If you or a loved one has experienced a terrible event or significant loss, it’s possible to manage the resulting PTSD, if not recover from it. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are two effective methods that target problematic thinking patterns such as racing thoughts, logical fallacies, and painful memories. I particularly like DBT. Although it was originally created for people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), its tools are beneficial for trauma survivors and those living with mental illness.
Your future with PTSD or Complex PTSD is tough, but you will still experience moments of delight, love, and even euphoria. They push their way through the cracks of that darkness, sometimes when you least expect it. When you use tools like CBT and DBT to manage your symptoms, you will find pleasure in life again as you confront those difficult days. This post will discuss how distress tolerance tools like radical acceptance and other emotional regulation tools, like naming your feelings, can assist you in handling those difficult times.
#1 Wise Mind
The quiet and thoughtful Wise Mind is an integrative part of the human psyche which allows us to see things from a broader perspective and respond appropriately. The Wise Mind allows us to see things from a broader perspective and respond appropriately. It is the quiet, contemplative part of our psyche. The Emotional Mind, although impulsive and prone to strong emotions, is an intrinsic part of our psychology that we must not overlook. It may give us vital information that can help us stay safe! We must maintain a balance between the wise and emotional parts of our psyche.
How to consult Wise/Emotional Mind: Take a piece of paper and write down what each “Mind” thinks. For example, suppose that someone called you stupid which made you feel down or anxious. Your Emotional Mind might respond, “They’re right; I’m stupid. What’s the point of even bothering?” Your Wise Mind, on the other hand, might say, “I have two college degrees, so I can’t be stupid. My friends tell me I’m witty, which is a sign of intelligence.”
Consider both minds and come to a conclusion: “People are often cruelly honest, but their truth doesn’t matter to me. I don’t tolerate cruel people in my life, so their opinion is irrelevant.”
#2 Name Your Emotions
It may sound absurd, but naming your emotions really does help. Think of it as making them tangible, something you can touch rather than a problem floating in the ether where you can’t reach it. Naming your emotions can help reduce their intensity as you get to the root cause of them.
For example, if you feel outraged, say to yourself, “I am angry,” and then dive deeper. Why do you feel angry? You might find that you feel “betrayed, foolish, and ashamed.” By exploring these feelings, you can take away the power of your emotions and regain control of them.
To use this tool, you might find this Berkeley list of over 250 emotions helpful. Search through them and write down the ones that describe what you’re feeling. Keep going until you get to the root of your emotion. Then you can process it more thoroughly.
#3 Radical Acceptance
In my view, Radical Acceptance is the most effective tool. It encourages people accept reality in this moment. Instead of dwelling on what they cannot do, it encourages them to concentrate on what they can do. It helps them to realize that getting angry or upset will only serve to exacerbate the situation, hurting only themselves more. The point is to accept reality how it is right now rather than hoping things will get better or wishing it was somehow different.
Radical Acceptance, step-by-step:
- State out loud to yourself in a mirror, “This is what’s happening right now. It’s sucks ass, but this is my reality now.” For example, if you’re in an abusive relationship, you might say, “My husband hits me when he’s drunk or upset. This is really fucked up and he’s a bully, but this is the reality.”
- Name your emotions (see #2). Say out loud to yourself (or write down if you don’t have any privacy), “I feel _____, ______ , and _____ about this reality.” For example, if you’re in the aftermath of sexual violence, you might say, “I feel shattered, sick, and angry about this reality. I’m angry that nothing will happen to him, and I’m sick it’s going to maybe take years to be okay again. I feel like my life has been shattered.”
- Say to yourself, “I cannot do anything about this because it’s already happened. I cannot change the past.” (Perhaps you can’t even change the present at the moment in the case of domestic violence, so state that to yourself. That is part of radical acceptance.)
- Then say, “But I can step forward by figuring out what I can do.” Make a plan; execute the plan. Brainstorm by writing your options down or talking to yourself to process and explore. Make a list of steps to take, things you can do for yourself and only yourself. Engage in self-care, like something from your “If You Could Do Anything” list or affirmations that counter the affront (I am worth of love. I am not stupid. I deserve a safe relationship, etc.).
Depending on the severity of the current reality, there are different things you can do. For example, if it’s because someone was cruel to you or a friend betrayed you, it might be helpful to talk yourself out of the anger because your anger sure isn’t hurting them, it’s only hurting you. This is not to say you forgive them or dismiss the transgression, but it changes the focus to what you can do about it, like cut them out of your life (if it’s a regular occurrence) or distance yourself from them. Perhaps you decide you won’t confide in them again, or you might confront them about it for a discussion.
If it’s something more severe like sexual or domestic violence—or even the loss of a loved one—your anger can help you heal, at least at first. There is plenty to be angry about, and that anger can be cleansing. I’m by no means saying to push your emotions aside. In the case of grief, it’s necessary to face that grief head-on, as that’s part of radical acceptance.
In any case, feel your emotion. Name your emotion, and then take action. Realize being angry with yourself, blaming yourself, insulting yourself isn’t hurting them. It’s hurting you, and it’s making your shitty situation shittier. It’s piling shit on top of shit.
If people repeatedly hurt you, no matter who they are, ruthlessly cut them out of your life. It’s empowering.
May you find peace.