Mindfulness is the core DBT skill set on which the other three skill groups are based. If you’ve been following along from the beginning, you will remember that there are three states of mind: Emotion Mind, Rational Mind, and Wise Mind. Practicing mindfulness skills will help you achieve that calm inner confidence that comes from Wise Mind.
Our Emotion Mind has the ability to take over when we least expect it. Knowing how to name our emotions and gauge their intensity can help us assess whether or not using Emotion Mind is helpful to a given situation. Our brains are wired with an internal alarm system that signals when danger is present. Most of us need a little help adjusting the sensitivity of our internal alarm as it tends to misfire, taking over when no danger is present. To reduce the chances of an emotional hijacking, the regular practice of mindfulness skills is essential.
Mindfulness involves both behavior (“what” skills) and intention (“how” skills). The behavioral skills are observation, describing, and participation. Now it’s time to introduce the intention skills of non-judgmental stance, one-mindfully, and effectiveness.
Like a lot of the skills already covered, this one appears simple. Putting it into practice can be a little more complicated. We all like to think that we are non-judgmental. Yet we place value judgments on ourselves, others, and events all the time.
Judgment is NOT
- morals or personal values
- personal preferences
- emotional responses
- evaluating an event, person, thing, emotion, or experience as GOOD or BAD
- trying to change NEGATIVE into POSITIVE
- having an opinion that something or someone is RIGHT or WRONG
How to have a non-judgmental stance
- Focus on just the facts. Don’t try to determine if the facts are good or bad, right or wrong. Just pay attention.
- Separate your opinion from the facts. Pretend you are a reporter looking for the Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Non-judgmental stance is not for the Editorial pages!
- Accept each moment as it comes. Acceptance isn’t agreement. It’s an acknowledgment that the moment exists.
- Acknowledge the helpful or unhelpful without judging either
- When you catch yourself judging, DON’T JUDGE THE JUDGING!
Applying non-judgmental stance to migraine
So how might this work? Let’s take a look at one way of responding to the onset of a migraine attack.
This day is going to be horrible! My ears are ringing. My neck is stiff and sore. I’m getting a stupid migraine again. Darn it! I do NOT have time to deal with this right now. This project is due by tomorrow. Soccer practice is tonight. Not another night of crappy take-out for dinner! This always happens to me. Just when I need to be 100%, migraine hits. I am getting sick and tired of dealing with this. I am such a failure. My family is going to hate me for this.
Did you catch all that judgment? Now try it this way.
This is going to be a tough day. My ears are ringing. I can feel the stiffness in my neck. A migraine attack is coming. This is going to be a challenge. The project is due tomorrow and soccer practice is tonight. Take-out is on the menu tonight. It’s time to treat this attack so it will be over soon.
Do you see the difference? In non-judgmental stance, only the facts are addressed. The second approach isn’t saying that migraine is a good thing. It’s simple acknowledging the truth about this migraine attack as well as the complicating factors. Admitting that migraine presents a challenge is not the same as labeling those challenges as bad or good.
Now it’s your turn
Describe a situation using non-judgmental stance. Remember to use only the facts and separate your opinion from the facts. Simply state what you observed without labeling it bad or good. If you catch yourself making judgments, don’t judge your judging. Simply notice it and try again.
There are times when judgment is appropriate. DBT skills don’t prohibit you from making value judgments. However, this skill is designed to help you become more mindful. That requires you to set aside judgement for the moment in order to achieve Wise Mind.