DBT Skills: Get What You Want And Need Using D-E-A-R-M-A-N

D-E-A-R M-A-N is a mnemonic device developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan and is an important aspect of DBT treatment or Dialectical Behavior Therapy. What's the goal of this clever tool? It was developed to help people remember to use effective communication as a means to have healthier relationships and to get needs met in a healthy manner. If we are to have healthy, satisfying relationships, it is important to feel capable and competent in our interactions with others. Good communication includes feeling understood and that our expectations can be met. When communication is not clear and effective, relationships suffer leading to misunderstandings, unmet needs and resentment. How can DBT and D-E-A-R-M-A-N help you have better relationships and a happier and more satisfying life? Let me explain the basics of interpersonal effectiveness:

  1. Describe: Explain yourself using language that is clear and specific. Use your words to express yourself in a way that doesn't leave the other person guessing. Think Clarity here as you describe the problem with facts and without judgment.

  2. Express: Many tend to let their emotions get the best of them. Be expressive by all means, but maintain a balance of self-control. As you express yourself and your needs, use gestures, a tone of voice and facial expressions that capture your needs and intentions. Remember to use "I feel" instead of "you make me feel."
  3. Assert: Balance is the key here once again with the goal of asserting your needs and avoiding aggressiveness or passive aggressive behaviors. 
  4. Reinforce: Be sure that the other person understands exactly why they should respond to your request. As you work towards getting what you want and need, describe why the other person would benefit from helping you. It may be helpful to remind them of whatever positive outcomes would come from your request. Be real and avoid manipulation.
  5. Mindful: Don’t get carried away by intense emotions and don't engage the other if they respond with aggression or defensiveness. If you counter respond to the other with defensiveness you will not get your needs met. If you notice that you become defensive or hostile, practice trying something different in that moment or in DBT speak "opposite action." Remember to breathe and sprinkle a dose of radical acceptance to the experience. Mindfulness is all about paying attention to biases and noticing intense feelings. Avoid invalidating the other person as well.
  6. Appear Confident: Skillfully use eye contact and pay attention to body language and the tone of your voice. If you are not confident about the validity of your request, others will join you. Practice self-validation as you Imagine yourself as competent, confident and fully deserving of what you need or desire. If you have trouble with this then imagine someone you know who possesses this quality. How would they be in this situation
  7. Negotiate: Some of us have better negotiating skills than others. Think halfway here and find a solution that works but does not compromise your values and ideals. Respect the other person's limits and be reasonable and fair. Be willing to make a compromise and have a plan B ready to offer as an alternative. Be respectful.

How can you practice using the DBT mnemonic, D-E-A-R M-A-N when your in the heat of a passionate encounter and how can you use this in your future interpersonal interactions? How much value do you place on the important relationships in your life? It takes some practice to learn how to stand up for what we need while being mindful of respecting the needs of others. Many have spent years playing out unhealthy patterns and dynamics learned from our family of origin and other life experiences, so remember to practice compassion for yourself if these skills are new to you. Learning new skills can only enhance your life and relationships. Give these tips a try!

The beauty of DBT, which was originally developed for individuals managing personality disorders such as BPD or Borderline Personality Disorder, is that the application for these skills is huge, and exciting. DBT can be used with addictions and a variety of other challenges as well as with school-age kids, teens and adolescents and individuals who are emotionally healthy, but may benefit from a few tweaks here and there by learning skills designed to create a more effective and satisfying life.