Mindfulness of Others: Through a DBT Lens

Oct 19, 2021

Dr. Nikita Patel

Mindfulness of Others: Through a DBT Lens

By Nikita Patel, Psy.D.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The moral of this infamous metaphor we’re told as children is to be curious to those around us rather than assuming we know everything about everyone. 

Sounds pretty simple, no?

Heightened emotions and inflexible beliefs can make it difficult to meet new people or be vulnerable with others. Mindfulness of others is a skill from DBT that helps us to be more present in our interactions with others in order to help build new relationships and strengthen existing ones.

Marsha Linehan, the creator of DBT, outlined what we can do in order to be more mindful. She defines mindfulness as the act of being fully aware and present in each moment. The following three skills are what to do to be more mindful:

Observe:

Notice through your five senses and pay attention to your internal world without holding on or pushing away emotions or thoughts

Describe:

Stick to just the facts and label what you’ve observed

Participate:

Throw yourself fully into each moment as it comes

We can incorporate these skills into interactions with others.

Imagine being invited to a birthday dinner where you only know the host and one other person. You are seated next to someone you don’t know and would love to get to know them.

Observe: Be curious and open. Take in through your senses, nonverbal body language, and facial expressions, what the other person is saying and doing. If you notice judgments about yourself or the person, notice them and let them go. Sometimes when we experience intense emotions when speaking with someone new, our focus turns inward. This can reflect outwardly like we are uninterested and negatively impact the dynamic of the interaction. Additionally, we can lose sight of what the other person is saying or doing because we are too focused on ourselves. Refocus your attention back to them, observing what you see and hear, and let go of urges to plan what you’re going to say or do next. Put down the phone! In order to be more present with others, we need to let go of distractions.

Describe: Once you’ve observed what you are seeing and hearing from the other person as well as your own emotions and thoughts, label them as just that. “I’m having the judgment that this person does not think I’m funny;” “I’m feeling anxious;” “I see that they started talking to the person across the table.” It can be easy to jump to assumptions about yourself or the other person. Stop! We can’t observe another person’s inner workings, including how they feel, their thoughts, or their intentions. Given that, avoid interpreting the situation and give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Go back to being curious and open. Judgments and assumptions take us out of and skew the current reality. Acting on assumptions often makes the situation worse and hinders the ability to get to know the other person.

Participate: Allow yourself to go with the flow. Keep at the conversation and let go of judgments, worries, and control. Be one with the interaction.