Improve the Moment: Prayer

The next suggested Distress Tolerance technique is Prayer. We are talking about prayer to a supreme being, God, a higher power, or to your own wise mind.  In moments of great distress prayer can relieve distress or help you to tolerate it better.

Marsha Linehan talks about several kinds of prayer. She talks about the "Why me?" prayer and the "distress" prayer, in both of which you are asking for something, perhaps rather desperately, maybe asking to be relieved from your distress or asking for something particular to happen or asking whomever you are praying to to have pity on you.

There is another way of using prayer that she calls acceptance prayer. This is a lot like radical acceptance. You open yourself to what is, whether you are praying to a God or higher power or to your own wise mind. This is not begging to have suffering taken away, and it is not a "Why me?" prayer.  It is a way of being present with your distress, of not fighting it, while at the same time not saying it is okay.


I invite you to try the exercise that Linehan suggests. Take some current suffering and let yourself experience it just a little bit. Then try one of the different types of prayer. Try the "Why me?" prayer. Notice how you feel. Now let the suffering in a little again, and try the "distress" prayer, begging for help or relief. How do you feel now? And then let the suffering in again a little, and try the acceptance prayer, just letting yourself be in the presence of your higher power, God, or whomever you pray to. How do you feel after this?

If you don't pray to a higher power or God, try praying to or opening yourself to your own wise mind, that centered part of yourself, the part with a felt sense of what's right (review the previous lesson on Wise Mind if you need to). See what kind of acceptance you can find by praying in this way.

Like all the skills, this one needs to be practiced. After some practice it will feel more natural to you. If you feel really uncomfortable, you can move on to another skill. It is a good idea to be practicing at least one Distress Tolerance skill every day. This is how we learn what works for us and how skills become second nature, so that we have them at our fingertips when we need them