How the Check The Facts DBT skill keeps you out of emotional trouble
“the brain is a machine for jumping to conclusions”
― Daniel Kahneman
Most of us with BPD can relate to this: you are out with a friend and she says something about your hairstyle which insults you and before you know it, you are off to the races, loaded for bear. One thing leads to another and in no time at all the friendship has blown up in your face and she goes from being a friend and close confidante to a sworn enemy. You are left bewildered and wondering, “How in the world did this happen?”
Well, misunderstandings like this occur when we jump to conclusions. It happens all the time but for those of us with BPD, it seems to happen more often than for other, non-BPD people.
The emotion regulation skill called Check The Facts teaches us how to avoid this all too common pitfall. It gives us enough time to step back, assess the situation and move into Wise Mind before we automatically react and say things based on our past history and present vulnerabilities. Learning how to use this skill provides a buffer zone for us so that we can lower our vulnerabilities to situational stimuli and think more clearly and logically instead of from an emotionally charged state of mind. When you use this skill, you are using your “Wise Mind” and you must utilize this skill before you can move forward into other DBT skills such as Opposite Action. This skill falls into the Emotion Regulation module of DBT and is extremely useful for helping people not jump to conclusions or make assumptions about other people’s behavior which they would otherwise interpret negatively. It stops us from going off into rash decisions when presented with the behavior of others and so that makes it an extremely valuable skill to work at developing.
The first step is learning how to understand and label your emotions. This is why mindfulness is so important to DBT because it teaches us to first and foremost recognize the feelings for what they are. Then comes the next step which is learning how to acknowledge them.
All emotions serve a purpose. Emotions are generated in the amygdala, a very old part of our brain. They are the simple chemical reactions to stimuli. So, some kind of a “threat” will engage the fight or flight response which propels a person to either attack the presumed perpetrator or run away from them. For most of us with BPD, this is a typical response: anger and that is why this skill is so helpful because it gives us the tools to not shoot ourselves in the foot when difficult situations arise. I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell you how many times my anger derailed what was up until then, a good friendship.
Using the Check the Facts skill helps us learn how to change our emotional responses. It gives us a time buffer before we simply react and lash out which allows us the grace to figure out how to respond instead. When you use this skill you are trying to determine whether or not your emotional reaction fits the facts of what is actually happening in the given situation. It gives you the opportunity to take a step back and use mindfulness to observe the situation through your Wise Mind rather than just your emotional mind. It gives you a neutral playing field in which you can assess the situation for what it actually is as to what it appears to be.
Going through this exercise teaches your brain that there are other ways to think about things, teaches your brain that there are other ways to modify your beliefs and gives your brain the opportunity to learn that there are other ways of processing information rather than just jumping to conclusions and having a knee jerk reaction. It gives your brain the chance to actively process whether or not you are being presented with an actual, real threat or just a perceived threat.
The second piece of this is that you have to be open to considering alternative explanations or interpretations for whatever the distressing event is. So, for example, the person who commented about your hairstyle might merely be meaning that she has never seen such a hairstyle and wondering how your stylist decided to cut your hair that way rather than implying that she thinks it is ugly. You will eventually be able to see the way your own personal history and experiences have influenced the way you interpret events which occur which will enable you to have choices about the way in which you choose to respond.