DBT Skills: Rules of Crisis Survival

When you are a very emotional person, everything is a crisis. I know we read, watch or listen to the news and hear about people around the world in horrible circumstances that we would call “being in crisis”, such as the recent earthquake in Nepal, but many of us experience a crisis every day because we don’t know how to handle the situation. For the purpose of this post, I am talking about the everyday crisis’ many of us find ourselves in.

In my DBT class we defined a crisis as:

  • a stressful event or traumatic moment.
  • something that is short term.
  • we want to solve it now.

I completely acknowledge that for some of us our crisis is possibly long-term (an ill family member that needs your support, experiencing an abusive partner etc.) but we are still able to find ways out of these crisis’ or make them more tolerable.

2 Main Rules of Crisis Survival1


A few nights ago my partner, B, spontaneously decided to go to a friend’s house. I immediately became panicked and started being passive aggressive to try and guilt him into staying (this is unskillful but I swear it gets better). My thought process in these moments is that he is abandoning me. I believe he won’t come back, that he doesn’t care about me (or else he would stay) and maybe he’ll go find another girlfriend while he’s out. I am very afraid when he is not with me. After 20 seconds of sass from me, B told me he would come back, that he loves me and gave me kisses and hugs (we have talked about how I need love and reassurance to currently feel better in these situations so I am happy to see that he can support me in this).

After he left I knew I had a decision to make. I could either curl up in a ball and hate life OR I could do something skilful about the situation. I remembered the above two rules about crisis survival: 1. Solve the problem if you can, and 2. If you can’t solve the problem, survive it. I knew I couldn’t solve the problem. Solving this problem would possibly mean B doesn’t go out or I go out with him. B is allowed to go see his friends and see his friends alone. This was not an option. I decided that it was best to survive the crisis. How did I do this? I distracted myself with a few episodes of my favourite shows (South Park, Girls, The Mindy Project), painted my nails and completed a presentation for an upcoming conference. By the time this was finished (about 4 hours) B was on his way home and we watched an episode of Daredevil before going to sleep.

What I feel is most important about this is not that I found ways to distract myself but that the distractions made me not care that he was out. I was avoiding feeling horrible but since I was busy and enjoying what I was doing I was able to tell myself that B has a right to be with his friends and that I have a right to not be bothered by it. This wasn’t a case of distracting myself where I am still thinking about why I’m upset; it was full of acceptance that the crisis was happening and that I could get through it successfully and be happy.


12 thoughts on “DBT Skills: Rules of Crisis Survival

  1. Congrats on surviving those difficult moments 😀
    When my feelings attack, it feels like time just slows down to a near standstill. The worst is when I know I’m overwhelmed because I know how to read my body’s signs, but I don’t know the reasons behind my reactions. Just recently made my self soothing lists so I’m hoping those help.

  2. Pride, this is a lovely post and I’ll remember those rules when I go back to Cameroon and start reaching out to others. I recently did a post on purging my anger physically without the use of fists. My list included, fuming, sulking mildly, counting to 100, talking, walking, biking and drinking water or etc. The point here is to have a simple list/plan (I once encouraged a friend to call her rescue plan), and when such is done before a crisis, it’s easier to remember and auto execute it! During a crisis, thinking straight is definitely not that evident.

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