An amazing skill right here. And one that I sometimes fight against using. I mean, checking the facts means that I have to admit that maybe my perception may not be 100% accurate. I’m not sure anyone likes to do that. Admitting that I might be wrong is sometimes pretty easy and at other times it seems like a really heavy lift.
Sometimes, now, I’m happy to let go of being right. Sometimes it’s easy to do. For me, this skill is much more important when I don’t want to use it. And check the facts is about more than being right or not. It’s a way to check our perception of a situation to make sure we aren’t acting with only half the info we need, or with a misunderstanding, or an untrue assumption.
Check the facts is in the Emotion Regulation section of skills in DBT under the subheading of skills for ‘changing emotional responses.’ The manual states that changing our perceptions, our thoughts about things, “can help you change your emotional reactions to situations.” I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty cool to me. I tend toward over-control with my emotions rather than under-control, but that does not change the fact that I’m a rather emotional person. Most of the time there’s nothing to outwardly see, and yet they are there under the surface roiling away at times.
I have been a fairly judgmental person over the course of my life, as most of us are. I’ve gotten better with my judgments over the years, and yet I still have times when I just get stuck with a certain view and it won’t go away on it’s own. I have some ‘shoulds’ that roll around inside me. For instance, I believe we ‘should’ treat others in a certain way, with kindness and tolerance and compassion. When I see people doing things to others, to me, or I do something to someone else that does fit with those values, I judge it. I think, ‘that should not have happened,’ or something like that. Sometimes it’s a much more aggressive thought, like, “I’m going to make that right,” or, “they need to be put in their place,” and I have urges to jump in and fix something or call someone out or otherwise take over something that is not mine. Maybe you can identify with that.
I don’t act on these things very often. Every once in a while, I stand up for someone who cannot stand up for themselves, but in general that’s really not terribly helpful (that’s a whole other topic that maybe I’ll cover at some point). What does happen, at times, is that I’m left with those thoughts rumbling around in my head and those thoughts prompt emotional reactions throughout my body. So, I end up irritable, discontent, unsettled. I end up shutting down, at times, so that my mood does not impact others. (Yes, me shutting down means that my mood impacts others as well. I’m a work in progress.)
Point is, that irritation, the anger, sometimes the rage, just hangs out and sometimes it ends up going away on it’s own. Many times, though, I have to do some skills on purpose in order to change that emotional response. Check the facts is a great skill to use in this scenario. See, thoughts are the biggest determining factor in what we end up feeling, and how long the feelings stay around with us. It’s the interpretations that we have of events that carry the most weight in what we end up experiencing. And those interpretations aren’t necessarily facts. Those are the ways that I’m making sense of a situation. And sometimes those thoughts are completely made up and don’t really portray what’s happening. And even if my thoughts are true, they aren’t always helpful.
My mother and I have a number of things we disagree on. Maybe you can relate to that. Maybe you’ve got some family members that you have disagreements with. Well, when my folks were in town for the Thanksgiving Holiday, my mom made a comment about abortion that I disagreed with. I had a reaction to that and said something in response. It did not go any further than a simple comment if disagreement. I was a bit harsher in my comment than I had intended. That realization came when I asked others in my family how I came across.
That event passed without further incident. But the comment did not go away. I kept thinking about it, judging it, being irritated that she would do that in my house. I’m pretty sure she knows I don’t believe that way and yet she said that anyway. That comment popped back up in my head numerous times over the following few days. “How could she say that? Like it was verified fact and she is right and everyone else is wrong.” And then my brain went off in very unhelpful ways, lots of judgments. I won’t bore you with all the specific places my brain went. I really didn’t feel great. And none of that thinking helped in any way. And those are not facts, they are my thoughts about the situation. The fact is that my mother made a comment about abortion.
So, I got tired of feeling irritated, of that unsettled and nagging sense of unease. Check the facts. The emotion I want to change is anger, the emotion was ranging from mild irritation to outrage and it kept popping up over several days. It did not last for several days constantly, and it came right back many times almost feeling like it never left (even though it did.) I’ve assigned extra meaning to that one comment, and so it continues to have an impact on me long after it’s done and gone.
Next, identify the prompting event for the emotion. My mom saying the comment about abortion.
Interpretations or thoughts about the situation. Oh boy, here we go. “My mother does not respect me because she said this thing in my house.” There are others, and my mom might read this and there is no reason to bring out the other thoughts that may just be hurtful. Now, what are other possible interpretations? My mother is actually trying to convey a belief that she thinks would be really helpful for others to adopt. She may be thinking that the loving thing to do is to put this information out there so that others can come to the place she is at. Maybe she believes that my life would be better if I adopted her idea as well. Maybe, in her mind, this is the most loving thing to do. Maybe she does not see the impact of her words on myself and my family (I have the strongest reactions.) These are other possible interpretations and they may change what I ultimately experience as the emotion. Of course, there are other possibilities. The point here is not to determine what the other person is thinking, just to determine that my way of thinking is not the only one.
The next step in Check the Facts is asking, “Am I assuming a threat?” Well, yes, yes I am. It helps to clarify what the threat is that is there. My mom’s statement is really just that, a statement. It is her belief. So what threat do I see there? Well, I think the threat is that people will view me poorly if they know that comment because they will assume that I have that view. I also think I assume that her attitude does damage to people who hear it. Just writing this feels vulnerable and ridiculous. And that’s the real thing that is sitting inside me. I’m also noticing that I have thoughts that I am her son and that if someone hears her say that and then thinks she is an awful person for saying that, it will somehow reflect on me as well. So, is any of that realistic? Those are just thoughts, interpretations of the facts that are probably not true. And even if they are true, they may not matter all that much, really. The chances of any of those things actually happening are pretty remote. I mean, even if someone thinks poorly of me because of something my mother says, the likelihood I will ever know about it is extremely slim.
Next, we imagine the catastrophe actually happening and coping with it. So, I imagine that the threat becomes real and that I cope with it. What would I do? Well, writing this out I realize I would simply accept that someone thinks poorly of me or clarify what my views might be. I can tolerate a person misunderstanding me. I can tolerate and assist someone who might be hurt by her statements. I mean, the comment is hers and not mine. It’s not really my place to take responsibility for something that someone else does.
Finally, does my emotion or and/or it’s intensity fit the actual facts? The emotion probably fits, and the intensity does not. Now I am presented with what to do with it. I can act opposite to the emotion to counteract that emotion. I can feel the emotion and let it come and go. I can problem solve how to handle the situation.