First, apologies for this post coming on Tuesday and not Monday. It would have been effective to get this post prepped and scheduled to automatically post. Obviously, I did not do that. Last week was a 5 day mindfulness retreat, arriving home late Sunday night and turning around for a funeral on Monday in Indiana. So, it's Tuesday.
Today, we take a look at the next Interpersonal Skill in DBT. In the coming weeks, we will likely have some interruptions in our series walking through each skill of DBT. We think you will enjoy the interruptions, so stay tuned. For today, let's dive in.
FAST is a skill for maintaining self-respect and also a skill I struggle with at times. I understand it well and can use it quite effectively at times and then other times I cannot seem to use it at all when the situation calls for it. Let’s get the acronym out there first and then wander through it.
F- be Fair to yourself and others. Lots of people have a tendency to do one or the other and not both.
A- no Apologies (unneeded apologies). No apologizing for having needs, for having an opinion or disagreeing. No looking ashamed.
S- Stick to your values. Whenever we do something that is not in line with our values, our self-respect takes a hit. If you do not know your values, maybe it’s time to figure those out.
T- be Truthful. No acting helpless when you are not, don’t exaggerate or make up excuses.
I’m a helping professional. I’ve pretty much always known that I was going to be in a helping industry. I tell you that because there’s a tendency among us helpers, and that is to be Fair to others and not necessarily to ourselves. So, I’ve got this thing where I believe that I can do just about anything to help and not need much myself. I also know that many things I CAN do as a helper that are actually not terribly helpful. This happens personally as well. In my experience, the biggest problem with being on one side or the other of this fairness thing is that we end up swinging the other way as well.
Let’s say I do a coaching call with a client (client is having urges to engage in a target behavior and cannot use skills or remember at the moment) and I go ahead and do things in the call that make them feel better. Seems like a fair thing to my client, yes? That is not fair to me as the provider or to their treatment overall. The point of coaching is to get a person to be able to think enough to come up with a skill or to get a suggestion of a skill to use to emotionally regulate. If I am too helpful and that person feels great after that call, I've reinforced me as the thing that will make them feel better or regulate their emotions. Ultimately, that behavior on my part gets in the way of treatment.
I know this intellectually, and sometimes helping my client feel better feels good and I just do it without considering the long term impact. My self respect as a therapist takes a hit AND then I am out of balance emotionally. Then, the human tendency is to react the other way, to overcompensate and be fair to myself and not give anything. Neither extreme is all that helpful to the relationship or to my self-respect. I function soooo much better when I respect myself. Spoiler alert: So do you! So, when I insist that my client use a skill to regulate their emotions, I am doing the thing that is most important. Doing DBT, I make a commitment to coaching my clients in skills use during Stage 1 of treatment, and I have to make sure that I’m fair about it. It benefits everyone involved.
Personally, I have the same tendency. With my wife or my kids, I will have the thought, “they are going through something difficult so I need to do ________ for them.” I still need to keep in mind the fairness in the interaction to make sure that I maintain my self-respect. When I don’t pay attention to this, I end up having judgments about myself and/or about them. When I don’t feel great about myself, I have huge struggles interacting with people in ways I end up feeling good about. Notice that I’ve used some judgment words here and I’ve not been very precise about the thoughts and emotions. I’ve done this as a shorthand way of referring to the experience. “Feeling good” is a judgment as well as, “not feeling great.” The actual thing happening in that situation is a thought that leads to an emotion. Sometimes, though, we are not aware of the thoughts or emotions and it all gets lumped together as, “I feel bad,” or something like that.
I grew up and live in the Midwest. We may be overly polite at times here in the Midwest. Over the course of my life, I’ve apologized for MANY things that need no apologies. I’ve probably even apologized for someone else’s behavior. I’ve apologized, at times, for being me. Everytime I apologize for something that does not need an apology, my self-respect takes a hit and has an impact on how I show up in interactions.
Since learning the FAST skill, I now mostly apologize for my actual mistakes and times when what I have said or done is outside of my values. Sometimes I apologize for the way I’ve stated things, such as a misunderstanding when someone has been hurt by something I said or did. Appropriate apologies do not cause me to lose self-respect, only those apologies that don’t fit those mistakes. Sometimes I need to stand up for myself respectfully and not apologize for actions that are within my values.
Another way to maintain self respect is to behave in ways consistent with the values you have. I know that every time I say to myself that, “it’ll be okay this one time,” I’m in trouble. One very important value to me is honesty. I’ve had many times in my life that I have lied to people, like we all have. For me, the omissions are most often a bigger problem than the direct dishonesty. I am in recovery. I’ve been sober for 3 ½ years, so I no longer have to worry about the dishonesty of omission.
I originally got sober in 2010 and at that point I told every person that i came into regular contact with that I was an alcoholic. From my years in the treatment field, I knew that sobriety would depend on being accountable. At one point I told myself a lie that I could probably drink like normal people, and began about a year relapse. I did not lie and tell people I was not drinking. I hid it. I acted in a way that was contrary to my values. So, for that time I was consistently doing things that were not in line with my values and my self respect was in the toilet.
My pride got in the way and I just kept going. In June on 2019, I did the walk of shame and walked back into a meeting. No one else shamed me. Everyone there was very welcoming. Because I had been acting contrary to my values, I did not respect myself. I knew that I was essentially lying to everyone that was important to me. Needless to say, that did damage to me and to my relationships. I am thankful that I’ve admitted that and am now living more consistently within my values. Pay attention to your values and do your best to live in a way that is in line with those values. The way you think and feel regarding yourself will benefit.
Staying truthful is another way to preserve your self respect. Sometimes our emotional state can shout at us that we cannot handle things. It can say, “I cannot do anything,” when that’s not really true. Acting helpless can cause others to act, and it causes a decrease in self-respect because we realize later that it just wasn’t true. Sometimes you won’t even be aware that it is happening except for knowing that you are irritable and blaming other people for things.
Also, in here is not making excuses or exaggerating. Sometimes I will believe that I only did something because someone else did something. It’s an excuse for my behavior. It’s a defensive posture that tries to protect me in some way but only ends up hurting me. I find this happening occasionally with a client, especially one that has accused me of something. Maybe I’ve made a sharp comment in a session or in a coaching call. Maybe I’ve misunderstood something and I feel embarrassed. Ultimately, this leads to me thinking and feeling bad about the whole situation. Much better if I can recognize the emotion, and respond in a way that fits the situation. The same holds true of exaggerating. If we overstate how “bad” things are we end up feeling some guilt or embarrassment or shame around the situation and it does not help how we feel about ourselves.
So, that's FAST, about maintaining self respect in relationships.
Something else you might be interested in. We are starting a 6 week Mindfulness class March 11. That's Saturday and it will take place 10-11am Central time. We will be doing it hybrid, so you can come to our office in person or participate online on Zoom. Go to lifeworkstl.com/courses and sign up to join us! The class will be led by yours truly and Caleb Reese.