Overwatch and DBT: Why it’s Time to Teach Boys Coping Skills

Coping skills — knowing how to deal with strong negative emotions to promote mental wellness — are never learned by many people. There’s nowhere this problem is clearer than with young men.

On Tuesday, March 20, a user on Reddit posted to the subforum of a popular video game: “My wife is a therapist. After I kept complaining about Overwatch losses, she made me fill out this worksheet.

“Honestly, it helped a lot!” — reddit user SirBenny (who uploaded the image and added the explanatory notes)

Even though this was posted as a “humor” item, the comments section abounded with a (perhaps surprising) amount of gamers earnestly embracing the worksheet as a tool for reflection. Commenters identified with the checklist of cognitive distortions. Some said that they would try to use this approach in other parts of their life that cause frustration.

Without even realizing it, gamers were discovering the merits of two therapeutic approaches that have been used by psychologists for years: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), an approach often used to help people with anxiety and depression, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), an approach based on CBT that focuses on accepting and changing painful emotions. Essentially: clinically tried and tested coping skills.

Now, I’m not a therapist (let me repeat that again — I’m not a therapist. Nothing I’m saying is medical advice! Talk to a doctor for medical advice!). I’m but a humble poster. I was so amused by the positive reaction to the Overwatch mood log that I felt compelled to share it on Twitter. It immediately resonated and reached far beyond the normal audience of my wonderful followers.

These “link clicks” were people viewing the mood log. It’s a lot more than usual.

Most comments fell into one of three camps:

  1. This is actually a good idea!
  2. I need this/people who share my hobby need this/someone I know needs this (that ‘someone’ was sometimes tagged and concurred).
  3. I’m so glad to see DBT/CBT, which helped me, working for other people.

In a better world, “how to cope with strong negative emotions” is the sort of thing that people might learn in school. They would not have to wait to stumble upon a Reddit post showing that there is a therapeutic framework for tackling this situation. Perhaps what’s most interesting here is the intersection, between Reddit and a video game fan base, of younger men who are especially unlikely to have a familiarity with something such as a “mood log.”

This led me to want to expand on the gender dynamic at play in this conversation.

Women learn from an early age, often by harsh necessity, to navigate the emotions of others. Trans and non-binary people have to deal with even more delicate situations and stressful balancing acts. These groups suffer due to their marginalized status, and might develop coping skills with an awareness that they are needed to make it in a tough world.

Men, on the other hand, too often discourage one another from seeking help, processing their feelings in a therapeutic way, and have an aversion to nurturing one another.

When men don’t seek and receive the help that they need, everyone pays for it.

Men in developed nations can reach middle age without learning how to talk about their feelings. That inability to discuss feelings means inability to manage feelings effectively, as well. It’s one factor among many that lead men into the clutches of self-help charlatans, untreated depression, too much alcohol, the wrong kind of pills, and lashing out with violence.

Everyone accepts the importance of preventive health care, but mental health is all too often ignored until it has reached a state of crisis. Similarly, there is no silver bullet that works for every mental health situation. Spreading awareness of strategies that work for many people in many situations might nonetheless promote positive growth for others.

For example: one of the core ideas of DBT is radical acceptance. As one practitioner of DBT says:

“It’s difficult to accept what you don’t want to be true. And it’s more difficult to not accept. Not accepting pain brings suffering.”

We may be quick to say “this isn’t fair,” or “this should be like that.” Indeed, situations often are unfair, or they shouldn’t be like that. Without further reflection, these beliefs can be a frustrating dead end. When people have the wrong idea about a situation, they can cling to things that give them a false sense of control, whether it’s excessive drinking to “manage” emotions or partaking in ludicrous political projects that don’t stand a chance at changing anything.

Anyone can interpret the world, but if you feel that the point is to change it, then you have to grapple with it as it really is. As the Reddit post that set this all off indicates, it works on many levels:

  • Is Overwatch frustrating because I am always teamed up with idiots, or do my beliefs not match with what I should reasonably expect?
  • Are my relationships difficult because my partners always “go crazy,” or am I acting in a way that leads to emotional distress for them?
  • Am I miserable because Extremists On Both Sides keep ignoring the moderate advice of my favorite TV comedians, or is it because a handful of rich people control everything and profit from my misery?

Learning such concepts from DBT can be balancing, calming, and perhaps even liberatory.

Maybe we can start by nurturing one another, especially the young. If you have children in your life, encourage them to talk about their feelings. Notice how they currently deal with strong negative emotions. Consider if talking them through a simple “mood log” might be of use for them. All children can benefit from care and attention; sadly, boys are still too often cut off from even learning the vocabulary they need to talk about feelings. There are a lot of stigmas that still need addressing, and this post can’t cover all of them.

Spreading knowledge of the basic concepts from DBT isn’t meant to replace therapists. Ideally, it would make people realize that therapy is useful for just about everyone, and in that way dramatically reduce the stigma still unfairly associated with mental health care.

Embracing the methods of DBT won’t solve every social problem — that surely requires revolution — but it might help mitigate one of the factors that contributes to persistent problems of addiction, violence, self-loathing, and alienation.


Reminder: This post is not written by a therapist, and it is not medical advice. Speak to a licensed practitioner to learn more about managing your mental health.

Solely my opinions. Twitter: @erasmusNYT

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