Use Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) FAST Skills to Balance Keeping Relationships with Keeping Respect for Yourself

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March 4, 2014

DBT FAST Skills ExplainedThis post is the third of a three-part series about Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills, adapted from Marsha M. Linehan’s book, Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder (1993, The Guilford Press, New York, NY).

In this three part series, we have looked at DEARMAN skills, the DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness acronym for Objectives Effectiveness, or getting one’s objectives, goals or needs met. Then last month we discussed GIVE, the DBT acronym for getting and keeping relationships. This month, we will take a closer look at FAST, the DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness acronym for Self-Respect Effectiveness, or keeping respect for yourself. Maintaining self-respect while maneuvering interpersonal interactions can present a challenge to all of us at times, but for OPI Living and OPI Intensive participants who have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), balancing the task of keeping relationships with keeping respect for one’s self can be particularly difficult. Here are some pointers for using these skills effectively.

When interacting with others, to be effective, we want to keep the relationship in mind and do what we can to take care of it so it will continue and flourish, but never at the cost of our own values, self-respect, or needs. In any interpersonal situation, be mindful of these things to be sure that you not only feel good about your relationships at the end of a social interaction, but also continue to build mastery in interpersonal effectiveness and feel good about yourself.

F – (be) Fair

Be fair, not just to the other person, but also be fair to YOURSELF!

Don’t put the other person’s needs or desires above your own, or keep your needs or desires to yourself. Be assertive, not aggressive or passive aggressive, and speak your truth, but also listen to the other person and be open to a discussion or a compromise.

Don’t expect the other person to always accommodate your preferences, and don’t accept never having yours considered or honored.

A – (no) Apologies

No unjustified apologies. Do not be overly apologetic, apologize for making a request, for breathing, taking up space, being alive. Don’t apologize for having your own opinion or for disagreeing with others.

Many people, with and without BPD, struggle with over-apologizing, something that can serve to perpetuate low self-esteem and feelings of frustration, resentment, self-loathing, or self-betrayal. This is the opposite of self-respect! If you find yourself apologizing several times a day, start asking yourself, “What am I apologizing for?” “Did I do or say something that legitimately warrants an apology, or am I over-apologizing?”

Often, people apologize to avoid conflict or because they have difficulty tolerating someone being angry with them, so they apologize to smooth things over or keep the peace. Here is an important point to keep in mind: if you apologize for every little thing, you may appear insincere when it comes to a situation where an apology is actually warranted.

Building mindfulness around over-apologizing can help you to break the habit and raise your self-respect.

S – Stick to values

Don’t compromise or abandon your OWN VALUES to try to please others or conform.

Don’t do anything that goes against what you know to be right for YOU. For example, if the rest of your friends want to go to a bar and stay out until 2 am, and you know that in your early sobriety you have difficulty being around alcohol, and you need to be at work at 9 am the next day, then clearly this situation is not right for you personally. Speak up and make other suggestions or make alternate plans.

Don’t abandon your friends, religion, or hobbies for your new boyfriend or girlfriend. Make time to do the things that are important to you, and both you and your new relationship will be healthier for it. If another person expects you to compromise things that are important to you, then the relationship may not be the best fit for you anyway.

T – (be) Truthful

Truthful    Don’t lie, exaggerate, or stretch the truth. Don’t make excuses. Don’t act HELPLESS or take advantage of others when you are capable of helping yourself!

Whether telling a little white lie or a blatant tale, people can be untruthful for many reasons. Often, they are trying to avoid confrontation, conflict, or getting into trouble. Perhaps they are trying not to hurt another person’s feelings. And sometimes, people lie in an effort to try to manipulate or control a situation.

Making it a habit of telling lies has a way of eventually tripping us up when one forgets what they have said and to whom they have said it. Play it safe and create a situation for yourself in which you never have to worry about what you have or have not said, thereby keeping anxiety, guilt, and shame away.

Remember, telling only partial truths or omitting facts are also ways of being untruthful and can be harmful to relationships!

Building and maintaining self-respect while balancing relationships can be challenging. However, if you empower yourself by building mastery in DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness FAST skills, you can approach the most difficult conversations with more confidence and feel good afterward about your relationship AND YOURSELF.

DBT Bonus Tips for Success in 2014

  • Try using a piece of jewelry as a mindfulness tool. It does not have to be anything special or expensive; it can be costume jewelry or even something braided from thread or yarn. Whether it’s a ring, bracelet, or necklace, you need to assign it specifically as your “mindfulness” token. When you look at it or touch it throughout the day, it will serve as a reminder to be more mindful.
  • Ask your therapist or a trusted friend to hold you accountable to work on building healthy assertiveness, or join an assertiveness training group. Keep a journal and track attempts to be more assertive, and discuss the results with your therapist or ask a friend for feedback. Be sure to note any feelings in the moment, especially if you backed down and did not assert yourself.
  • Ask a trusted friend to hold you accountable for over-apologizing, or keep a log of apologies to discuss with your therapist, and ask for feedback. Make sure to note the situation, whether an apology was justified, and how you felt after the interaction.