Core concepts that may help you find peace.
You know that saying about assumptions….. You know… when you ASSume…. Well what actually is an assumption? And are they all bad? According to Webster’s Dictionary, an assumption is believing that something is true. When it comes to other people’s thoughts and motivations, believing truth in something you can’t prove might not be very helpful.
But in Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT), there are some assumptions that are helpful for everyone to consider as true. These assumptions apply to the therapist, the client, and the parents/caregivers and family. Whether you are working on changes for yourself, or you are a family member supporting someone who is struggling, consider these following nine assumptions.
Assumption 1: Everyone is doing the best they can.
It can be very difficult to feel like you are doing the best that you can everyday. Some days are harder than others. One day you may feel like you have a lot of energy and you’re getting everything done. The next day you mean feel drained, depressed and unproductive. Everybody has good days and not-so good days. Certain situations and how we are feeling can affect what is our “best” at any given moment. When you are struggling to believe this assumption, it can help to think, “I am doing the best I can at this moment.”
Parents may also have a hard time believing that their son and/or daughter is doing their best. If your child is failing school, using substances, self-harming, etc. you may ask “How is this the best they can do?” Their “best” also depends on how they are feeling, physically and emotionally. Many times their actions are based on their mood (which is also true for adults.) Seeing your teen/young adult doing really well one day and then the next day behaving ineffectively can be difficult to accept. As a parent, it can be beneficial to both you and your child to believe that they are doing the best they can at this moment. You can still continue to hope for change in the future.
This assumption is also important for parents to believe in regards to their parenting. Parents, you are doing the best that you can, even during times when you feel like nothing is working. Given the knowledge & skills that you have, your history of parenting, & your life experiences, you are doing the best in this moment. When you feel defeated, say to yourself “My son/daughter is doing the best that they can at this moment. AND I am doing the best that I can at this moment.”
Assumption 2: All people want to improve.
Therapy is most effective when we blend acceptance and change. We need to accept that we are doing the best that we can and we want to continue to improve so that we can have the life that we want. It is essential to believe in the two polar opposite assumptions. This helps therapy to work and to have more satisfaction in our lives.
Parents may sometimes believe that their child may want to continue on living an unhappy life. Or they may believe that their son and/or daughter is actually happy and content with their life. Your child might even say that they are happy, despite the troubles they continue to face on a daily basis. As parents, we ask you to assume that your son and/or daughter wants more than the life they are currently living.
Knowing how to support them in having a better life can be baffling. Accepting that your son and/or daughter wants to make their life better can be a good start. This provides validation for them, as well as validating your anger and frustration you may have as a parent.
Assumption 3: People need to do better, try harder, and be more motivated to change.
Being able to say that you are doing the best that you can and you want to change is the first step. The next step is to behave and act in a way to promote change. Yes, at this moment you are doing the best that you can. You may not have the skills to behave effectively. Or your past experiences and learning patterns have taught you that maladaptive behaviors are the only way to cope. However, it is also true that you can learn skills to replace behaviors that have been ineffective. You can learn new ways and you do so by doing better, trying harder, and continue to stay motivated for change.
As a parent, you must apply this assumption to both your child and yourself. Your child is trying their best. AND you also expect them to change certain behaviors so that they can have a happy and successful life. Parents also need to believe this within themselves. “I am doing the best that I can AND I have some changes that I need to make in order to be effective in my parenting.”
Assumption 4: People may not have caused all of their own problems, but they have to solve them anyway.
Life isn’t fair! You will be thrown into many situations that you feel is not your responsibility to take care of. You may also have the belief, “Someone else caused this. So they need to change it, not me.”
Even if you did not cause a problem, it’s can still be one for you to manage. Until we can accept that we need to solve the problem, it will continue to linger over us. This leads to prolonged suffered and distress down the road.
For parents, there may be many times your son and/or daughter blame you for all their problems. After hearing this so many times, you may start to believe it. As a parent, you may also feel like it is your responsibility to “fix” things for your child. True yes, if you have a son and/or daughter under the age of 18, it is your responsibility to provide for them in ways they are not able to. This include financial obligations, food, clothing, shelter, schooling, etc.
However, when it comes to emotion, it is NOT your responsiblitty to solve all their problems. Your child will experience challenges in school, in relationships, and in managing their emotions. While you may feel like you have to make it better for them, the reality is that it is your child’s responsibility to solve their own problems. They have to be able to create change for themselves.
As the parent, you can provide opportunities to support them and lead them closer to change. And, if they choose not to take those opportunities, parents need to accept that place where their child is AND continue to support them for change in the future.
Assumption 5: People’s lives are painful as they are currently being lived.
For those who are seeking therapy or have been in therapy for many months or years are all struggling. Why else would you be in therapy? Your past may be filled with pain that you have been feeling for a long time and continue to feel. In addition to those painful situations, you may also be struggling with intense emotions, interpersonal conflicts, self-dysregulation, and family challenges. It is safe to assume that currently your life is painful.
Parents may also have children who express how much they hate their life or how much pain they may be in physically and emotionally. As parents, you will need to accept that what your son and/or daughter is facing is true. They are not being overly dramatic or emotional. These situations are painful for them. And in addition to that, they may not have the skills to cope or regulate themselves.
Same goes for parents. Seeing your son and/or daughter in so much pain can be a reflection on yourself. You may be asking “what have I done?” “Why haven’t I been able to give my child what he/she needs?” You too are indeed living a life that is painful as you try to raise and parent a struggling child.
