• Jeff Brenneman

Easy in Theory, Hard to Practice

Sometimes the “easiest” DBT skill to teach in theory are the most difficult to practice. One skill I am working hard to incorporate in my daily life is mindfulness of current emotion. Easy in theory, and difficult for me to practice.


I had an interaction stick with me for days, and my mind kept periodically going back to it. I felt it was important for me to practice mindfulness in order to observe what I was feeling.


My event:

Not Jessica Traner

I dropped off my kids at their grandparents one morning. I said to my daughter “make sure you fill someone’s bucket today.” I noticed my body changed when I said it. My mom looked at me wide eyed, and asked me what I was talking about, which was a good distraction for me as I proceeded to explain. The underlying message with a “bucket” is that each person carries with them an invisible bucket. When that bucket is full, the person is feeling happy, confident, secure, calm and content. When the bucket is empty, the opposite feelings arise. We can fill our own bucket, other’s buckets, and we can also dip from someone’s bucket. If you are interested in this bucket metaphor, let us know and we may do another post about it.


In order to sort out my thoughts, body sensations, and emotions about it- I proceeded to use the DBT skill, mindfulness of current emotion. Easy in theory, and difficult for me to practice.




Mindfulness of thoughts…

My immediate thought- my bucket isn’t full

My bucket shouldn’t be empty, I have a great support system

It is selfish to think about my own bucket.

I shouldn’t need anyone to fill my bucket.

I shouldn’t let this bother me.

I am over reacting.

I don’t like these thoughts, I want to distract myself from them. They make me feel weak.

I am human. These thoughts are valid and are serving a purpose. I am curious about this….




Mindfulness of body sensations:

With these thoughts, I observe a tightness in my chest. I feel pressure in my eyes, and I noticed body posture change- head lowered, and shoulders sunken in. My eyes faced downward. I am tapping my right foot and chewing on my bottom lip.




Mindfulness of emotions…

What am I feeling? This is the hard part. My brain says I am fine, and my body indicates I am feeling something. What am I feeling? I am feeling sadness. I am feeling shame, I am feeling vulnerable.




Does this skill change my emotions? No. But it did lower my intensity and my body sensations.


How do I feel afterwards? Relieved. I have a clearer sense of self. I know what I am feeling, and I can choose what to do next. First, I need to radically accept where I am. I can then choose what I need to do in order to fill my bucket. I can choose to validate my feelings, connect with others, and ask for help when needed. I can choose to live mindfully, even when the emotions are painful. Sometimes I get so caught up in trying to be the “perfect” mom, wife, daughter, therapist, friend, that I don’t stop to reflect on my own bucket, or in this case- my emotions of sadness and shame. I get consumed with filling others, and don’t stop to consider where my own bucket is at. Perhaps mindfulness is what I need in order to keep my bucket full.


If you are interested in some brief teachings on using some skills (not a replacement for comprehensive DBT) check outwww.lifeworkstl.com/courses and click on the skills videos link.


Jessica Traner, LPC

Executive Director

LifeWork, LLC

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