Beauty and the Borderline

A Journey towards Integration

Distress Tolerance: The Dialectic

Before I launch into a special category of Distress Tolerance skills (the “Dialectical” skills, I call them)  I want to say (er, write) a few words about the dialectic, which is one of the key concepts behind DBT — so key, in fact, that “Dialectical” is the first word of DBT.

Walking on the SidewalkThe “dialectic” is a word with a lot — and I mean A LOT — of baggage.  Philosophers throughout recorded history have written ridiculous amounts about it, discussing this and that about different types of dialectic, blah blah blah.  (Sadly — I write with a smile — this sort of high-falutin’ discussion is what turns ME on, but I know most people would switch off once I started going on about how fascinating it all is, so I’ll stick to what’s pertinent to us.)  Essentially, the dialectic is, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “a method of examining and discussing opposing ideas in order to find the truth.”  Others call it “Open-Minded Thinking” or “Walking the Middle Path”.

“Dialectical” means that two seemingly opposite ideas can both be true at the same time.  For example:
You are right AND the other person is right.
You are doing the best that you can AND you need to try harder, do better, and be more motivated to change.
You can take care of yourself AND you need help and support from others.

There is always more than one true way to see a situation, and more than one true opinion, idea, thought, or dream.  Two things that seem like (or are) opposites can both be true.  All people have something unique, different, and worthy to teach us. (Especially those special, wonderful people that push our buttons frequently, like our spouses, or our children.)  A life worth living has both comfortable and uncomfortable aspects (happiness AND sadness, anger AND peace, hope AND discouragement, fear AND security).  All points of view have both true and false within them.

MC900434752DBT is about finding the balance (the “dialectic”) between acceptance and change.  In order to create CHANGE, first we must ACCEPT what IS, just as it is.  (Doesn’t mean we have to approve, or agree, or leave it the way it is, but until we can look at something just as it is, without judgment, we cannot change it.)

So much of DBT depends on being able to let go of the black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking that characterizes BPD.  The “dialectical” skills of DBT are about learning that life, that ourselves, that everything isn’t good OR bad, black OR white, or even various shades of gray.  Everything is plaid.  Everything is good AND bad, black AND white, and being able to see and understand opposing viewpoints is one the key abilities that will help us to overcome the hell of BPD.

As I go over the next few Distress Tolerance skills — Pros & Cons, Radical Acceptance, Turning the Mind, and Willingness vs. Willfulness — remember the Dialectic.

Other resources:

Creating the Bridge to Middle Ground@GET Self Help

DBT Skills Handbook, pg. 7-9

What is a Dialectic?@Healing from BPD

DBT for Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy FAQ, pg. 5-6@


One comment on “Distress Tolerance: The Dialectic

  1. Reblogged this on Art Therapy and Related Topics and commented:
    A great description of the “Dialectical” of DBT Therapy:


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