DBT Skills: Use That Skepticism

Ladies and gents and other fancy people of non binary genders: today we have come to a skill that I use constantly and which has seriously improved my life. Hopefully it can also be helpful to you. If you’ll recall we’ve been talking about emotion regulation, or ways to keep your emotions in a reasonable state that feels comfortable to you. Today’s skill allows you to determine if it’s useful to try to change an emotion (either because it doesn’t make sense in the given context, it’s stronger than makes sense in the given context, or simply because it’s hurting you) or whether the emotion is appropriate to the situation and is something you should probably just let yourself feel.

This skill is call checking the facts. It’s a great skill for skeptics to have in their back pockets if they want to live a life in which they’re not afraid to turn their skepticism on themselves. Essentially, checking the facts is taking a step back, looking at what you objectively know about a situation, and determining what emotions fit those facts. We talked last time about thinking about when emotions are justified (e.g. sadness if something has been taken away from you). In checking the facts, you’re trying to determine what is just feelings, and what is true, and whether those two things match up.

There’s a great breakdown of the difference between opinion and fact on She May Be Daft. This is a great place to pair your mindfulness skills of observe and describe with your emotion regulation skills. Try to get down to the basics if you find that you can’t tell what’s a feeling and what’s a fact. Who did what when? Describe what people did rather than how you think they were feeling. Psychology Today has some good examples of this skill in practice if you want to look at how emotions and facts get pulled apart in the middle of a bad situation.

One other helpful thing to keep in mind when checking the facts is that most of us are prone to cognitive distortion. Black and white thinking, personalization, catastrophizing. Sometimes these things seem like facts, but are really patterns that our brains are used to following to make it easier to come to conclusions. That doesn’t mean they’re accurate. It can be incredibly helpful to know some of the common cognitive distortions and which ones you’re prone to so that if you start falling into one you can know to check the facts. Here’s a good breakdown of some that are common.

Once you’ve checked the facts, you can figure out if your emotion makes sense or not, or if it’s distorting the way you’re thinking. Someone violated a boundary and now you’re angry? That makes perfect sense. You might want to let yourself feel that emotion and potentially even act on it. Someone spoke to you in a way that you perceived as hurtful, but which could be interpreted in a variety of ways? Spend some time regulating that emotion with mindfulness or opposite to emotion, then maybe see if you can find out more information. Checking the facts: it’s how we can live more objectively!

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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