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ER: Emotional Regulation Intro

Arguably one of the most important life skills in DBT!

Emotional regulation includes a whole set of skills and which we choose depends upon the situation.

First each skill has to be understood and practiced separately. In a short series of articles, I will break the emotional regulation skills down into manageable pieces.

In the 12-week workshop, we learned about the function of emotions and the components of emotions. We learned the basics of how to observe and describe emotions by deconstructing an emotion into various parts.

Being aware of our feelings and being able to describe what we are feeling is the most fundamental step toward managing our emotions. If we are not aware of an emotion, if we are just acting out the urges or suppressing/ignoring what we are feeling, instead of regulating ourselves. We are eternally jumping between clinging/grasping and rejecting/ignoring. In such a state, balance or peace are hard to find.

Once we become aware of what we are feeling, that is, mindful of our emotions, then we have this wider perspective, the mental space to see our inner experience as well as that which is going on around us. As they say, if we can name it, we can tame it. Just naming it does, in fact tame it just a little. Review and practice of observing and describing one's own emotion is essential to emotional regulation. (In the 12-week workshop we learned the basics of how to observe and describe emotions by deconstructing one emotional response into various parts, thoughts, feelings, urges, actions, etc.) Notice how observing and describing one's own emotions is a way to self-validate.

Family members of persons with bpd are often facing their loved one experiencing unwanted emotions and responding by either clinging or rejecting their own feelings or jumping from one to the other. This can be frustrating or scary for families and in no time at all, everyone is emotionally dysregulated. Family members who learn to self-regulate and self-validate are not only better equipped to validate a loved one with bpd, they are also modeling the very behavior that they want their loved one to learn.

Once we get some practice with the core mindfulness skill of observing and describing our emotions, then we can move on to regulate our emotions more effectively. There are essentially only three ways to change an emotion:

1. Check the Facts - If an emotion is due to an interpretation of an event instead of the actual facts, then changing our thoughts and appraisals to fit the facts may reduce or even dissolve the emotion.

2. Opposite Action - Words and deeds are part of an emotional response. Acting in a way that is opposite (or incompatible) to the emotion, or more specifically, acting in a way that expresses a different emotion will change the emotion. This is not easy and we will have to practice a lot...practice until it becomes a way of life!

3. Problem Solving - If we can solve the problem that led to the emotion in the first place, then let's solve the problem. There are a whole set of skills around problem solving. Families have go beyond the basics: how to support another to solve their own problems, without doing it for them.

Coming soon: a short introduction to the skill, Check the Facts.

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