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STOP! No, really Stop, the skill

It’s time to wander into the Distress Tolerance skills. As a little intro, DT skills are divided up into two categories: Crisis Survival Strategies and Acceptance Strategies. The first set of skills are designed to help get through something without making it worse. The second set of skills are for acknowledging realities we cannot change even if we want to.



First up is STOP, another acronym in DBT. When this skill first premiered (2015 second edition of the Skills Manual by Linehan), I really thought it was going to be a tough sell. It seemed so basic and simple and I thought many people would dismiss the skill as just that. I was completely wrong!


The week after I taught this skill in skills class for the first time, I had multiple people talk about how helpful it was for them during the week. This skill is pretty second nature to me. Most of the time my default setting is to step back and observe or think. So, my judgment was that this skill will meet with resistance because I found it so obvious. I over-control my emotions pretty often (I’m working on it.) One thing I did not think of then is that using this as my default setting is not the same as using it on purpose as a skill. I also realized that my default setting doesn't actually make it to the P. Let's learn the skill and then we'll wander into the examples.


If you are a person that has an under control of emotions, STOP might be revolutionary to you. It is still a skill that is now very helpful to me, because I go all the way through it and do all the steps. Here they are:


S- Stop (this could be telling yourself in your mind, picturing a stop sign, stopping moving, etc.)

T- Take a step back (mentally, physically, or both)

O- Observe both inside and outside of you

P- Proceed mindfully


That’s it. That is all you do with this skill, and it is wonderful. This skill is part of the Crisis Survival Strategies and can help you keep from making a mess of things. Have an urge to lash out at someone who hurt you? STOP. Have an urge to lash inward at yourself? STOP. Have an intense emotion that you don’t have any idea what to do with? Start with STOP.


In my experience working with people, STOP often needs to be paired with other skills. The Observe part can help immensely with figuring out what other skills might be needed in a given situation.


I used this skill recently in an interaction where someone said some really hurtful things to me over text. My immediate urge was to fire a text back. STOP. I stopped, said in my head, “Stop.”

I took a literal step back (sometimes the physical movement helps create space.) I noticed what was going on inside and outside of me. I recognized that my urge to lash back out is outside of my values and that I would feel bad and need to apologize later if I did that.


As I paid attention to that, I thought about how I would want to handle the situation. I decided to let the text sit for a while and come back to it to see if any response was warranted from me.


What a powerful skill. I mean, it can be the difference between being proud of how I acted versus needing to apologize or feeling ashamed of how I acted.


Always seems to me like there should be more to explain about this skill, and that’s really it.


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