When I was learning the dearman skill (a DBT skill) for the first time, I looked online for examples and found approximately… one. So, now that I know the skill fairly well, I am putting some more examples out there into the searchable world. 🙂 I find it easiest to understand how to do something when I’ve seen it done several times, so I’m sharing some examples of real dearmans I’ve used in my life!
Here is a quick summary of the skill if you don’t know it (feel free to skip). DEARMAN is an interpersonal effectiveness skill from DBT. It’s useful when you want to ask for something or say no to something (set a boundary). Each letter stands for something. The “DEAR” part is what to say, and the “MAN” part is how to say it.
D – Describe (the facts; set the stage with something they can’t argue with)
E – Express (your emotions, feelings, opinion, or wants)
A – Assert (ask clearly and specifically for what you want)
R – Reinforce (say how this will benefit the other person)
M – Mindfully (be aware of how the other person might feel and react; be aware of your own emotions; stay focused on your goals)
A – Appear confident (be sure of yourself so that they’ll take you seriously)
N – Negotiate (be prepared to compromise if necessary)
And here are some examples of real dearmans that I have used in my life! (or that people I know have used) I’m going to highlight the parts that correspond to the different parts of the dearman — D – “Describe” is in orange, E – “Express” is in green, A – “Assert” is in blue, and R – “Reinforce” is in purple. (I think the colors don’t appear in wordpress reader; try going to the website)
Situation: I saw a nurse practitioner at my student health service. She gave me a referral to a rheumatologist for joint pain and wrote on the referral that I had a history of depression and disordered eating. I didn’t want those words to be included on the referral, so this is an email to her.
DEARMAN: “…Also, on the referral you gave me, it said that I have a history of depression and disordered eating. I don’t think that this information is relevant to my care as someone seeking help for my joints. (I also think that the disordered eating part is inaccurate.) I also think that writing those things on the referral would probably bias whoever read it, and it’s important to me to have an unbiased opinion from a new doctor. Could you please remove “with pmhx depression, disordered eating” from the comments section of the referral? I’d really appreciate it, and I think it would help me get more thorough care.“
Result: “Good Afternoon <my name>, I have updated your referral on your portal with the updated provider and no previous medical history. Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns. Best, <her name>”
Comments: I was really trying to make this a good dearman because the outcome was really important to me, so I stuck to the order of dearman. I like that I included the “express” part by saying “it’s important to me.”
Situation: One of my classes is a lab that meets on either Mondays or Wednesdays. I received this email saying, “You will be randomly assigned to one of the 12 groups. A group are either in the lab on Mondays or Wednesdays. If you are prevented to work on either weekday, please let me know by replying to this email by Friday. Note, requests without justification will be disregarded.”
DEARMAN: “I don’t have a strict conflict with one of the days, but I would greatly prefer to be in one of the lab groups on Wednesdays instead of Mondays. If I had lab on Mondays, I would not have a chance to eat a meal from 11:40 until 6:15 due to classes and other commitments on Mondays. I have health issues that are very affected by how often I eat, so having a chance to eat more frequently by not having lab on Mondays would help me a lot (and likely make me healthier and better able to learn!).”
Result: He approved my request. 🙂
Comments: The “express” part wasn’t very expressive, but I think that’s okay and appropriate for a professional-ish email. I was proud of how I snuck the “reinforce” in there. 😉 If people care about your wellbeing, then they will generally support things that will improve your wellbeing if they can see how the two are connected. That’s why it’s “reinforce” even though it’s more directly benefiting me instead of him. But as a teacher, he probably wants his students to learn!
Situation: This was an email to my professor asking for some items back.
DEARMAN: “Hi Professor <name>! I hope you had a good break! It was nice to see you at the <school event>! I was wondering if I could get my lab notebook from last semester back at some point? It has a lot of blank pages, and I’d like to use it. Also, do you have my equation sheet from the final exam? I was hoping I could get that back at some point, too. I took the exam with <my school’s disability services>, so they might have it, but I don’t know where it ended up. Thank you! <my name>”
Result: “Hi <my name>, Stop on by and I can find your lab notebook. I’m around today for a couple more hours, otherwise I should be around at 12pm tomorrow. I don’t have your formula sheet unfortunately, they didn’t include it in the packet that <my school’s disability services> sent to me. Best, <my professor’s name>”
Comments: Since this was a simple request that I thought he was likely to agree to, I didn’t try using reinforcement or stronger language for expression. That might have been overkill and come off and too strong. Also, I tried to keep a lighthearted attitude and use the “GIVE” skill (another interpersonal effectiveness skill) because I like this professor and want to maintain a good relationship with him.
