Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – Part 6 – The Interpersonal Silver Lining with Emotional Regulation

Welcome to the final article of this six-part series on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). As a
reminder, DBT is an evidence-based therapy practice helping individuals regulate emotions and
manage behavior. At its core, DBT helps people find freedom from an internal world of
emotional chaos. The specific topic of this article is interpersonal effectiveness which is the
practice of using relational skills for success in positive connections with others.
Similar to distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness is built on the foundation of the other
DBT skills like mindfulness, emotional regulation, and wise mind. The goal of DBT’s
interpersonal effectiveness skills is to build and maintain positive relationships. Mastery is
helpful for all people, but those who have experienced trauma will especially notice a big
difference when using these skills.

Why these skills are important
Interpersonal effectiveness is all about respecting others and at the same time, being true to
yourself. Ineffective relational skills and negative behavior patterns can harm and even destroy
relationships. DBT points out areas where a lack of skill creates problems. First of all, a
judgmental attitude expressed in words, tone, or body language shows disapproval of another
person’s expression and can continue a negative cycle of conflict. Secondly, defensiveness and
denial are unhelpful tactics therapists often see in couples counseling. This involved one party
defending themselves and denying any responsibility within a conflict. Thirdly, one person
shutting down or emotionally withdrawing from a conversation is a dysfunctional behavior
pattern as well. This happens as a response to the brain feeling overwhelmed by the relational
conflict and not having the appropriate skills to bring peace and restoration back to the
connection. It is for these reasons, as well as many others, that learning interpersonal
effectiveness skills is not only advised but crucial to relational success.

Strong skills for connection
DBT interpersonal effectiveness skills are helpful for all people because we are all in some
type(s) of relationship. Regardless of whether your temperament type is extroverted or
introverted, strong interpersonal skills enable you to interact with the people you care about in
the most effective way. These tools will also help you understand others’ feelings, collaborate
using kindness, show mutual respect, and utilize active listening even in the middle of tense
situations. All these abilities begin with a tool called empathy. More than any other
psychological tactic, empathy is the key to connecting two humans. Allow me to explain in more
detail.

Employ empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and examine others’ perspectives whether or not you have
experienced something similar to the person with whom you are trying to relate. When you
show empathy, the other person feels understood. Utilizing empathy and communication skills
during conflict causes tension to de-escalate. Understanding the two levels of empathic validation empowers clients to utilize empathy as skillfully as possible. The two levels of validation are as follows:

  1. Validation level one:
    • Level one empathy involves listening non-judgmentally by showing interest in
      the other person through verbal and non-verbal cues that express interest.
    • For example, you can use eye contact and reply with prompts like, “What
      happened next?” or “Tell me more” after statements are expressed.
  2. Validation level two:
    • Level two empathy refers to accurately summarizing what the person is sharing,
      then validating what they told you.
    • For example, you might say something like: “So, you are frustrated because your
      son has not picked up his room. Is that right?”

These are just a sample of the skills taught in the Interpersonal Effectiveness module of DBT.
The skills offer you a simple way to share, listen and understand in interactions with others
while at the same time acting in a way that makes you feel confident and clear minded yourself.

Conclusion
I am so glad you walked through this six-part series on DBT, and I hope you found it useful. If
you would like more support in understanding and implementing these skills in your life,
contact a therapist trained in DBT. DBT is not only helpful in individual counseling, but also in
groups. DBT groups offer a level of support which research shows to be highly effective,
enhancing individual therapy in a way nothing else can possibly do. Don’t waste anymore time
in relational conflict or personal despair, reach out for help today.

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