Borderline Personality Disorder,  DBT,  DBT-FST,  Emotions,  Mentalizing

Willingness vs Willfulness

In DBT, in the distress tolerance module, there is a concept of willingness versus willfulness. I find this concept particularly important and akin to the being right (willfulness) vs being effective (willingness) concept. Here is some information about willingness versus willfulness:


  • Cultivate a WILLING response to each situation
  • Willingness is doing just what is effective in each situation, in an unpretentious way.
  • Willingness is listening very carefully to your WISE MIND, acting from your inner self and your deepest core values.
  • Willingness is becoming aware of your connection to the universe and to the person you are interacting with.
  • Willingness engenders listening and mentalizing.
  • Ask yourself, in 5 years from now, will the situation that causes the distress matter?


  • Willfulness is like sitting on your hands when action is needed, refusing to make changes that are needed.
  • Willfulness is about the desire to be right in a situation, regardless of what is needed to get through effectively.
  • Willfulness causes you to fight any suggestions that will improve the distress and thus make it more tolerable.
  • Willfulness is being rigid and inflexible.
  • It is the opposite of doing what works, of being effective. Willfulness is trying to fix every situation or refusing to tolerate the distressful moment.

That last example in willfulness is particularly important to read and consider. Often, I find the loved ones of borderlines to be “fixers” and try to solve each problem for the borderline. Being willing to listen, and really hear what the other person is feeling and going through is usually more effective, despite the distress it may cause, than telling the other person what to do or giving advice.

Adapted from, with edits and additions by Bon


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