Assumption 6: People must learn and practice new behaviors in all important situations in their lives.
Whether you are in individual therapy, DBT skills group, family therapy or all of the above, you are provided a safe space to learn skills and discuss how they can benefit you. However, in order to get the benefit of therapy, you will need to practice the skills outside of your sessions. Practicing skills is hard. It can feel unnatural and uncomfortable to use the skills in real life situations. That makes sense considering some unhealthy patterns are so natural and engrained for you. All the more reason to practice skills outside of sessions so that more adaptive skills will eventually replace the natural unhealthy behaviors.
Parent coaching can be a good option for parents who have a child that is in DBT therapy. Your child is in therapy to learn skills and it can be effective for parents to also learn those skills. Parent coaching is also beneficial, even if your son and/or daughter is not in DBT individual and/or group therapy. Parents will learn the same skills their child is learning so that the parents can use the skills themselves when the family is in an argument or in conflict.
Assumption 7: There is no absolute truth.
Many times you may find that you get into a power struggle with others, yourself and even life. Have you ever been in those situations where you tell yourself “I am right and you are wrong”? DBT teaches us that there is no right or wrong and that there is no absolute truth. Instead, there is truth to both sides; we need to move away from polarized or black-and-white thinking. To shift away from polarized thinking, take a step back and ask “what is my truth and what is their truth?” Being able to see perspectives from both sides can guide us closer to a resolution and not conflict.
This is also the case for parents who find themselves in a power struggle with their son and/or daughter. When emotions are high and parents want to stand firm on their expectation, it can be very difficult to hear “you are wrong!” from your child. It also causes further dysregulation for a teen or young adult when they are also told they are wrong. As a parent, finding your child’s truth in the situation can reduce judgements on them and maybe even on yourself. You may ask yourself, “What need is my child trying to fulfill?”
This does not mean that you need to give in and drop all your boundaries and expectations. However, seeing their truth can help you to stay regulated as well as provide validation and understanding to them, which again guides you closer to solving the problem instead of getting into further conflict.
Assumption 8: Everything (actions, thoughts, emotions) has a cause.
There is always a cause or a set of causes for your actions, thoughts, or emotions. Even if you don’t know the cause or the reason behind your behaviors, there is always a cause. This can be very validating if you are someone who does not understand the causes to your behaviors. Even though it is unknown, there is a reason you feel the way you do and your behaviors serve a purpose.
However, even though we do not know the causes of our behaviors, we still have to deal with them, just like we talked about in Assumption 4. This can be very difficult to accept when your actions, thoughts, and emotions are painful or unwanted. And just like we talked about in Assumption 2, if you want to see change we need to accept our behaviors.
Understanding that there are causes to your child’s behaviors is also beneficial for parents. Even if parents do not understand the causes to their child’s behavior, it helps to know that the behavior is serving a purpose. Having this knowledge can help the parents to validate instead of blaming their child for their unwanted behaviors.
Assumption 9: Figuring out and changing the cause of behavior works better than judging and blaming.
If you want to see changes in your behaviors, you need to understand the cause of the behavior and work towards finding helpful and adaptive ways to meet your needs. Many times when we experience unwanted behaviors, our first reaction is to judge or blame ourself or others. Blame and judgements will only increase and intensify the unwanted feelings and the maladaptive behaviors. In DBT, we focus on identifying the chain of events that cause an unwanted behaviors. Understanding the chain helps us to see where we can replace maladaptive behaviors with skillful behaviors, which leads to changes in our behaviors, thoughts, and emotions.
As a parent, it can be very easy to blame your child for not trying hard enough. You may sometimes have thoughts such as “they are bringing this on themselves.” Or “There is nothing I can do about this.” It is also common for parents to blame themselves. For example, you may notice thoughts like “this is my fault for not teaching them better.”
Blaming will only cause the behavior to continue, and sometimes even make it worse. Parents are encouraged to remember there is a purpose for your child’s behaviors. Understanding and creating an environment that encourages them to find healthier ways to have their needs met is what brings on positive change. For parents who struggle with understanding the causes of their child’s behavior can also benefit from Parent Coaching.
Keep reminding yourself of these assumptions.
When you start DBT sessions (individual or group), it is recommended to always go back and review these assumptions. This also includes parents and loved ones. If you find yourself confused by one or multiple assumptions or if you notice that you are unable to accept some of these assumptions, it could be enlightening to explore this with your therapist and/or group leader. If you are thinking about starting therapy sessions, and you struggle to believe some of these assumptions, all the more reason to take that leap and schedule a session. DBT will teach you how to be aware of your judgements and difficulties with acceptance, as well as guide you closer to including these assumptions in your personal beliefs and values.
For help embracing any of these core assumptions,
check us out at Montgomery County Counseling Center’s website. If you think that you would benefit from DBT you can find information on our services including individual therapy, Family Therapy, DBT Skills Groups, and Parent Coaching.
About The Author
Kristen Moyer, LCPC is a licensed clinical professional counselor with Montgomery County Counseling Center in Maryland. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from West Chester University (PA) in 2010 and continued on to earn her Master’s Degree in Professional Clinical Counseling from La Salle University (PA) in 2014. First working as a Registered Behavioral Technician, Kristen provided behavioral therapy to children diagnosed with Autism. She also worked as a counselor at a K-12 private school, where I administered individual and group therapy to students. In 2017, she began working with children and adolescents who struggle with education and their behavior in a school setting and has since evolved to working with adolescents and young adults in DBT settings. Kristen is currently accepting DBT clients ages 10 and up!