Celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare with DBT skills…

Seeing as I live in the Midlands, it was pretty much impossible to miss the celebrations of 400 years of Shakespeare’s legacy, particularly as I was working in Stratford this afternoon.  I did an English degree and was particularly interested in Shakespeare at one point (although via science fiction- long story) but I haven’t had much exposure to his work recently.  I was googling quotes that might be interesting to share, and this one really got to me.  I know my mind’s a bit DBT-focussed at the moment but this quote (which is actually a paraphrase of a quote from ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’) really does seem to link to some of the mindfulness and interpersonal skills from my DBT workbook.

One of the aspects of mindfulness in DBT which I’ve been working on really hard recently is mindfulness in relation to friendships.  The basic concept is that a lot of people who experience rigid or ‘black-and-white’ thinking can often extend this to areas of their lives like social relationships and this can be damaging not only for the relationship itself but for the person’s emotionally wellbeing.  The example given in the book is thinking of your best friend as someone who would never hurt you or let you down.  This puts a person into an idealistic perspective which isn’t real or feasible in every day life meaning that if that person does upset you (which is pretty much inevitable at some point in any relationship), it really, really hurts to an unbearable extent and often the friendship is lost.  The idea is to try to be ‘mindful’ of your friendships- take them at face value and don’t put unrealistic or extreme expectations on them, and try to look at it non-judgmentally.

It works both ways- you try not to have rigid views on what the friendship ‘should’ be and at the same time, you don’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions about what the other person might be thinking.  You take every interaction as it comes and try to stay in that moment instead of overthinking or judging what might or might not be happening, and don’t have any expectations about it.  In theory, the anxiety and/or paranoia about the friendship should subside which minimises the possibility of a negative reaction from the other person and the actual impact of a negative interaction should also be reduced because there are no unrealistic or ‘pedestal’-like expectations towards the other person.  The cliche about ‘the higher the pedestal, the further there is to fall’ really is true, and it’s taken me nearly 30 years to realise that.

I can relate to this a lot at the moment because I recently lost a very close friend who, for nearly 20 years, I saw as my ‘best friend’ and often referred to her as someone who would never hurt or judge me.  Just before Christmas, she ended the close friendship which really, really hurt and it’s taken a long time to come to terms with.  I think in part this was because I genuinely thought we’d be friends forever and that we would never have any sort of disagreement (on reflection, this is partly because I always avoid any sort of conflict which I know now isn’t healthy in any relationship), and it really was was one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with.  I had her up on the highest pedestal possible and the force of the hurt almost crushed me- figuratively, but it’s the closest I’ve come to totally giving up for nearly ten years.  I feel like my insides have been sucked out and I’m left with a vertigo-y vacuum, and I still feel like I’m running on autopilot a lot of the time.  BUT the most important key to surviving it (literally) is to accept and learn from it, and that’s where DBT comes in.  So, things I’m learning…

  1. Take every friendship at face value.  Don’t overthink it, make assumptions, have unrealistic or idealistic expectations, or make any judgements at all.  Try to take the friendship as it comes and use mindfulness or grounding techniques to manage anxiety.
  2. Friendships are fluid and changing.  There is no such thing as a ‘best friend’ or ‘forever friendship’, however amazing that would be.  Enjoy the relationship when you can but don’t have any expectations that it will last forever.  Practise ‘beginner’s mind’ (seeing every experience as the first time you’ve experienced it, without any preconceptions or judgements) and don’t overthink it.
  3. People change and that’s part of life.  If a friendship ends, it might not have anything to do with you whatsoever- the other person might have changed or moved on and THAT’S OK.  Growth is part of life and people move on at different rates.  That doesn’t make it any painful, but taking away the guilt or self-criticism will help you move on from it a lot more easily.
  4. Be open with people.  Honesty and openness in relationships is the most important part of a healthy relationship and will reduce anxiety more than almost anything else.  Anxiety and particularly paranoia come from uncertainty and thrive in self-doubt or assumptions.  If you’ve got a gut reaction to something- check it out.  Don’t let it spiral into full-on paranoia or depression because then everything’s skewed through a fog of thoughts and judgements and you’re likely to damage the relationship without realising it.  Sounds cliched but if the other person’s worth being friends with, they’ll be honest with you.
  5. TRUST.  This is one of the hardest ones for me and there’s different ways it’s relevant to friendships but the some of the key points are to trust that the friendship will still exist even if you’re not constantly contacting the other person, trust that the other person will be honest with you, and trust that the other person really does want to stay friends with you.  I find all of these really hard, especially the last one, but they’re so important and I think they get easier the more you do them…  It really relates back to the mindfulness idea and I’m trying really, really hard to use that in my current friendships.

Not sure how much of that makes sense but hoping it’s useful anyway!  Thank you Shakespeare for helping me link DBT skills to real life 🙂

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