When I was a young therapist, I was very grateful for the ground-breaking work of Dr. Marsha Linehan. I had just read her new (in 1993) book, Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, and was both intrigued and relieved to find an effective approach to this very difficult disorder.
Since then, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), the treatment described in the book, has become a staple of mental health treatment throughout the United States. Dr. Linehan is recognized around the world for her creative, yet pragmatic research that resulted in this life-saving treatment.
What started her on the path to developing DBT? Linehan, 68, recently has “come out” to reveal her own struggles with mental illness and borderline personality disorder in her late teenage and early adult years. Her experience being institutionalized formed her life mission to make sure others did not also end up there.
Her story, appearing on nytimes.com, is a must-read not only because it is inspirational, but also because of two main points that are keys to leading a resilient, peaceful life.
1. Accept life as it is, not as it is supposed to be.
Linehan found that much of her inner turmoil was the result of despair that her life was so far from what she had envisioned it to be. Once she experienced what she now calls “radical acceptance,” she experienced an inner peace she had never known before. Although she still experienced extreme emotions, she found them easier to manage due to her newfound understanding.
Even if we don’t struggle with extreme emotional swings, how many times do we fight against what is and focus instead on what could be? How much do we overlook what we already have by always trying to find what is missing?
2. Change is possible.
Linehan started tracking how her emotions were triggered and how these emotions led to destructive behaviors. She then learned to recognize the triggers as well as make changes in her behavior. The result was a much more stable, peaceful life.
Do you think change is possible for you? It’s easy to think that we are “set in our ways” and therefore can’t change. But perhaps this is just an excuse to avoid some hard work. You have to ask yourself: Is peace worth the effort?
Takeaway points: Stop and take stock of your life. Accepting where you are and who you are, even with all of your foibles and flaws, will allow you to move toward peace in your life. Believing that change is always possible gives you leeway to try new behaviors that will help you bounce back from the toughest challenges life can throw at you.
What do you think of Marsha Linehan’s story and her work?