Summary: Calming the Emotional Storm is about how to bear emotional pain skillfully. The book distills the core teachings of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which is a branch of psychotherapy with the premise that (similar to CBT) your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are interconnected and that by changing any one component, you can influence the others.

The author Sheri Van Dijk is an international speaker and psychotherapist with over fifteen years of experience in the field of mental health.

 

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Calming the Emotional Storm Summary

Key Takeways

  • We often live our lives on automatic pilot, going through the motions without really thinking about what we’re doing and just reacting from our feelings… this is mindlessness.
  • Mindfulness involves purposely paying attention to the present moment without judgment.
  • We tend to to fight the things that cause us pain, physical or emotional. This tendency to fight reality is often a contributing factor in keeping the painful emotions alive.
  • Acceptance: ‘it is what it is’ … Non Acceptance: ‘It’s not fair’
  • ‘It is not by moving the rocks that we find happiness and awakening but by transforming our relationship with them.’

Sheri Van Dijk “Calming The Emotional Storm” Summary

Book Notes

Introduction

  • ‘Dialectical Behavioral Therapy’ (DBT) is a branch of psychotherapy that was created by Marsha M. Linehan in Seattle Washington. Linehan’s work has its roots in ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’ (CBT) which she was using to treat people with an illness called borderline personality disorder.
  • Whilst working with patients, Linehan came to the realization that CBT wasn’t enough, which led her to create a new form of therapy. Similar to ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,’ DBT skills stem from the basic premise that our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are all interconnected and that by changing the way we think, we can change our emotions and behaviors. Furthermore, Linehan added the concepts of ‘mindfulness’ and ‘acceptance’ to Dialectical Behavior Therapy.
  • This book focuses on the four sets of DBT skills; core mindfulness skills which will help you to live in the present moment, distress tolerance which will help you to cope with crisis situations in healthy ways rather than unhealthy ways. The third – emotion regulation, will help you to manage your emotions more effectively. Finally, interpersonal effectiveness, which will help you to maintain and improve your relationships.
  • The major emphasis of DBT is to learn to bear emotional pain skillfully. However, for it to be most effective you need to think of DBT not just as therapy or a set of skills… but as a way of living. 

 

Don’t Just React: Choose How to Act

  • We all have three ways of thinking about things; our emotional self, our reasoning self, and our wise self. In DBT they are known as ‘emotional mind,’ ‘reasonable mind’, and ‘wise mind.’
  • When you have problems regulating your emotions, you tend to spend more time in your emotional self. However, there are other ways of thinking about things and you can learn how to get to these states with some practice.
  • With regards to the emotional self, when you’re thinking from this perspective your emotions tend to control your behavior. Rather than thinking about how you’d like to act in a situation, your emotions take over and you simply react – you might act out physically or lash out verbally when you’re angry.
  • When you’re feeling anxiety, your emotional self would have you avoid the situation that’s causing this feeling. For example, you may feel fearful about attending a social event so you end up not going. When you’re feeling sad or depressed, your emotional self causes you to withdraw from others, isolate yourself, and reduce or even stop your normal activities.
  • You might find that you have this tendency to react from any emotion or you might find that you can manage most of your emotions, but struggle from one or two. Either way, acting from your emotional self is usually not in your best interest in the long run.
  • When you’re in your reasoning self, you don’t usually experience emotions and if you do, these emotions are not intense and are easily disregarded. Everyday examples would include things such as writing a list of things you need to pick up at your store or when you’re balancing a checkbook or planning for a vacation.
  • Acting from your wise self is about finding a balance between your emotional and reasoning self and following your intuition about what’s in your best interest in the long run.
  • Your wise self will have you considering what you think about a situation, what your feelings are about it and what the consequences of your actions will be and then basing your decision on these three things. In other words, when you’re acting from your wise self, you’re choosing how to act rather than simply reacting.

 

Leave the Judgements Out of It

  • The word judgment refers to assessing a person, situation or event, in other words, when we judge, we form an opinion either positive or negative about someone or something. Most of us are judging constantly throughout the day – ‘it’s a beautiful day,’ ‘the subway smells’ ‘that jerk just cut me off!’ It’s not very often that we can experience something without putting these kinds of judgmental labels on it.
  • Judgments are so common in our society that it is very difficult for us not to judge. You’re likely to remember hearing judgments as far back as your childhood: ‘that was good,’ ‘you are a bad girl’ ‘that was stupid!’ ‘what were you thinking?’ Hearing judgments for most of our lives, it only makes sense that we would internalize this habit.
  • One may argue that if judgments are so common, why are they a problem… If everyone makes judgments why should you be concerned with them? The short answer to this question is that negative judgments can increase your painful emotions.
  • To clarify, a series of things leads to an increase in emotional pain when you make judgments. First, an event or situation takes place and your negative interpretation of that event causes you to feel a painful emotions, usually, something like anger fear or hurt. This painful emotion is what actually causes you to judge.
  • For example someone cuts you off in traffic. Your interpretation of this event is something like: ‘Oh my God he could have killed me’ which leads to the automatic response of fear and anger and these emotions cause you to judge – ‘what a jerk!’ This judgment actually increases your emotions, usually triggering more anger.
  • Although many people rationalize their judgments by saying that judging makes them feel better, doing so actually adds more fuel to the emotional fire. Research has shown that venting anger has the effect of increasing anger and aggression and keeps our emotions going rather than calming them down.
  • For the next week, keep track of your judgments as best as you can. You don’t have to write them down but pay attention to when you’re judging and notice the emotions you experience as a result of these judgments. Note judgments you make of yourself, others, and situations. Remember that judgments happen automatically, so you might find it difficult to notice when you’re judging.

 

Accepting Things As They Are

  • We all have or have had situations in our lives that are painful. Furthermore, some people experience more painful situations than others – situations that are traumatizing such as being involved in a car accident or being caught in a natural disaster.
  • In life, the pain that results in situations like these is inevitable. But quite often we add to our emotional burden by not accepting the reality of these events and by fighting reality instead. This creates suffering.
  • As Linehan notes, suffering is the extra painful emotions that arise when you refuse to accept the pain in your life. Suffering makes it more difficult for you to cope, and to function normally. It often results in those unhealthy behaviors you may tend to fall into as you try to feel better by escaping through drugs or alcohol, gambling, shopping and so on.
  • Do you fight reality? Think about a recent time in your life when you’ve experienced a difficult situation that triggered pain for you. Note that quite often – difficult situations are those in which you have no control.
  • For example, someone else has made a decision that impacts you and although you may be able to assert yourself and try to influence that person, the control is essentially not yours. Now think about how you talked to yourself about this situation and about your pain.
  • What were your thoughts about it? did you simply say ‘okay I accept this’ or did you notice non-accepting thoughts such as ‘it’s not fair’ or ‘why me’ or ‘this shouldn’t have happened ‘ or ‘I can’t bear it.’
  • As humans, we have a tendency to fight the things that cause us pain, physical or emotional.  This tendency to fight reality is often a contributing factor in keeping the painful emotions alive.

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