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How Could Someone Try to Kill Themselves: Suicide Attempts and Doing the Unthinkable – from a DBT-CBT Therapy Perspective

When Emotional Mind drives and Rational Mind is left on the side of the road…

When folks are moderately, even severely depressed (say up to an 8 or an 8.5 on a scale of 1-10), they are “Big-Time in Emotional Mind” but they still have some Rational Mind going on (say 85% Emotional Mind and 15% Rational Mind).  Through the small degree of Rational Mind, they maintain some contact with reality and have some mindfulness of the big picture of their life. For instance, they still recognize they have something to live for…they still have some holds on life…and although their grip is loosening and they may be barely holding on…with at least some Rational Mind going on, they recognize the basics…like they have kids to live for…or pets…or their dying parent (examples).  However, as the depression worsens, Emotional Mind intensifies, and Rational Mind further fades…and they lose awareness of these reasons to live.

Patients in various ways have explained how this happens.  They relate that when they made that final decision to kill themselves…to enact that near fatal behavior…they weren’t  thinking…that previously they thought about their kids, their spouse, or other holds on life and they struggled to stay alive…but then, something happened and they no longer thought about these things.

One patient so well described this to me, I haven’t forgotten it.  She said that as her depression deepened, it was like she was going further and further down a well…and the deeper she went, the less she could see out.  She related that she got so far down, she was surrounded by darkness…she could no longer see nor feel…and she lost touch with the love she had for her kids and concern about what would happen to them.  She cried intensely and said that when she did what she did, thoughts of her kids did not cross her mind.  It was utterly heartbreaking, and yes, as a therapist and despite trying to hold my tears back, they rolled out of my eyes.  I stood up and hugged her as she wept and gently rocked her to help soothe her through the pain. It was one of those heart-wrenching therapy moments when I had no words to comfort her and could only pray for her self-forgiveness and healing.  She so loved her babies and could not understand how she could have tried to end her life.  With Rational Mind going on, she realized she did the unthinkable.

I believe that she became 100% (or near 100%) Emotional Mind…and Rational Mind was essentially turned off.   Without Rational Mind, she was not connected or in contact with the reality of her life and what really mattered to her.  It was like a Rational Mind black-out.   She was no longer mindful of the big picture of her life and the reasons to continue the fight.  And we always ask, “God, how could she have done that, she has kids” or “How could he have done that knowing his family would find him.”  They weren’t thinking…that part of their brain was turned off.

Based on the recovery workbook by Melanie Gordon Sheets, Ph.D. -<span
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The DBT-CBT Recovery Workbook Focuses On Self-Destructive Behaviors

DBT-CBT is a life-changing recovery program that inspires people
to make the life changes that will change their lives.
This program has turned many defeated hearts into empowered spirits
that are psychologically prepared to take on the challenges of
GETTING ON  and STAYING ON the Recovery Path.

Come join us in our journey.

This is a workbook for recovery from a variety of Self-Destructive Coping Behaviors. The philosophy of DBT-CBT is that “Many of our “abnormal” behaviors are normal given our experiences. They once served as survival skills.  However, their period of usefulness is long over.  We’ve overused these coping behaviors…and now, they’re causing us great pain and they’re destroying our lives.”

This workbook explains why we do the things we do…and why we keep doing these things even though they cause us more pain and problems.  It’s about what we do in the heat-of-the-moment…the emotional moment.  It’s about what happens when EMOTIONAL MIND drives and RATIONAL MIND takes a backseat…and WISE MIND is left on the side of the road.

When we’re filled with upsetting emotions, we often do things for quick relief…like drugs and alcohol; suicide attempts; cutting and other forms of self-mutilation; aggression; temper tantrums; walking off and leaving the situation; withdrawal; overeating or not eating enough; overshopping; “sleeping around”; rebound relationships; gambling; and other risky and reckless behaviors. The Nature of the Problem is…the things we do to feel better end up multiplying and intensifying our problems. Our Destructive Coping Behaviors help us to cope in the Heat-of-the-Moment…but, they have many negative consequences. They make our current problems more severe…and they CREATE many new problems for us to struggle with.   Over time, our lives spiral OUT-OF-CONTROL and into a CYCLE OF SUFFERING.

This workbook provides useful tools, attitudes, and plans for changing how we respond to life.  Our goal is to GET CONTROL of our OUT-OF-CONTROL emotions, behaviors, and thinking. We do this by PARTICIPATING EFFECTIVELY in our lives and by using LIFE-ENHANCING COPING MECHANISMS to deal with our pain and problems.  Our goal is to MINDFULLY PROTECT OUR PEACE AND STABILITY and the BIG PICTURE OF OUR LIFE.  Our goal is to STOP the CYCLE OF SUFFERING.

Radical Acceptance – “Accepting the Unacceptable” – From a DBT-CBT Workbook Perspective

We have a choice to accept difficulties as they come our way…
To lean into them and to get a game plan for dealing with them
AND a choice to Follow Through until we can Get Through…
OR we can choose to avoid, ignore, and numb-out our pain and problems
And stagnate in our pain and suffering.

When we choose to confront things
With an attitude of acceptance
That gives us the serenity to change the things we can
And the wisdom to know our limits.

Acceptance of our life situation and what we need to do about it…is a way of turning suffering we cannot tolerate into pain we can tolerate. It’s a way of turning hopelessness into hope. Most of us have been suffering the pain of our lifestyle and choices for years…and somehow, we remain willing to experience ongoing pain and misery because of them. We’re somehow willing to suffer long-term pain, but we’re not willing to go through the temporary pain of change. We’re somehow willing to dwell in a painful past, to remain in painful situations, and to continue painful addictions and impulsive behavior. We do so because we’re unwilling to accept and undergo the changes that will bring peace and stability.

Radical Acceptance involves accepting what we’d normally consider unacceptable. When we LIVE BY Radical Acceptance, we CAN ACCEPT something whether or not we approve of it and whether or not it’s right or wrong, fair or unfair, or pleasant or unpleasant. Radical Acceptance is about CHOOSING TO ACCEPT whatever is in our best interests to accept.

We MUST ACCEPT whatever we HAVE TO accept because NON-ACCEPTANCE keeps us emotionally troubled and stuck in negativity. To have peace, we must accept many things whether or not they’re acceptable. We must accept things from the past and present. Anything in the past that’s unfixable, we need to LET IT GO. Anything in our current life that we CANNOT CHANGE, we need to accept that it MAY NOT change. Anything we CAN change, we must LEAN INTO…to MAKE THE CHANGES we CAN MAKE. Our Recovery Goal is to live a life that MAXIMIZES peace, stability, meaning, and productivity. To do that, we MUST ACCEPT what has happened HAS HAPPENED, what we’ve done, WE’VE DONE…then, we need to LET IT GO…so we can GO ON with life.

From pages 313 and 316 – Excerpt from “Out-of-Control: A Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Workbook for Getting Control of Our Emotions and Emotion-Driven Behavior” by Melanie Gordon Sheets, Ph.D. – 2009 – Recovery Works Publications