Self-enquiry is a core skill from RO DBT that that focuses on asking yourself good question in order to find your “edge.” Your edge is your personal unknown and the place where we have something new to learn. Self-enquiry presumes that “we don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.” In other words, we bring perceptual and processing biases into all the situations of our lives and therefore we all have more to learn about ourselves and our ways of being with others. Self-enquiry aims to facilitate this learning.
In addition to asking yourself good questions, self-enquiry involves “outing yourself” about what you discover. Sharing what we are learning with others helps us strengthen our relationships by allowing others to get to know us at a deeper level and by showing humility and openness. Sharing the results of our self-enquiry also helps us to fill in our blind spots through providing an opportunity for others to give us feedback.
Self-enquiry can be done either on your own or with others. On your own, the practice involves trying to find good questions and then noticing your reactions to them and what these say about what you might have to learn. Usually this is most helpful if done in a journal.
Self-enquiry can also be done with a partner, as we outline below. If you are unfamiliar with self-enquiry, we’d recommend you get the RO-DBT skills manual or at least read this post that provides an overview of the method before trying it out. Self-enquiry can be confusing and counterintuitive and cannot be grasped solely by intellectual means. It takes repeated practice to learn.
The outline below will give you a general guideline on how to do the practice. As you practice, keep in mind the main job of the listener is to help the person who is “outing themselves” to stay close to their edge and find good questions. As the listener, you may need to set aside some normal ways of responding – such as problem solving, validating, encouraging, or advice giving. Feel free to be flexible about the practice (trying to do self-enquiry “right” might be something to do self-enquiry about 😊) but also keep the general outline in mind, as well as the time constraints. Most of the time it’s helpful to keep practices short, just 5 minutes or so per person.
- The person ‘outing-themselves’ attempts to locate their ‘edge’ by briefly telling their partner about an emotional event that they want to practice self-enquiry around, without justifying, defending, or rationalizing what happened (1-2 minutes)
- The listener listens without soothing, validating, cheerleading, or problem solving
- After 1-2 minutes the listener asks, “Are you at your ‘edge’? If not; then ‘What do you need to do to get there?” Then writes their response on a piece of paper.
- Then, whether they have found their ‘edge’ or not, ask: “What is it that you might need to learn from this situation?” AND/OR “What question might you need to ask yourself in order to learn?” Write their response on a piece of paper.
- These last two questions represent the questions of self-enquiry; they are useful because they can be just as helpful when a person is struggling to find their ‘edge’, resisting ‘self-enquiry’, or when they have found their edge.
- As the practice continues, the listener helps the practitioner stay in contact with their ‘edge’ by asking questions like “Are you still at your edge, or have you moved away? If you’ve moved away, what question might get you back there?” “Tell me if this helps or if this takes you further from your edge. (then share a personal reflection)” “What is it you’ve come face-to-face with that’s challenging your worldview?” “If I say _______, does it get you closer to or further from your edge?”
After you are done:
- After 5 minutes end the practice and discuss. The listener asks the practitioner to identify the question(s) that most strongly elicited ‘their edge’ and records those on a sheet of paper.
- You may consider discussing: 1) To what extent did the practitioner attempt to justify, explain, or defend themselves versus focus on asking themselves good questions to help them find their edge? 2) To what extent did the listener attempt to (or desire to) soothe, validate, reassure, or problem solve during the practice?
- The listener gives the questions that were written down to the practitioner. The practitioner then can practice self-inquiry on their own using those questions for an additional 2-3 practice sessions over the next few days.
Much more about self-enquiry can be found in the RO-DBT skills manual and book. Self-enquiry runs throughout the therapy and is a core mindfulness skill for enhancing openness and learning. I hope that self-enquiry helps you find a sense of excitement and curiosity in your journey to better understand yourself.
About the author: Jason Luoma, Ph.D.
Jason Luoma, Ph.D., is CEO of Portland Psychotherapy, Clinic, Research, & Training Center. He is a practicing clinical psychologist and researcher focusing on shame, self-criticism, self-compassion and the interpersonal functions of emotion. He has provided numerous workshops around the world and has nearly 50 professional publications including a book. He is intensively trained in RO DBT.