Many times, you and your teen are experiencing feelings you don’t recognize well enough in the moment and then react to that stress with self-judgments that often lead to decisions and behaviors that make the situation ultimately worse.
This “full mind” allows you to live life on autopilot and prevents you from being intentional in your interactions and choices.
You can CHOOSE to be mindful!
Mindfulness creates a space between feeling and reacting so that you have a choice in how to respond in the moment.
Mindfulness means having an awareness of and describing your experience in the moment without judgment so that you can make a choice in how to effectively proceed.
Here’s an example of unmindful reaction that includes judgment...
Lisa gets her test back and school and sees a big red F at the top of the page and immediately feels disappointed. She thinks, “I’m such an idiot! Of course I failed again!” This judgment increases her emotion from disappointment to anger and self-hatred. The bell rings and she leaves class feeling tense and dizzy and beginning to hyperventilate. She began to have swirling thoughts about never being good enough and never getting into college. She texted her parent saying, “I can’t be here right now” and leaves school to walk home.
Lisa arrived home where her father (who had worked from home that day) greeted her at the door. He immediately thought, “Here we go again. She’s so lazy. She’s just not trying hard enough!” This was followed by a hot rush of anger spreading from tension in his chest through his body. He reacted by yelling, “Why aren’t you at school? Enough of this already!” His tone was angry which made Lisa feel invalidated when she was experiencing sadness and disappointment. She thought, “He never understands!” and ran to her room where she then engaged in self-harm behaviors that led to even more consequences and undesirable outcomes for the whole family.
Notice the bold-faced judgements in the story that fueled the emotional fire and led to each person’s emotional experience escalating.
Let’s look at how the situation could have played out differently using the mindfulness skill of describing without judgment:
Lisa gets her test back and school and sees a big red F at the top of the page and immediately feels disappointed. She noticed a pit in her stomach and said to herself, “I feel really disappointed about this” and texted her mom to say, “I feel like crying right now. I just got my test back and I got an F on it..” Her mom acknowledges that this disappointment makes sense and that it stinks to get an F. (A validating response that helps Lisa feel heard.)
She leaves class feeling sad and connects with a friend in the hallway where she shares that she’s frustrated about her grade. The friend relates to her experience by saying she took the same class last semester and it was really hard. (Another validating comment that makes Lisa feel heard and accepted.) They begin then talking about the upcoming formal together and Lisa’s mood slowly returns to balance while she enters her next class.
Having an awareness of your thoughts and feelings and being able to acknowledge them, or describe them to others is critical.
Be like a sports announcer and narrate your thoughts and feelings to create a cushion of time between urges and behaviors.
Track your judgments and notice how they fuel your emotions!
In our Teen Groups and DBT Groups, we have a “Judgment Jar” where group members will recognize theirs and others’ judgments by putting a marble in the jar. It’s a kind way of being mindful of judgments in the moment and reminding others to practice nonjudgmental stance too.
When you can bring an awareness to your experience and slow it down, you can then make choices that are effective in how to proceed, rather than reacting quickly which often makes the situation worse. In next week’s email, I’ll review the 3-part model for skillfully coping with stressful situations in the DBT model.