Situation: Someone that I used to be good friends with in high school stopped texting me suddenly on the day we were supposed to hang out. I sent her a couple of texts over the course of two months, thinking maybe she was just busy or had something going on, which she has not replied to to this day. This was a text I sent her over winter break.
DEARMAN: “Hey <her name>! Are you doing alright? I haven’t heard from you in a while, and I’m not sure if you’re kinda ghosting me or if there’s something else going on! But anyway I’m going back to school in about a week, so if you want to hang out before then, let me know! I’d love to see you. 🙂 “
Result: She continued to not reply 😦
Comments: I wasn’t trying to make this a full dearman, but I did want to be skillful when I texted her, so I turned to DBT for help! That made me think to include the describe parts (in orange). I didn’t really express my negative emotions here (I was feeling pretty hurt, sad, and angry for a while), and I’m not sure if that was the right choice. Maybe if she saw how I was hurting, she would have wanted to respond? But I don’t know, and at this point I can’t change that. Also, it’s important to remember that it’s possible for someone to be skillful and still not get the result they want! That happens sometimes and is kinda out of my control. 😦
Situation: I had a crush on a guy, but I wasn’t sure if he liked me back. My friends said it looked like he liked me and was flirting with me, but I wasn’t sure. I texted him this.
DEARMAN: “Also can I ask you something? I know we’ve been spending a good amount of time together, and we’re good friends… I am sometimes bad at interpreting social things and I also just want things to be clear… so, I think I kind of “like” like you…like in a romantic way… 😬☺️🙈 and I’m wondering if you feel the same way about me? ? If you don’t then that’s fine because I like you as a friend too, but I want to know either way… thanks… “
Result: He replied very sweetly and told me all the things he liked about me but that he wasn’t sure about romantically. I took that as a “no,” and we continued being friends. (We’re more distant now, but that’s for other reasons.) My goal was to get an answer, and I did.
Comments: I wasn’t really thinking of this as a dearman exactly, but starting off with the facts was helpful.
Situation: Last February, I was really struggling, and my physical health collapsed (or at least that’s my impression) under the weight of all my distress. I went to health services at my school when things were particularly bad. I went as a walk-in, so I didn’t have an appointment, and I waited over two hours to be seen. Finally, someone took my vitals and then asked me to go home and come back the next day (!) because they were closing soon. I felt angry and protested a bit, so the nurse went to get the doctor to talk to me about coming back the next day, and while she was gone, I frantically wrote the following dearman in the notes app on my phone.
DEARMAN: Describe – I’m already here and I’ve been here since 4:30. Express – Everything hurts, and I wasn’t able to go to my classes today, and I don’t feel like I’m getting better. Assert – I would like to be seen now and to get a note saying that I am sick and was here today because I couldn’t go to classes today and ended up missing quizzes. Reinforce – This way, it’s more convenient because I’m already here.
Result: I said roughly what I had written down (not while looking at my phone though; I thought that would be weird). I had to explain my thoughts and symptoms more thoroughly and be insistent, but I did eventually get an appointment that day.
Comments: It was a helpful format to organize my thoughts in.
Situation: I was running an unofficial DBT skills group for my family at the kitchen table. We agreed that we would spend 30 minutes on it. We ended up talking for much longer, I don’t remember how long. My sister, who was young and not participating in our group, said the following.
DEARMAN: It’s 10:00 [pm], you said it would only be 30 minutes, I’m tired, and I want to go to sleep!
Result: We all realized that we had broken our agreement, stopped soon after, and went upstairs so my sister could get ready for bed and go to sleep.
Comments: I remember this clearly because I was trying to teach my family the dearman skill that night, and then, without having been taught the skill, my sister used it very effectively! She’s somehow naturally good at this sort of thing. The dearman is very simple but clear and effective for the situation!
Situation: I had to do something important at a specific time that happened to be during class. I sent this email to my professor the day before.
DEARMAN: Dear Professor <name>, My housing selection time is at 1:50 pm tomorrow, during class. It’s when the other person in my housing group and I choose our rooms for next year, and ideally I’d like to choose it as close to that time as possible so that we can get rooms that we want. Would it be okay if I leave class for a few minutes tomorrow to do that? Thanks, <my name>
Result: Hi <my name>, No problem, of course you can go and take care of this. Thanks for checking, sorry for the delayed reply. Best, <name>
Comments: Using a dearman can make you sound mature and polite! 🙂 (and using a dearman is a mature and polite thing to do!)
