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If I resisted mindfulness and distress tolerance, I practically waged war on interpersonal effectiveness, I rejected it so hard. Basically, I didn’t feel that I needed it.

To some approximation, I was mostly right about that. I wouldn’t be good at what I do if I wasn’t good with people. But interpersonal skills can always use a brush-up, no? By the second time around, I took a little less offense to the material and got a bit more out of it, but managed to be absent (for legitimate reasons, no less) a lot during that module.

Interpersonal effectiveness is all acronyms, all the time: DEAR MAN, GIVE FAST. But I’m not doing a review of the content because I covered it already. The take-aways, for me, were in the themes of balancing, and the factors reducing interpersonal effectiveness.

Balancing

What can I say? Balance has not generally been my forte – whether or not the bipolar diagnosis was accurate, having been given it at all pretty much disqualifies me for the “Miss Balanced” contest, don’t you think? It was useful for me to get non-academic perspectives on balance as well, because other academics have similarly insane notions of balance.

In any case, I came to recognize that my wants deserved attention in addition to the things I feel I should do – and I also learned to question whether I really should be doing the various things that demand my time and attention. Surprisingly often, the answer is “no,” and that’s a good thing to know.

Factors Reducing Effectiveness

I liked that DBT acknowledged the variety of external and internal factors that can reduce interpersonal effectiveness. The big culprits for me pop up at different times, under different circumstances: worry thoughts, emotions, and indecision.

That bird is looking at me funny. Do you think he's judging me? I'm sure he knows what a lazy jerk I really am...

That bird is looking at me funny. I’m going to worry about why that bird hates me. All day.

I occasionally worry way too much about how others perceive me, and when I’m in a low mood, I tend to ruminate to no end about how badly I screwed up every last interaction with anyone ever – which basically leads me to isolate. That can hardly be called effective interpersonal interaction, but it’s not entirely ineffective either – however, it’s also particularly unhealthy for me.

At times my overwhelming emotions overflow into my interactions with others. I kinda can’t help that – I’m trying to observe patterns of behavior that I can detect and nip in the bud, so to speak (like ranting. So much ranting.) Unfortunately, I really lose objectivity when I’m under the influence of hormonal havoc, and I just can’t always tell it’s happening until I’m in the middle of it and can’t readily extract myself. Usually later I want to punch myself for talking or typing too much or too loosely.

At other times, during emotional lows, I suffer from indecision that makes it hard for me to interact effectively because I just don’t know what I want, or to be honest, sometimes I just don’t — and can’t — care. Sometimes I want someone else (ahem, Mr. Chickadee…) to make decisions for me as a way of taking care of me, because sometimes I just can’t handle the stress of one more decision.

While I can’t always do much about these factors, if I recognize that I’m feeling overemotional, indecisive, or particularly anxious, I can give a second thought to any plans for communicating with collaborators, meetings, and social events. Sometimes it might just be best for me to stay home from the party or reschedule a meeting until I can get my head cleared enough. Sometimes I might be able to find ways to compensate – like setting up a process to deliberately delay outgoing email when I’m feeling dysphoric, so that I can review the content and send messages when I’m feeling a little more sane.

Final installment: Emotion regulation

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