months after I had learned and rejected the comparison skill, my children were with their father and his girlfriend, while I was home alone.  Intensely conscious of my aloneness in the vast state of Tennessee, friendless, purposeless, jobless (I had been a stay at home mom for years and moved to Tennessee three months before my husband left me for the girlfriend–just to give you the bleak picture), I surfed Hulu, looking for a distraction.  Netflix, amazon prime, Hulu.  I had plowed my way through and watched almost everything that I considered watchable.  There was nothing to distract me.

If you are interested in Prostitution Behind the Veil, be prepared that it is pretty heartbreaking. And very gritty. I am embedding this 2 minute introduction that will give you a sense of the documentary. If you are interested in watching the whole thing it is available on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3gZA-Wel0w

Then I stumbled on a little documentary about two Iranian streetwalkers called “Prositution behind the Veil”.  An Iranian filmmaker, Nehad Persson, created a very intimate portrait of the struggles of two young mothers, addicted to drugs and working the streets of Tehran.   The film focuses on the logistics of their lives and their relationships with their clients. I watched in horror as one of the women stood by the side of the road in her burka, holding the hand of her very young child, then climbed into the car of a customer.  She was taken to a house, where the man’s friends kept the child while they took turns having sex with her.  It’s a very discrete film.  No nudity or sexualizing of the women.  I felt my heart breaking for them though.   The lives of two Iranian streetwalkers moved across the screen and I thought, “My life will never be that bad.”

Clarity descended on me.  I looked around me at my cute little house. My hardwood floors and comfy furniture.  My fat felines lounging near me.  My safe, quiet neighborhood outside.  My heart may be broken.  And I may only get to be with my beautiful children half the time.  But nothing in my life is as bad as the lives of these two women.

And suddenly, I understood the profundity of the comparison skill. Gratitude. The comparison skill is the skill of gratitude.   I look at the lives of these women.  I feel tremendous compassion for them. It isn’t superiority.  It’s an empathic kind of pain.  And yet, it isn’t my personal pain.

And when I compare my life to theirs, I am struck by just how much I have to be grateful for.

When the documentary was over, I left the house, walking into the darkness.  I walked around the block listing every single thing I was grateful for, starting with gratitude that I live in a neighborhood safe enough to walk around the block at ten at night without fear.  I was grateful for everything that populated my life:   My parents, my children, my cats, my friends that are scattered around the planet, my education, all of my adventures.  I was grateful for the ability to walk and see and smell. I was grateful for the moon, the stars, the trees, the grass.  Suddenly, my life felt rich and full and safe and free by comparison.

None of this invalidated my own suffering.  My suffering was real.  I remembered reading in Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s search for meaning”.  He described suffering as being like a gas, who it will fill the space it is in. He says regardless of its cause, it fills us.  My suffering doesn’t become unreal or unworthy by comparison, it simply isn’t as dire.

When I embraced the comparison skill, it was life changing. Sometimes, I will feel sorry for myself because of a rupture in a friendship or a difficulty  with work or my children.  I can look at that pain, acknowledge it, and at the same time, feel so much gratitude for my first world problems.  Knowing that I am not packed into a flimsy raft crossing the Mediterranean.( To read about syrian refugee/olympic swimmer,Yusra Mardini, who was another central figure in my embracing of the Comparison skill visit this NY Times article https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/02/sports/olympics/a-swimmer-goes-from-syria-to-rio-from-refugee-to-olympian.html )   I am not living in poverty in a place of no hope. 

It may seem that this means the comparison skill would only work if you are comfortably middle class or have access to lots of resources, and yet, Mother Theresa tells a comparison story in one of her books.  She heard about a family with six children that was starving, so she brought them a bag of rice.  As she visited with the mother, the mother began dividing the rice in half.  Mother Theresa asked if she was planning to save half of the rice for later and the woman replied, “No, it is for our neighbor.  She has eight children who are starving.” 

HOMEWORK

Keep practicing the participate skill in your life. And try laughing along with a Laughter yoga class on Youtube.

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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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