Emotions can be very distracting and can often get in the way of living a healthy life if a person doesn’t know how to regulate how they are feeling. This is where emotional regulation with the help of DBT steps in to help those who are having difficulty with their emotions.
Three Main Goals
Emotional regulation can help teach people how to manage their overwhelming and negative emotions and at the same time increase positive experiences. There are three main goals that are important to DBT and emotional regulation:
- Learn to understand emotions
- Reduce the vulnerability of being overly emotional
- Lessen the suffering
A key thing here when it comes to emotional regulation is that clients learn that their negative emotions are not always bad, nor should they be avoided. Clients are taught that negative emotions are simply a part of life. However, DBT teaches clients how to acknowledge these feelings and to let them go. This way they will not be controlled by their emotions.
Extreme Emotional Sensitivity
There are some people who are burdened by very extreme emotional sensitivity which can often go through many cycles. These cycles can begin with a particular event that might trigger negative emotions automatically. When this happens, negative thoughts might prompt very extreme and negative responses that can lead to destructive types of behavior. This is why emotional regulation through DBT is extremely important and helpful for these individuals.
Emotions – Labeling and Understanding Them
One of the very first skills that clients learn through emotional regulation is to recognize and name their emotions. They are taught to try and use labels that are descriptive like “anxious” and “frustrated” instead of using a more common term such as “feeling bad”. When emotions are described vaguely they are a lot more difficult to control and manage.
Another thing clients learn is that there is a distinction between their primary emotions and their secondary ones. A primary emotion is the first reaction to some event that seems to trigger deep feelings. A secondary emotion is how a person reacts to their feelings or thoughts. Do they feel depressed? Did they get angry? Emotions, such as secondary ones, can be destructive and can make a person more vulnerable to negative and unhealthy behavior. DBT and emotional regulation teaches clients to name both of these emotions. Clients are taught to accept primary emotions and not to judge how they are feeling about experiencing them.
Learning to Reduce One’s Emotional Vulnerability
The next skill that clients learn is how they can reduce their emotional vulnerability. They are taught by learning to build positive experiences so that they can balance out the negative events and emotions that come with those events in their lives. Clients are often encouraged to make sure to include several different daily events that are something to look forward to. These could be engaging in a favorite hobby, read a book, sports, spend some special time with a good friend. Anything that is enjoyable needs to be included in their day. Clients are also encouraged to plan more long-term goals that will give them more positive experiences in their life.
Learn to Decrease the Emotional Suffering
- Learn to let go
- Learning to take the opposite action
Letting Go – This means clients are taught to become aware of their current emotions through mindfulness practices. They learn to name what it is and then to let go of it instead of dwelling on it, fighting the emotions or avoiding them. This could be as simple as taking a deep breath and then just visualizing the thoughts or feelings just floating away.
Take the Opposite Action – This means that clients are taught to engage in different behaviors than they normally would when they start feeling negative emotions. For instance, when a client feels sad, they are encouraged to try to be more active, speak with more confidence, or stand straighter. These would be actions of a person that’s happy and not sad.
If a client feels anger they’re encouraged to act in a calmer fashion like speaking with a soft tone of voice and either try to do something nice or say something nice to someone else. This is not aimed at denying their emotion but instead to name it, and then learn to let it go. By acting the exact opposite of how they are really feeling will help to lessen the severity and the length of their negative emotions.
Even though some of the emotional regulation skills might sound a little bit vague for those who are not familiar with DBT, they become much more detailed in a group environment. In a group, the leaders of DBT will cover the skills in much more depth. They also will incorporate role-playing so clients can also transfer their new skills into situations that might arise in their personal lives. In the end, the skills learned through emotional regulation are skills that help to empower clients to be able to better manage the emotions they might be struggling with. It teaches them to manage their emotions instead of allowing their emotions to manage them.