For the last few months, I’ve been doing DBT kind of on my own. I bought the green book, The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook, which I’ve been working from. Also, my therapist and I dedicate the last 10 minutes of every session to DBT, mostly practicing “wise mind.”
But I wanted to accelerate my learning, so I asked my therapist to suggest a DBT group for me. She came back with a group led by a woman who focuses on DBT through “art therapy.” Last night was the first meeting and I was so excited that I even arrived on time.
It’s a small, all-women group of four, plus Marsha, the therapist. As we sat there waiting for the group to start, we began introducing ourselves and saying what we do for a living. I quickly got up to speed on who everyone is and why they were there.
First up was Suzanne, who lives with extreme anxiety. Her whole body seemed to shiver with nervousness every time she talked. Even her voice quivered. When she held up a piece of paper, it shook uncontrollably.
Next was Sam. Sam initially seemed to be OK, speaking amongst just us participants, but when the group started and Marsha asked her to introduce herself, she completely shut down. Her eyes looked down in avoidance and she gave clipped one-word answers. She looked like a child being scolded after getting caught with her hand in the cookie jar. The sudden shift was jarring and awkward.
Then, there’s Teresa. My guess is Teresa is Borderline. I may have even considered her for a covert narc, but I already got the scoop from Marsha that I’m the only NPD in the group. (I’d expect nothing less.)
I immediately sized Teresa up as the most likely person in the group for me to be friends with. First of all, when I mentioned what I do, she was familiar with my work, she had seen it before and even cited some back to me. Brownie points for Teresa!
She seemed about my age, attractive, well spoken, and smart. Socially we seemed to hit it off pretty quickly during small talk. So Teresa already had my attention. Finally, it was Teresa’s turn to share what she does for a living. Turns out Teresa is… a forensic hacker! [Record screeches to a stop]
Holy shit, a hacker? Teresa’s stock with me just skyrocketed. How badass! I feel myself immediately warming to Teresa. I resize-up her outfit, her hair, the way she talks, and I’m thinking… yeah, me and Teresa could totally be friends!
Let the (art) healing begin
Marsha starts us off with some mindfulness, then she asks us to begin painting. While we are painting, she tells us to be mindful of the thoughts in our heads.
I smile, but internally I’m rolling my eyes. Quite honestly I feel a little silly doing this – a bunch of grown women with emotional problems sitting around a table doing art like we’re five – but I’m trying to go with the flow. Do something new and out of the box for me. I follow Marsha’s advice and acknowledge my feelings without judgement, gently bringing my attention back to the experience of painting.
It takes me a minute to get started. I need to rock this painting – really establish myself as the leader of the pack here. Everything I do should really be a masterpiece. But I don’t have any idea of what I want to draw. I let my eyes glance over…Sam and Suzanne are no competition. Seriously, are you guys even trying?
I look over at Teresa’s. Her painting is…good! Probably still not going to be as good as mine, but she’s hanging tough. Respect, Teresa. Your cool points with me keep accumulating.
Guess I’ll take the lead…
Every time Marsha asks a question and looks around the room, no one wants to answer. So, it appears to be up to me, the narcissist, to get the ball rolling. Of course.
Once or twice is cool, but I really hope this isn’t my “role” now. The emerging pattern is that I go first, Teresa chimes in after – usually with something totally relatable to me – followed by Suzanne. Sam must be coaxed by Marsha to contribute.
Marsha asks us to talk about what emotions we felt while painting. What thoughts did we acknowledge? True to form, the table is quiet. Ok… guess I’ll go first. Again.
“I really wanted my painting to be the best. I had trouble just being in the moment because I was too focused on the final product, not the act of creating the art.” Marsha is happy with my contribution. Teresa laughs in a friendly, we totally relate, kind of way. Sam looks at me awkwardly and tells me she likes my hair. Ummm, thanks!
The elephant in the room
We begin reviewing the list of things we will touch upon in the class. One reads, “Addressing the elephant in the room.” Oh shit…there’s going to be some elephant in the room situations? This could get interesting! I have one: why can’t Sam talk when called upon, but when we are supposed to mindfully be doing art, she can’t be quiet?
Does anyone have trouble with that, Marsha asks. The others nod an enthusiastic yes. I chime in, “Oh, I have no problem addressing the elephant in the room. My problem is how I address it.” More kudos from Marsha for my stellar contributions. So far, I’m winning at group therapy.
The thought crosses my mind: what’s the elephant in the room when it comes to me? But I really don’t like that thought, so I quickly dismiss it and mindfully get back to my work. Funny how I ruminate over everything else though, isn’t it?
Take-aways from my first group session
I’ll tell you one thing I immediately took from the group – however socially awkward I felt before, I really need to stop being so down on myself about it. Seeing Suzanne and Sam in action let me know I really am not that socially awkward. At all. In fact, I’m basically a rock star.
Although this thought initially feels very narc-y it’s actually a DBT principle – comparing yourself to others who are less fortunate. So, I remind myself not to feel bad about it. It certainly helped me put some things into perspective.
In fact, in other good news: Outgoing Yara is back! I haven’t seen her in damn near a year, and boy did I miss her. Outgoing Yara is one of my “selves.” Instead of looking at them now as “false selves,” I have decided to look at them as different facets of my core personality. None of them necessarily “false,” all of them part of the real Yara.
But while some personalities – like Cluster B Girl – I really hope to get rid of or drastically diminish, Outgoing Yara is one of my faves. She’s pretty, smart, well-put together, confident, friendly, competent. The whole package. I definitely want to keep her around.
I did have to remind myself to have empathy with Suzanne and Sam, while listening to them talk and watching them interact. It was a conscious effort, but one I’m glad I put in. I give props to all the women there, for stepping outside their comfort zone and trying to improve.
Although I am concerned about the art, I will say I started to get into it. It may be good for me to learn to create for fun, instead of competing constantly with others. The exercises really drew to my attention how competitive I am at all times, even when not appropriate or helpful.
Also, the fact that I feel silly doing the art makes me think I should keep going, because I need to focus less on how silly I think I “look” or how others may perceive what I’m doing.
Finally, the point of doing the art is to remain mindful during, which I really need lots of practice in, as the mindfulness is key to addressing my almost constant dissociating. So, maybe it’s not so dumb after all.
Soulmates in another lifetime
Finally, Teresa’s OK in my book. We related on basically everything, like twin flames. Marsha told us at the start we can’t be friends though—at least not until the group ends. She said it can interfere with group dynamics, which makes total sense.
I can tell you though, just two years ago had I been in this situation, me and Teresa would have been immediate best friends. Inseparable within weeks. This is it folks: the beginning stages of idealization.
In the past, I’d be unwittingly love-bombing her as my new BFF. Highlighting everything I like about her, while ignoring anything that didn’t fit with the image I created for her in my head.
It’s probably a good thing that Marsha laid down the law. Disappointing though, because it’s not very often at all that I find someone I can relate to so well – and Teresa was hitting on all cylinders.
But for now I’ll just mindfully acknowledge that feeling and bring my attention back to focus on the therapy. I’ll get to know Teresa better, and if, by the end of the group we are still cool, maybe then we can become friends.