Another Mistake, Another Opportunity for Skill Use…

I usually leave work at 11:30am on Friday mornings to get to my regular midday therapy appointment. Today, however, and for reasons that were in no way intentional, I mistook the time of day and continued ‘receptionist-ing’ for a further hour. I left work with the intention of getting to my session at 1pm, only to open my phone to see a message from my therapist asking me where I was, and if everything was okay.

CUE (MINI) BREAKDOWN #3747249

I called her immediately to explain the genuine mistake I had made, and practically burst into tears. The primary emotions I felt were guilt, shame and sadness, and secondary to that ensued the anger and judgement directed toward myself. I must have apologised about a dozen times within my first few sentences, themselves of which were rather messy and incoherent. She picked up on my “over-apologising” and challenged me to slow down with the self-critical and punitive thoughts. She encouraged me to use the E in ACCEPTS: opposite Emotion (to shame and guilt) as a Distress Tolerance skill, which I agreed to do. As I was tearful, sullen and slumped in a corner of a street, she suggested the Opposite Action I could take was to stand up tall, look upwards and outwards, and practice “half-smiling” to top that all off. I felt resistant because in my mind the shame and frustration were so justified… AND, I did what she advised anyway. Having missed my session, I felt that being effective with her guidance in that instant was the least I could do.

My head was telling me how stupid and irresponsible I was, and I felt like an enormous failure: It was once again an “it’s-the-end-of-the-world, I-can’t-do-anything-right, I’m-a-failure-of-a-human-being” moment. The same feelings which arise every time I make a mistake (which I feel impacts another person/animal) reared their ugly heads, and I reacted similarly to how I did a few days ago when ‘playing vet’, (outlined in this post here).

My therapist and I talked for a short while, during which she was validating, measured and realistic – somewhat counteracting my chaotic mind, self-invalidation and catastrophic thinking. She said she could hear how much I was beating myself up and the extent to which Emotion Mind was driving my metaphorical car. She therefore wanted me to access my personal “tool kit” and let her know later 3 ways in which I had chosen to be effective, instead of dwelling on and enabling my self-destructive thoughts from getting the better of me.

The 3+ (!!) skills I chose to engage in were:

  • ACCEPTS: opposite Emotion to shame and guilt, and Opposite Action, as described above.
  • Self-soothing through Cheerleading Statements such as “it’s okay, you’re human, and you’re going to be okay“. Also buying myself a cup of mint tea in Costa, which is something I rarely do, and sitting on a comfy sofa with my shoes chucked off!
  • Healthily distracting and using the Push Away (unhelpful thoughts) skill in ACCEPTS, by reading the autobiography of a friend I was sent.
  • More Opposite Action: agreeing to meet a friend for coffee despite wanting to go home and sleep a little bit….!
  • SCREW(ing) the problem by Changing My Relationship to it, i.e. using a personally challenging emotional experience as an opportunity for me to use my DBT skills effectively.
  • Using S(T)UNWAVE: noticing my bodily sensations, thoughts, urges – naming them – and riding them out on a wave.
  • Keeping Calm (ish) and Using My DBT Skilks Like A Boss!

I may not have quite reached a point of Radical Acceptance around missing my session today (I really value my 1:2:1 sessions and time in the presence of a therapist), but having both finished writing this, and using a bunch of skills available to me, I have been able to (compassionately) giggle at myself a little, and overall practice the ultimate effectiveness!

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