No Matter What the Problem, There Are Only Four Things You Can Do

Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, outlined strategies for any problem that you face.

No Matter What the Problem, There Are Only Four Things You Can Do

When faced with a difficult problem, you might find yourself paralyzed over deciding what to do. Emotionally sensitive people often have difficulty making decisions, tend to ruminate about issues and can become increasing upset as a result of thinking about the issue over and over.

Searching and searching for the right solution, perhaps one that won’t upset others or cause pain or loss, adds to anxiety and upset. How can someone find just the right solution and know what the right solution is?

Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, outlined strategies for any problem that you face. Remembering these options can help decrease the struggle of not knowing what to do. The four options are Solve the Problem, Change Your Perception of the Problem, Radically Accept the Situation, or Stay Miserable.

Choice 1: Solve the Problem.

There are many problem solving strategies but most use the same steps. First, define the problem. Be as specific as possible. Use numbers whenever possible. For example “I’ve been overspending my budget every other month by $315.”

Next, analyze the problem. What are you spending the extra money on? Is it always in the same place? Is it at the same time of day or the same part of the month? Are you aware of the overspending at the time you do it or not? Do you overspend when you are in a certain mood or when you are in the company of certain people? Consider who, what, when and where of the behavior you want to change.

The third step is to consider possible solutions. Consider the solutions carefully to determine which might work best for you. In this step you want to trouble-shoot the solution. What are the pros and cons of different solutions? What could go wrong? What can you do to make the solution more likely to work? For example, if you decide to give yourself a weekly budget and to freeze your credit cards in a block of ice, what would you do in case of an emergency? Would giving yourself a certain amount of spending money for the day work better than an amount for the week?

Implement the Solution: Take action. Trouble-shoot as you go along, tweaking it so any issues you didn’t anticipate are dealt with.

Choice 2: Change Your Perception

Changing your perception of the problem is difficult for many people. An example of changing your perception of the problem might be to see a difficult boss as an opportunity to work on your skills in coping with someone who is disorganized instead of an impossible person you cannot stand. If you feel irritated because your house is cluttered with toys, change your perception to one that the toys are a signal to be grateful for young children in the home.

Changing your perception could also mean changing your view of an emotion. Instead of trying to never feel anger, you could see your anger as a signal that you need to speak up for yourself and look at it as a source of information.

Choice 3: Radically Accept the Situation

Radical Acceptance means you wholeheartedly accept what is real. Radical Acceptance is saying “It is what it is,” and means giving up your resistance to the situation. Radical Acceptance could be about issues we can’t control or concerns that we decide to not try to change, at least for the time being. Radical Acceptance doesn’t mean you agree with what has happened or that you think it is reasonable.

Radical Acceptance often must be repeated until the acceptance is complete.

Choice 4: Stay Miserable

Of course staying miserable is not a choice anyone wants to make and no one would want to consider it as an option. But if you can’t solve the problem, can’t change your perception, and you aren’t ready to radically accept the situation, then staying miserable is the only option left. Staying miserable may be all someone can do in certain situations. Sometimes staying miserable is a choice to make until you are ready to do something else.

There are many factors involved in these options. In future posts we’ll look at some of the specific skills that go into these choices and consider ways people who are emotionally sensitive can enhance their ability to manage their emotions.


  • Dana

    A fantastic website, I have just found this site and I think it is a very helpful tool.

    I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress disorder and some BPD traits. I have completed the first module of the DBT course which is the Mindfulness module and I feel that after many years I am finally on the correct path thanks to the DBT program. I cannot wait to begin the Emotion Regulation module and I feel that it is critical for me.

    By just doing the mindfullness module I find that I no longer feel disconnected from life, depressed and I no longer feel deep pain – I may feel sad sometimes but I dont turn the sadness into deep pain like before and I just take it as it is and acknowledge that I am just sad at this specific time when I feel sadnes.

    By doing DBT one learns to accept things as they are – CURRENTLY. Live and accept the present moment without ruminating or worrying about yesterday or tommorow just simply being without the harsh demands from the self. One learns to love oneself for being whom they are and taking each difficulty or problem in life just as they are (taking it easily without worrying for days on end- setting a time to worry – and then be done with it). I have also learned to be less judgemental of myself and of others which has aided me in being more understanding & forgiving to others and to myself in general which makes life a while lot better because now I just get on with things that I need to do in life rather than be second guessing and worrying and stressing over things that are not there or not too imoportant. I’ve learned to concentrate more on what I need from or want from life and go for it and the silly nuences that just dont matter anymore- like what others do or what they think or if they judge.. it isnt my worry, I dont even give these things credence the way that I used to. I have also learned to listen to others more and accept what they think without judgement, just understand that thats what people think or feel and it is just the way that it is wether I have differing thoughts or values to them or not.

    I have learned all that and more by only doing the first module of DBT which is the mindfulness module. I am looking forward to doing the other modules and I highly reccomend the DBT program to everyone who is on this site and would like to improve their relationship with themselves as well as with others.

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