We can’t always control the situations we find ourselves in, and similarly we can’t always control our emotional reactions to those situations. When we experience an overwhelming emotional reaction, particularly if that emotion is one that we perceive to be negative, it can be useful to have a strategy that allows us to get through the experience without resorting to behaviours likely to cause us harm. One such strategy that comes from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is summarised by the acronym I.M.P.R.O.V.E.
DBT is a therapy approach that combines the popular Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with more recent therapeutic techniques such as mindfulness and acceptance. DBT aims to teach individuals’ skills that they can use to ‘ride through’ emotional experiences without making the situation worse. Skills such as this one acknowledge that we don’t always have the power to change the reality of the experience, but gives us a strategy that can reduce our own suffering and encourages us to grow through the experience.
When you find yourself in a situation where you are experiencing an uncomfortable feeling or emotion and you reach a point where you feel like you just can’t stand it anymore, try to IMPROVE the moment:
Imagery – use your imagination to create a safe place to retreat to when the overwhelming emotions strike. Be detailed in your imagining of the space and recognise this place as somewhere to allow yourself to be distracted and soothed or as a place to bolster courage and confidence to return to the moment. Practice going to this place when you’re not in an overwhelming moment, so that when you choose to retreat here you are in control.
Meaning – looking at the situation in an attempt to find some meaning, purpose or value in the pain may make it easier to cope with the experience. In looking for meaning, it is useful to consider the experience in terms of what benefits you can get out of it, no matter how small. Repeat the meaning or value to yourself and pull them into centre focus.
Prayer – open yourself to the power of a supreme being; a greater wisdom; or your own wise mind. This skill asks you not to engage in a ‘why me?’ or ‘please remove the distress’ prayer, but an ‘acceptance prayer’. Essentially, you are allowing yourself the opportunity to experience feeling centred and fully open to the moment, perhaps asking for your own strength. This skill is something to practice in order to allow it to be helpful in the moment.
Pick and choose which skills work best for you in the moment!