Willingness vs Willfulness in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

The idea of willingness vs willfulness is a concept practiced in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). In society, individuals that are not succeeding are labelled for “not having enough willpower” or determination to accomplish their goals. In reality, some goals or things in life are not realistic/attainable and we need to, instead, be flexible in our ability to adapt and be problem solvers These opposing points of view are willingness vs willfulness.

Definition of Willfulness:

The definition of willfulness has been described in many different ways by a variety of mental health professionals. It is most commonly described as the deliberate choice not to take action when action is needed. When an individual puts their own desire to be right above the desire to grow. It is the opposite of doing what will work in a situation and, instead, sitting on your hands.

One of the most common examples of willfulness is when you get into an argument with an individual and refuse to see their point of view. Alternatively, you could show willingness.

Definition of Willingness:

Willingness is an individual’s response to a situation in which they do what is required or will be effective in finding a solution. It is recognizing the reality of a situation and choosing to be an effective problem solver. Essentially, it is an individual’s ability to go with the flow, the radical acceptance of a situation, and choosing to participate in the solution.

In the previous example, a person who is showing willingness vs willfulness in a fight with someone would be open to hearing alternative points of view. They would assess all of the facts in from of them and then adapt to the situation based on that information rather than stay stuck in their own mindset.

Applying Willingness vs Willfulness in Exercise:

Identifying/Describing the Situation:

The first step in DBT willingness vs willfulness is to identify and describe the situation. The individuals should list out what they know about the problematic circumstance. This might include their own opinion, the opinion of others involved, outside factors that are influencing the situation, and the goal in mind. This step of willingness vs willfulness is to help an individual identify where they might willingly find the resolution rather than willfully resisting change.

Where Does the Client Stand?

Once an individual has assessed their situation and identified the facts, they can then determine willingness vs willfulness. If they are open to other perspectives, effective change, and personal development, then they are willing. If they are stubborn or refusing to see outside of their own perspective, then they are willfully resisting a solution.

At this time, a therapist can start to describe where they might be exhibiting willingness vs willfulness throughout the scenario.

Practicing Willingness vs Willfulness:

Once a client is able to see where they are exhibiting willingness vs willfulness in the scenario, they can then start to transition. In areas where the client is exhibiting willfulness; therapists can start to help them transition to a willing point of view. A constructive way to do this is to teach the client how to identify moments in daily life that they might be practicing willfulness. Once the client is able to do this naturally, they can start to make an inner commitment to themselves to be more open and accepting rather than stubborn.

Everyone experiences willfulness in life. For individuals struggling to understand the difference between willingness vs willfulness, DBT might be helpful.

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