DBT Self Help - Letting Go

Emotion Regulation is the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy module that teaches how emotions work. It provides skills to help manage emotions instead of being managed by them, reduce vulnerability to negative emotions, and build positive emotional experiences.

Sometimes our skills just aren’t working. But why? There are a number of reasons that might be and that’s exactly what this skill is for.

There are six places to check to figure out why your skills aren’t working.

The first is to check your biological sensitivity. As we learned with the PLEASE skill, unmet needs in our body can make us more vulnerable to emotion dysregulation. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I biologically more vulnerable right now?
  • Do I have untreated physical illness or distress?
  • Am I out of balance in eating, sleeping, exercise or am I using substances?
  • Have I taken my medications as prescribed?
  • Where am I on my hormonal cycle?

Based on these questions, apply your PLEASE skills accordingly. Take care of any illness or pain. Take your medications as prescribed and assess whether additional medications are needed. Get sleep, eat, get sober; whatever is required. Then try your emotion regulation skills again. 

The second place to check is your skills. Look back over what you tried and ask yourself these questions:

  • Was the skill I chose to try likely to be effective given the situation?
  • Did I follow the instructions for the skill to the best of my ability?

Get to work on your skills and try other skills that you haven’t applied to this situation. Access coaching from your therapist or DBT program. Then try your emotion regulation skills again.

The third thing to check for is reinforcers. Is there something about my emotion that I’m feeling that is keeping it from changing or going away? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do my emotions communicate something important?
  • Do my emotions motivate me to do something I think is important?
  • Do my emotions validate my beliefs or identity?
  • Do my emotions feel good?

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, address what the emotion is telling you. Practice interpersonal effectiveness skills to communicate. Work to find different ways to motivate yourself. Practice self-validation. Do a pros and cons foursquare to decide whether to change your emotion

The fourth thing to check is your mood. Sometimes when our mood isn’t right, we aren’t able to devote ourselves to using skills. Ask yourself, am I putting in the effort and time that it will take to solve my problem? If the answer is no, do a pros and cons foursquare for working on hard skills. Practice radical acceptance and willingness as well as the mindfulness skills of participate and effectiveness.

The fifth thing to check for is emotional overload. Use the skill of managing extreme emotions to determine if you’re at your skills breakdown point and too overwhelmed to use more complex DBT skills. If so, ask yourself if you can easily solve the problem you’re upset by right now. If yes, use problem solving. If no, practice mindfulness of current emotions (or ride the wave). If you’re having trouble thinking at all, use the TIP skill.

The sixth and final thing to check on is emotion myths. Do you believe in myths about emotions that are getting in the way of your skill use right now? Look for judgments (“this emotion is stupid”) or a conflation of how you feel and your identity (“I’m a bad person because I’m angry right now”).

You can have several of these reasons for skill impasses going on at once; they’re not mutually exclusive. That’s why it’s important to check into each of these to figure out how you can fix what’s not working with your skills.