Identifying Blocks to Interpersonal Effectiveness - DBT Skill

Despite knowing interpersonal skills, old habits die hard. You have to be diligent and work hard every day, using the DBT skills to make behavioral changes, and sometimes there are still obstacles. Sometimes you are working hard to save relationships, but without seeing a block you might as well be working backward. Thankfully, identifying the blocks will help you in the long run. Knowing every detail about your triggers will help you see them coming and avoid or work through them in a healthier way.

Blocks are not only triggers but as mentioned, habits. This means it will take time to unwork them out of your relationship patterns. However, when you can put them into words and discuss specific strategies with yourself you are halfway there. Sticking to the strategies and skills no matter how much you want to relapse, and no many times you do relapse is the rest of the way. It is not going to be easy. Not one bit. Blocks can be as addicting as drugs. It's up to you to overcome negative behavioral patterns and get sober.

Here are some common blocks to using interpersonal skills:

  • Low expectations of yourself

  • Toxic relationships

  • Old aggressive habits

  • Old passive habits

  • Overwhelming emotions

  • Failure to identify your triggers

  • Fear of being abandoned

  • Anxiety

  • Failure to identify your needs

  • High Expectations of people

  • Myths


Finding a pen and paper or typing into a document, identify some of the ways each of the blocks above have or are affecting you. Write down whatever comes to mind, being honest and open with yourself. Try to be as humble as possible, even if you see things as weaknesses you don't want to imagine. No one is perfect and even people without emotion dysregulation issues have blocks. Get excited that you are giving yourself room to identify them now. The first step to change is acceptance. After you've written down each example of the blocks that can relate to you, think about solutions and strategies. Think of your own for now, and we'll go over some together in another post.

Examples for each block:

Low expectations of yourself: Tori thinks no one could ever love her so she sabotages every relationship and doesn't even try bringing her best forward.

Toxic relationships: Brandon stays around those who don't treat him well because he doesn't think he can get better friends. But the longer he's around these people is the longer he reinforces his poor views about himself. Similarly, Rebecca doesn't leave her abusive boyfriend and has no time to work on herself enough to see she deserves better. There are 8 aversive strategies that toxic relationships can use from one person to the other or both persons. Aversive strategies are things like belittling, blame-shifting, threatening, removing support, withdrawing/abandoning, and derailing. They are hurtful relationship assaults, which, when done enough, can make the victim blow up or run away, no matter how reasonable they are. We will go over them in more detail in a later post.

Relationships, where people use aversive strategies on you, can make interpersonal skills very difficult to use. No matter how determined you are to be sensitive and assertive rather than aggressive or passive, people who blame, threaten, belittle, or withhold support or attention, will lead you to explode or run away.

(The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook, Matthew McKay, Jeffrey C. Wood, Jeffrey Brantley)

Old aggressive habits: Angela has a habit of yelling when she gets hurt and not letting things go. She'll rather beat a dead horse than accept when she's faced with disappointment.

Overwhelming emotions: Jennifer often explodes with emotional rage saying things she later regrets, instead of identifying when she's very upset and using her distress tolerance skills to cool the emotions down.

Old passive habits: Lincoln swears by always being nice, even when he's not living true to himself and letting others get away with disrespecting him. He eventually blows up and then it's a double loss. Similarly, Craig shuts down whenever he's hurt. He withdraws and loses his voice completely, never getting any resolution.

Failure to identify your triggers: Taj is so overwhelmed they can't even identify what they're feeling much less what sets them off. They just know they keep getting upset and it feels like an endless loop of draining emotions.

Fear of being abandoned: Cindy thinks she's so flawed there is just no way anyone would stick around. She's overly present and needy, often intrusive, just so people won't forget her, but she pushes them away with this.

High expectations of people: Lucas is not used to being close to people so when he finally lets his guard down, he truly believes he's found the best human being. However, putting people on a pedestal and never thinking they could have a human moment and disappoint him only brings him suffering.

Anxiety: Pandora is often so anxious that her interpersonal skills go out the window. When she gets scared she can't think properly and feels as if her brain shuts down. She'll still talk to people but there's a disconnect as she's too focused on the "what ifs."

Failure to identify your needs: Interpersonal skills are no use if you don't know what you want from your relationships. A further post will give you tips on identifying what you require from people and how to say it with assertiveness.

Myths: Debbie assumes a guy will come along to save her from her emotions one day. There are thinking traps and romantic myths that could fill hundreds of pages. Other than that, in general, there are four paralyzing myths about relationships that block interpersonal skills. 1) If I need something, it means there is something wrong or bad about me 2) I won't be able to stand it if the other person gets mad or says no. 3) It is selfish to say no or ask for things. 4) I have no control over anything.

Debunking Myths

Myth number 1: You have a right to want things. Whether it's attention, love, support, help, or just plain kindness, every human needs things from other human beings. No one can be sufficient forever onto themselves. We've depended on others throughout our lives for everything we require to survive physically and emotionally. Needing things shouldn't be shameful or wrong. A healthy alternative coping thought to this myth is, "I have a right to want things."

Myth number 2: Being rejected or hearing an angry refusal hurts. But think of all the times when you and other people have been denied something. You can and will always bounce back given enough time and tools like DBT skills are there to help you! A healthy alternative coping thought to this myth is, "I have the right to ask for things, even if the other person won't give them."

Myth number 3: You may feel guilty and even selfish asking for things because of the early relationships in your life, like family or bullies invalidating your needs. In the long run, you may believe a dark myth that your needs are less important than the needs of others. Because of stigma around mental health, sufferers feel this more because of people who lack compassion or understanding. It's up to you to challenge this daily and remind yourself that your needs are just as important as anyone else's even if others do or say things that give the opposite impression.

Myth number 4: You can never completely control the behaviors of others nor should you try. What you can control is your behavior. This isn't always easy but working on your inner voice and DBT skills daily can bring about resilience and lessen the impact of emotional blows. Remember intense emotions = intense actions. Know your triggers and plan ahead of time strategies to not fall victim to them.

In the next post, we are going to come up with detailed problem-solving strategies for each block. We will be using some of the DBT skills we've already learned from other skill groups, as well as new ones for Interpersonal Effectiveness!

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