Perry Como wasn’t wrong when he sang those iconic Stillman lyrics. “There’s no place like home for the holidays.” Really. And whether it’s your biological family, your chosen family or your new partner, home (for the holidays) carries a weighty pressure that perfectly encompasses Dialectical Behavioral Therapy’s (DBT) core dialectic of acceptance and change.
(‘What the heck is a dialectic?’ you may ask. Head here for a deeper dive into this term.)
As much as I love my family, and I really, truly do, there’s an unshakeable reversion to childhood patterns that the holiday season, and subsequent return home, can provoke in us all. (Adding another escalating ingredient to the mix is COVID-19.) I’ll spare my family the indignity of revealing too much about our interpersonal dynamics on the internet. However, I will say that we all come home for the holidays carrying our own baggage — both literally and figuratively. This can be baggage that’s been simmering for a few days, months, or years. Sometimes it’s baggage that’s entirely irrelevant to the individuals sitting around that open fire roasting chestnuts — I’ve literally never roasted chestnut, and I simply couldn’t begin to tell you how to do that. Other times, it’s baggage that has absolutely everything to do with a very particular scenario, involving a very specific individual, who’s watching that ball drop beside you on New Year’s Eve.
And, it’s at this moment that DBT’s core dialectic comes into play. Accept? Change? Sometimes, we accept. For those who are considering this course of action, because yes, acceptance is a choice, I recommend reviewing some of DBT’s Distress Tolerance Skills. In other circumstances, perhaps when we’re looking to obtain a specific goal or objective, we pursue change.
This holiday season, if you have a specific goal or objective, once you’ve clarified your priorities, consider DEAR MAN. This is one of my personal favorite skills in the entire DBT repertoire, as I have found it to be particularly effective for me. Surely, contacting your individual therapist, or diving more deeply into DBT Skills Training at BPS will support this process in greater depth, and, for now, with just a few days before heading ‘home,’ I’ve included a very quick primer on DEAR MAN.
My sample situation? My sister repeatedly takes my clothing from my closet. My objective? Get my sister to stop taking my clothing.
D – Describe the Situation
Ex: I’ve noticed that you have taken a few articles of clothing from my closet without asking me in advance.
E – Express Clearly
Ex: I feel anxious when I can’t find a missing clothing item. I wonder where it has gone, and whether I’d brought it back home in the first place.
A – Assert Wishes
Ex: I would like you to stop taking my clothing.
R – Reinforce
Ex: My hope is that we can figure this out so that we can minimize our bickering during this trip.
(Stay) M – Mindful
This is the part of the conversation where I would emulate a broken record, continuing to express my opinion in spite of any diversions or deviations from my sister.
A – Appear Confident
While I might be nervous to make this ask, using a confident tone of voice and physicality will better support my efforts to obtain my objective.
N – Negotiate
If my ask or refusal appears to be hitting a wall, I must be willing to give to get. For example, if I’m comfortable with this alternative, I might ask my sister to, at the very least, ask me before taking my clothing.