In the intensive DBT residential I was an inpatient in, even though I inherently loved it, a lot of things pissed me off! From the rules about when we were allowed smoke breaks, to the locks on certain cupboards and doors, little things did my head in and I often reacted with an angry outburst which just led to further problems.
In one of the classes we had there, we learnt about a DBT concept called Alternate Rebellion. This skill aims to provide some form of expressive but non-destructive outlet for that rebellious spirit inside of us.
On many occasions, my rebellious streak has led me to engage in behaviours which have negatively impacted both myself and others around me. Alternate Rebellion, however, is designed to provide some of the relief of ‘acting out’ but without the messy consequences of engaging in target behaviours. In this way, it is a valuable Distress Tolerance technique, for ensuring that a problem is not made worse by ineffective behaviours.
The other day when I was angry at my therapist, all I wanted to do was send her a text message full of spite and revengeful energy. No doubt, this could have been very damaging to our relationship, as well as to my (already minimal) self-respect! Instead, I consulted my Wise Mind and tried to come up with an action that would be more effective and in line with my values and long-term goals.
What I did may not sound like much, but it really did help. Firstly, I deleted her details off of my phone as a metaphorical “Fuck You”. Second, I wrote a really long ‘no-send’ piece of uncensored writing (directed towards her) to let off some steam, committing to myself from the beginning not to send it to her.
Thirdly, when I had calmed down enough to resolve the conflict with her and put her details back into my phone (I know her number off by heart), I decided to mix it up a little. I used to have a bunch of happy emoticons and animal faces next to her name on my iPhone. Now, I have her name followed by one sole emoji (see image below) which cracks me up every time I see it:
Now, any time I open a message from her, or go to call her for Skills Coaching, the little emoji gives me a sense of that rebellious relief and pleasure. Even though things are currently resolved between us, it still provides me with a laugh, a sense of control (over our relationship, perhaps), and a reminder of the value in the Alternate Rebellion skill to both myself and those around me.
Here are some further ideas of how to Alternatively Rebel (in the context of my DBT residential), which I came up with in Boston:
- Wee in the shower
- Ask a smoker for a cigarette when out on my ‘independent walks’
- Walk back through the grounds the long way
- Arrive back at the unit just on time, at curfew on the dot
- Sneak my phone into the cafeteria in my bra, and take advantage of the wifi
- ‘Forget’ to hand my phone in upon return to the unit
- Decode the computer’s login password and share it with everyone on the unit
- Do a jigsaw puzzle in the hallway so as to be able to hear staff meetings in the lounge
- Step a few feet into the office even though entry is disallowed
- Have a nap and remain ‘asleep’ during exercise hour
- Cuddle all the staff members who were unaware of my ‘ban’ on hugs
- On ‘tunnel walks’, sing at the top of our voices and let our words echo throughout the hospital, much to the staffs’ embarrassment
- Say hello to everyone on campus to ‘be friendly’ and start up a conversation, even when this is clearly discouraged
- Gradually accumulate all the best colouring pens from the box of markers to my bedroom
I do love this skill. For a more comprehensive and day-to-day list, see this DBT Self Help website here.