Please Note: The ideas contained in this FAQ are the opinions of the writer and are communicated without reference to supporting documentation in most cases. Other inspiration and influence for the writing came through consultation with other mental health professionals but the writer “Peter Quintano” is also fully qualified in DBT making him qualified to talk about the things discussed in this article.
In a nutshell, accepting reality (as it is) means being able to make the wisest possible decision in any given situation, no matter what the emotional challenges associated with making that decision might be. As humans, we are continually making decisions as we live out our lives: what to spend money on, who to be in relationships with, how to spend our time, how to interact, where to focus our attention, etc. Making the wisest decisions (i.e., those that will assist us with reaching our preferred goals and living in relative harmony with others (as they are) and in the world (as it is) requires BOTH skilful management of emotions and skilful use of logic.
When we don’t know very well how to manage our emotions – and mainly if those emotions are of the more intense variety – it can be as though our feelings dictate what decisions we make and any logic that might have been useful gets discarded. Also, if we don’t consider carefully what our logical process is for making decisions, the logical process may not even be sufficient to solve the problems at hand.
In many modern societies, children are trained very well in the use of logic for problem-solving, although training with regard to emotions can be severely lacking. Do you recall emotional awareness/emotional mastery being a core topic or subject for any of the classes you attended in grade school? No? That’s what I thought.
If a person has intense emotions that he needs to learn how to manage (but doesn’t) and then perhaps develops Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), it can be extraordinarily difficult to make wise decisions throughout life, and therefore, “to live in reality.” The consequences of many poor decisions being made over years and years of life experience can be severe. In my own experience of suffering from BPD, and likewise working therapeutically with others suffering from BPD, I believe the most damning and discouraging part of the disorder is the impaired ability to make wise decisions.
Said another way, making decisions that are unwise results in consequences, and the consequences (perhaps loss, perhaps pressure, maybe conflict, maybe isolation) are usually felt as suffering. If consequences are ongoing, then pain can be ongoing too. *But please note: Making unwise decisions doesn’t make someone “a bad person,” it just means he isn’t yet skilled at making wise decisions. In other words, he isn’t yet effectively combining his logical abilities with skillful emotional management.
So many things can happen in day-to-day life, and likewise, so many thoughts and associated feelings can be experienced. Real life, aka “reality,” includes every type of frustration and enjoyable moment imaginable. Things happen: people do things, people say things, mistakes are made, things work out, things don’t work out, we get what we want, we don’t get what we want. If we are living a human life, then we are faced with experiencing “it all” (many experiences, many thoughts, many emotions) and not just some. The problem with accepting reality is that we believe we shouldn’t have to experience “it all,” but we do!
“Suppressing what you want is not the way to go. You have to radically accept that you want something you don’t have and it’s not a catastrophe (Marsha Linehan, 2017).”
While working through my BPD and engaging in daily self-reflection, I noticed the many things that can happen every day… things that used to result in my unwise reacting because of my lack of emotional awareness and ability to manage emotion. Every one of my reactions was ultimately a decision I was making (even if unconsciously) that could influence how my day went, the quality of my relationships, and whether or not I was moving forward with my goals.
The ways people expressed themselves, the types of jokes they made, the ways they acted out their quirks, the choices they made, the general chaos of life – all of it went into my senses, turned into thoughts, turned into emotions, and then, of course, I had my reactions. I have since learned that a very challenging aspect of adjusting the BPD pattern is to get good at noticing feelings whenever they become intense (which is a lot), and then to mindfully “just be” with the real feelings instead of always reacting to them and experiencing the real-life consequences after that.
It is hard work to “just be” with feelings; however, when I do this work, I believe I am accepting reality as it is rather than assuming I shouldn’t have to experience “it all.” So, in regards to accepting reality and making changes to the BPD pattern, the question you may need to ask yourself is: Am I willing to do the emotional work that is required of me to live a healthy life?
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