Monday, 13 February 2012

HALF SMILE your way to acceptance

Two elegant yet, sheepishly impatient women are making rapid glances around Starbucks, hoping to nab a free space to sprawl out and natter after an afternoon of window shopping. You can tell they are the leisurely type. I overhear them giving out about the lack of seats, and can’t help giggle as the hand approaches the first single digit on my watch, signifying my third hour sat in the comfortable chair by the window which seems to have moulded to my frame by now. I am not moving. I even turn my chair to get a better view out the panoramic glass wall.

People-watching is a not a new hobby of mine, but observing the finer details of said people is. I recently acquired a very helpful possession for this pursuit; eyesight! For some reason or another, cost and hassle being the most likely, I had not replaced my broken specs when the arm unhinged its self from the frame last year. I had grown used to the blur, and liked not living in focus. But when I passed my own father on the street, I thought ‘enough is enough’ and got them fixed.

There are two categories of people who meander up and down Grafton Street in winter. The fast paced snakes who weave their path in plaits around the care-free traffic blockers, who are much more easily distracted as they gather in large semicircular groups around each of the buskers dotted on the side of the street.

The girls compete in the small city style wars, and the guys compete for the most stealthily glances and puffed up chests. The dramatic outfits somehow seem to conspicuously blend in a contradictory fashion with all the rest and it’s the plain and ordinary which stand out. The frizzy haired student, the make-upless lady and the elderly man with a walking stick all seem out of place in this world of perfection and antagonism.

Once, a woman smiled at me as I walked by in a daze. It shocked me, and my initial reaction was to wonder if I had food or bicycle grease on my face. Why it was that something so pleasant made me react in such a capricious manner? I was a suspicious mess, and was almost angry at the woman for evoking such an unstable feeing in me. But of course it was not her error; it was my own lack of self confidence which made me react that way. Then I realised that it was not just anger stirring up in the pit of my stomach, it was jealousy. I wanted to be that woman, who could smile at the world and warm the hearts of others. 

So I guess that the point of this post is that the DBT skill of HALF SMILE is a valuable one. The idea with this one is that there’s a biofeedback mechanism between the face and the brain. If your face is tense, the brain gears up for trouble. If on the other hand your face is relaxed, it tells your brain that everything is fine.

I’m not sure yet how this ties in with accepting reality, but then there’s a lot I don’t understand about accepting reality generally. The book says ‘Half smiling is accepting and tolerating with your body’. DBT seems to ease you gently into ‘accepting reality’ before finally hitting you with Radical Acceptance. I’m hoping that after we’ve covered radical acceptance I’ll understand more where these breathing, smiling and awareness exercises fit in.

I’ve used this skill several times since I learnt it. On the bus when I saw my reflection and realised just how anxious and cramped my face looked. In a crowded market today when I felt overwhelmed and my face was agreeing with me. Both times I consciously changed my face to an ‘I can cope’ expression. And cope I did… Coincidence perhaps; I need to experiment more but I’m definitely prepared to try it out.

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