WHAT IS GROUNDING?
Grounding is a set of simple strategies to detach from emotional pain (for example, drug cravings,
self-harm impulses, anger, sadness). Distraction works by focusing outward on the external world
rather than inward toward the self. You can also think of it as “distraction”,
“centering”, “a safe place”, “looking outward”, or “healthy
WHY DO GROUNDING?
When you are overwhelmed with emotional pain you need a way to detach so that you can gain control
over your feelings and stay safe. As long as you are grounding, you cannot possibly use substances
to hurt yourself! Grounding “anchors” you to present and to reality.
Many people with PTSD and substance abuse struggle with either feeling too much (overwhelming emotions
and memories) or too little (numbing and dissociation). In grounding you attain balance between the
two - conscious of reality and able to tolerate it.
KEY IDEAS ABOUT EMOTIONAL PAIN
No feeling is final - No matter how miserable a feeling, it can change even if it feels like it never
Pain is a feeling, it is not who you are - When you get caught up in it, you feel like you are your pain
and that is all that exists. But it is only one part of your experience - the others are just hidden and
can be found again through grounding.
Grounding can be done anytime, any place, anywhere and noone has to know.
Use grounding when you are:
- Faced with a trigger
- Having a flashback
- Having a substance craving
- When your emotional pain goes above 6 (on a 1-10 scale)
Grounding puts healthy distance between you and these negative feelings.
To Practice Grounding:
- Keep your eyes open, scan the room, and turn the light on to stay in touch with the present.
- Rate your mood before and after to test whether it worked. Before grounding, rate your level of
emotional pain (0-10, where 10 means “extreme pain”). Then re-rate it afterwards. Has
it gone down?
- No talking about negative feelings or journal writing - you want to distract away from negative
feelings, not get in touch with them.
- Stay neutral - no judgements of “good” or “bad”. For example, “The
walls are blue; I dislike the color blue because it reminds of me depression”. Simply say,
“the walls are blue”, and move on.
- Focus on the present, not the past or future.
- Note that grounding is not the same as relaxation training. Grounding is much more active, focuses
on distraction strategies, and is intended to help extreme negative feelings. It is believed to be more
effective for DID and PTSD than relaxation training
WHAT IF GROUNDING DOES NOT WORK?
- Practice as often as possible, even when you don't “need it”, so you'll know it by heart.
- Practice faster. Speeding up the pace gets you focused on the outside world quickly.
- Try grounding for a looooonnnnnngggggg time (20 - 30 minutes). And repeat, repeat, repeat it.
- Try to notice whether you do better with “physical” grounding methods or with
- Create your own methods. Any method you make up may be worth much more than those you read here
because it is yours.
- Start grounding early in the mood cycle. Start when the substance craving just starts or when you
have just started having a flashback. Start before the anger gets out of control.
- Make up an index card on which you list your best grounding methods and how long to use them.
- Have others assist you in grounding. Teach a friend or family member how grounding works so that s/he
can help guide you in if you become overwhelmed.
- Prepare in advance. Locate a place at home, in your car, and at work where you have materials and
reminders for grounding.
- Create an cassette tape of grounding message that you can play when needed; and consider asking your
therapist or someone close to you to record it if you want to hear someone elses voice.
- Think about why grounding works. Why might it be that focusing on the external world, you become more
aware of an inner peacefulness? Notice the methods that work for you - why might those be more powerful
for you than other methods?
Don't give up!
Two Rivers Psychiatric Hospital. (2003). What is Grounding? [patient informational handout].
Patient Handout Transcribed From:
Najavits, L. M. (2002). Seeking safety: A treatment manual for PTSD and substance abuse. New
York: Guilford Press.