The STOP Skill

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Obviously, the intention of this course is to start Living the Life you Want to Live. To do this, we have to know what it is that’s stopping us from doing it in the first place. This means looking at the stories that are attached to the “negative schema” that exist within your system. These are the schema that activate all of the stories that can trigger an emotional state that your parts start frantically trying to cope with. And believe me, when we take on the responsibility of addressing these stories, it can be an emotionally distressing thing to do. So, before we actually start exploring these negative emotional experiences, I want to introduce you to what is probably the most important skill in the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Distress Tolerance skills training program. A skill that is known in the world of DBT as S.T.O.P.

If you are one of those people who are asking the question, why is S.T.O.P the most important skill in DBT? The answer to this question is really quite simple. Because it is the gateway into accessing every other skill we want to use when making behavioural changes. Without it, we get activated by our emotional state and go bounding into distressing situations, without the ability to take stock of what’s actually going on. We automatically react to the sense of emotional suffering that is present in our internal world, by using modes of behaviour that are simply a representation of the childhood re-enactment that we are currently playing out. We will get into why this is a little later on, but for now, all we need to know is that this is down to the schema that is active in your system. This childhood story causes parts of your personality to have the perception that you are sitting in a space that is a well-known, and extremely familiar, state of crisis.

The S.T.O.P skill helps us to refrain from acting impulsively based purely on the current emotional state we are struggling with. This overwhelming emotional state is, for most people, predominately related to some sort of fear. When we enter into this fear-based system, we are now in what is commonly known as a state of “fight or flight” and, if you have spent any time on the social media platforms connected to The Liberation Place, you will have an understanding that when in this reactive state of being, we usually, but not always, make really poor decisions which often result in us making a difficult situation way worse than it might’ve originally been.

The S.T.O.P skill supports our system by helping us to resist the urge to act on the first impulsive behaviour mode that enters into our thoughts. It does this by teaching you how to actually Stop dead in your tracks. Take a step back, and use the skills of mindful breathing, so that we can slow the situation down. From there we can Observe what’s happening both externally, and more importantly, internally, so we can describe this new internal state, which allows us to cognitively defuse from the blended part in our system. This opens the possibility for us to gather information about what is actually going on, rather than the story we may have inaccurately generated; and then Proceed from a mindful perspective, by evaluating the most effective option to take, given what it is we are trying to achieve in the situation we are in.

We use the S.T.O.P skill whenever we find that our system shifts in a direction that takes us away from our own specific emotional base line. Practicing mindfulness builds awareness for this emotional starting point. It provides us with the ability to spot the early warnings that we are blending with an emotionally reactive part, because when we are blended with these parts, we usually find ourselves acting impulsively without the ability to think things through. When you have this impulsive child reaction, you do not have time to use the skills a healthy adult might use to get yourself into a safe protected place. Without the healthy adult there is no state of wise mind, and without the state of Wise Mind there is no sense of Self energy in your system, and if you have learned anything about the multiplistic personality at all, you will know this is not a good spot to be in.

In order to get yourself out of these difficult and sometimes scary situations, the first thing we need to develop is your ability to stop these impulsive child reactions. This is the intended purpose of the S.T.O.P skill. This essential piece of skills-based education is taken straight out of the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy manual, and as with many of the skills in DBT, the use of mnemonics is an important thing to get your head around. Each letter of the word has a very specific meaning. It provides us with reminders for the steps we need to take, that line up with what it is that we actually need to do, when using the skill effectively. The S.T.O.P skill consists of the following sequence of steps: Stop, Take a step back, Observe what’s happening, and Proceed mindfully. Let’s look at each one in detail.


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