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J.R. Buchanan

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DEAR MAN, a DBT Skill

December 2016

There are many skills in DBT, or Dialectical Behavior therapy. DBT is a therapy that was originally developed to help people with borderline Personality disorder, or BPD, not to be confused with BP, or bipolar disorder. I have bipolar, and DBT has helped me greatly. I wrote about DBT in a previous post, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, here I'll go more into depth about one skill that is quite useful.

I took DBT in 2003/2004, 12 years ago. I made notes to refer to in the future when I needed help remembering the skills. I was just looking at them and thought that a blog post about one of the most useful skills for me would be good to write.

It's called DEAR MAN and it's an interpersonal effectiveness skill. It helps you get what you want in a given situation. This is useful to me, as I tend to have trouble with boundaries, especially when people want me to do something or accept a situation that doesn't feel right. Basically when they're trying to take advantage of me. With DEAR MAN, I can sometimes get what I want or negotiate a compromise that works better for the both of us.

DEAR MAN stands for: Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, stay Mindful, Appear confident, Negotiate

First, you describe the situation. Example: I brought my car in to be serviced last week, and now it's leaking coolant on the ground again like it did when I brought it here in the first place. I want it fixed under warranty. You say that it's a different problem and the 90-day warranty doesn't apply.

Then you express your feelings. Example: I feel that this might be covered under warranty.

Assert yourself: Example: I'd like you to look at the problem and see if it's the same as the one that it was brought in for, or could it be a new problem caused during the work that was done.

Reinforce ahead of time: Example, with the negative consequence, put politely and obliquely: If you look at it with an open mind, it would make for a happy customer. I've had a lot of cars serviced here for years, I'd like to continue the relationship and be able to recommend your shop to my friends.

When reinforcing, if the response is dubious or negative, repeat over and over again, like a cracked or scratched record (shellac or vinyl records, an old thing!). If you are trying to not do what the other person wants, repeat "No" over and over again. If you want some action from the other person, repeat your assertion over and over. Ignore any threats or attempts to change the subject.

Appear confident. This is hard. Even if you feel uncertain, even if you feel all the power is with the other person, even if you are a shy passive person, make yourself appear confident. Even if you aren't. Use a confident voice, make eye contact. Making eye contact is hard for me. In some classes I've taken, it's been explained that in some cultures, under some situations, making eye contact is very rude. In the US, and I presume most of the west, it makes you appear confident. An eye contact trick my father taught me years ago is to look at the bridge of the person's nose. Not quite the same, but good enough. Do not stammer. Again, if you are prone to this, it will be hard. Even if eye contact eludes you, do not look at the floor.

Negotiate. If you haven't gotten what you want at this point, ask the person for an alternate solution, or offer one. Example: Perhaps they will offer to look at the problem and repair it for just the cost of the parts, no labor. If they don't suggest this, you could. Use Broken Record here as well. Ignore threats. Focus on what works. If the best you can do is a compromise, take it, you're way better off than you would have been without trying. It works.

During this whole process stay mindful. Think about what you are trying to accomplish, focus on it to the exclusion of other thoughts. If something distracts you, just let it go.

Of course, like any skill, this will not always work. At some point, you might have to give up on whatever you are asking the other person to do. But don't give up easily, and remember that this skill will increase the chance of getting what you want. If what you want is to refuse a request from someone else, remember that you're the person in power here, they only want you to feel otherwise. In that case, try really hard not to give in. Boundaries are important.

One of the hardest parts of DEAR MAN (or any DBT skill) is to remember it when you need it. That's why you need to practice and use them at every opportunity.

I picked the subject for the examples because I had my truck fixed a few weeks ago, and now it's leaking again. I just went to the shop and made an appointment to have it looked at. They changed the radiator the last time, I suspect it's the water pump this time, the location of the drip under the car shifted, now it's coming from under the water pump. I've seen that before, disturb the cooling system, and then within a few weeks, the water pump starts leaking. If that's what it is, I'm not really going to try to get them to fix it under warranty, they would have done everything right, and then this just happened. A bummer to pay for though...

Do you have a favorite mental health skill? DBT or otherwise? Let us know in the comments!

As usual, I'll post future updates to my Facebook and Twitter pages. Feel free to follow or friend or message me.


mental health DBT Dialectical Behavior Therapy DEAR MAN

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