Situation: I emailed the director of a camp where I had been a CIT (counselor in training) asking about a job.
DEARMAN: Hi <name>! This is <my camp name> (<my real name>)! I hope you’ve been well! It’s been a couple years! I saw the <position> on the <website>, and I’m wondering if you are still looking for someone for that? If so, please let me know, and I will apply! I really enjoyed CITing. 🙂 Best, <my name>
Result: Hi <my camp name>, Good to hear from you. Hope all has been going well. I am still looking for staff for <position>! I would love for you to apply. See attachments and note below about the process.
Comments: Using dearmans really helped me when applying to jobs and reaching out to people.
Situation: An email I sent to my professor.
DEARMAN: “Hi Professor <name>, After class on Wednesday, you hadn’t received my <name of class> midterm yet, and I’m just wondering if you’ve gotten it now and graded it yet? <My school’s disability services> says it was delivered to your mailbox. I’m worried about how I’m doing in this class and would like to have a sense of how I did on the midterm. Thanks, <my name>”
Result: “Hi, I received your midterm yesterday. I will grade it during the weekend and give it back to you on Monday. Best <his name>”
Comments: I included the part about how I was worried because I was trying to make it more of a dearman.
Situation: I was depressed, dissociated, and not doing well, and hadn’t been able to do my homework, so I asked my professor for an extension.
DEARMAN: “Dear Professor <name>, I have not been feeling well recently and therefore, despite spending time this weekend and over the last few days working on it, I haven’t finished homework 4. Would it be possible, in light of this, for me to have a one day extension on the homework? Thank you for your consideration and support. Best, <my name>“
Result: “Hi, sure, you can get an extension. Best <name>”
Comments: My friend helped me write this email. 🙂 I generally say “not feeling well” or something like that when I haven’t been doing well due to mental health issues. It was true that I hadn’t been feeling well, and he didn’t need to know the specifics.
Situation: This is a dearman that I suggested to my friend. She is a leader in our club, and she was annoyed that the person who was supposed to send out the emails every week either wasn’t doing it, was doing it too late, or would only do it when she asked him to (not on his own). It sounded to me like maybe he wasn’t totally clear on what she expected from him, so I recommended the classic dearman. 🙂
DEARMAN: “There wasn’t an email sent out this week, and last week’s email was sent out the same day as the meeting. I worry that when there isn’t an email sent out in advance, people aren’t reminded of our meeting in time. Could you please send out the emails farther in advance in the future, like on Friday? If you have too much on your plate and don’t think you can do this, do you think that having more help, like an assistant Communications person, would be useful? I just want to make sure that people who want to be informed about <our club> are getting informed. 🙂“
Result: My friend said “Thank you, I’ll use this!” I don’t know if she actually ended up using it or what the result was.
Comments: I think this is a pretty straightforward dearman. Dearmans can be useful in setting or clarifying boundaries without coming across as confrontational.
Situation: This is a dearman that I wrote out on paper and planned to say to my mom during family therapy. The issue was something that had been a problem in our relationship for a while.
DEARMAN: You sometimes ask me lots of specific questions. For example, when I told you I was tracking nightmares on my diary card, you wanted to know exactly how often they were happening. I understand that you want to know what’s going on because you care about me, AND I feel overwhelmed when you ask so much. I feel scared that you will go into urgent problem-solving mode and go over the top to fix everything immediately. I also feel scared that you will tell other people what I have told you, and ashamed and exposed when you do tell them. I also feel scared that you will use whatever I tell you against me in the future. I don’t want to tell you much because I feel like if I give you an inch, you’ll take a mile. I would like it if you would ask less specific questions and just ask one at a time. The specifics don’t matter, and they’re pretty fuzzy, so it’s hard to pin down. I would also like it if you didn’t tell other people tings I’ve asked you not to say or personal things. This will make me feel more comfortable telling you things, so I will probably talk to you more.
Result: It went well. She became aware of her problem-solving tendencies and tried to correct them. I pointed them it to her when she was doing it until she got the hang of it. A year and a half later, she still catches herself sometimes.
Comments: My therapist suggested I use a “DVEARMAN” instead of a “DEARMAN” — with a “V” for “Validate” after the describe.
I hope something here helps someone.
I think one of the key things (for me at least) is to include the describe, express, and assert parts. The order can be changed around depending on the situation and the seriousness, and reinforcement can be added if necessary, but the most important parts are describe, express, assert.
Other posts on DBT:
And other coping skills: