Replacing low self-esteem with a sense of accomplishment through the DBT skill of build-mastery
Build-mastery is a key skill in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). The goal of learning this skill is to build a sense of accomplishment, which can support healing feelings of self-loathing, shame, and failure. These challenging emotions often underscore addiction, disordered eating, and other mental health struggles.
In my own battle with binge eating, I found that my harmful eating patterns reinforced feelings of negative self-esteem. I felt like I was constantly failing to eat in a balanced way—I tried diet after diet as well as countless eating plans in an attempt to “get” the perfect body and they all failed. I began to lose faith in myself. I had no hope that I would ever get these patterns under control.
In my work with DBT, I began to take on small tasks and accomplish them. I started with little things like making my bed each morning, keeping my apartment clean, and cooking at home more. Then, I moved on to larger challenges, and the impact of this skill expanded. I took on an exercise challenge and stuck with it for 3 months, I trained for a short running race and truly committed to the training plan, I woke up at 5 AM consistently to do something positive for myself before the work day. I went to graduate school and showed up to my classes and internship consistently, however imperfectly.
Little by little, I began to put myself out there and show up for scary things I would have rather avoided. I began to believe in myself more and I started to like the person I was becoming. Eventually, I started to believe I could do anything I set my mind to, because I became a person who followed through with her commitments. As my confidence increased, the feelings of shame that drove me to binge eating decreased, and I started to pull myself away from the negative cycle.
I have been so fortunate to watch my clients build this skill and, in doing so, cultivate an increased capacity for self-love. True freedom is waking up each morning with an energy of optimism and confidence in confronting whatever difficult thought patterns or emotions arrive that day. Build-mastery has been instrumental in overcoming my own feelings of hopelessness and the troubling behaviors that they led to, and I treasure working with my clients as they travel this same path.
If you’d like to give the build-mastery skill a try, experiment with doing just one small thing each day that builds a sense of accomplishment. Look for a task that is challenging enough that you feel pride after completing it, but not so challenging that it will be difficult to do consistently. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know how it goes—I’d love to hear from you.