Thursday, November 6, 2014

Difficult Relatives at Thanksgiving: Surviving the Family Gathering with DBT Skills (Part 2)

This is the second part of a two-part series. Part 1 covers the skill of alternate rebellion as well as the use of validation strategies.  Here I will cover additional DBT skills that can help you to enjoy Thanksgiving
despite anything else that may be going on at the table.

Holidays are a stressful time for many and one way that we tend to cope is by overeating and over-drinking.  The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training Manual now includes skills specifically designed to target these types of addictive behaviors.  We eat and drink too much in order to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings.  Skills can help us to be able to tolerate these difficult emotions so that we do not need to numb them.  One such skill is urge surfing.

Urge surfing is a skill to bring you back to wise mind.  When you are in emotion mind, you are ruled by moods, feelings, and urges.  In wise mind you are able to follow the middle path and do what is most effective in the moment.  Urge surfing is a mental activity:  you imagine that your urges are a surfboard in an ocean.  You are standing on this surfboard, riding the waves.  Observe the urges.  They are likely to come and go, sometimes with great intensity and other times more subtle.  Eventually, they are likely to go away.  Even if the urges do not go away, you are likely to find yourself more comfortably standing on this mental surfboard.

Of course we must balance efforts toward change -- in ourselves or in others -- with efforts to accept ourselves, those around us, and the present moment.  Mindfulness skills are a key part of this balance.  You might meditate while sitting, or walking, or while observing nature.  Perhaps you might engage in a more active, participatory mindfulness exercise.  There are plenty of workbooks that you can use to cultivate mindfulness skills as well as to understand and accept the challenge of difficult family members.

Ultimately, may you take the challenges of the day and use them to learn something new about yourself.  Happy Thanksgiving.


  1. Great post Jeremy. Wise mind is one of the most helpful DBT tools, especially during situations where emotions run high -- like the holidays!

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Julie! It's great to have your voice on here. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.


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