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ER4: EMOTIONAL REGULATION: Which strategy to use

Now we have three strategies for regulating emotions: Checking the Facts, Opposite Action, and Problem Solving, (not to mention Mindfulness.)


Method 1:

Identify the emotion that you are experiencing and the context in which arose. Then go to the flow chart on the right. Ask yourself, Does this emotion fit the facts? You can check the facts and see if the emotion is the result of your thoughts and interpretations or if it is justified by the facts. If you need help, go to the blog post, Check the Facts and download the worksheet if you need more help.

If yes, look to the left of the first box in the flow chart. If no, look to the second box in the flow chart. Then ask yourself, Is acting on the emotion effective? If you are not sure, then check in with your Wise Mind.

The answer to this question, yes or no, leads you down to the possible solutions. (The handout numbers refer to the DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha Linehan.)

Let's look at a couple of examples: Four months after I started working at an intensive outpatient clinic my boss called me into his office. He began by asking me to just listen to him without interruption. Then he proceeded to launch a cascade of criticism and blamed me for everything that was going wrong at the clinic. It was my fault that there were mountains of unfiled paperwork that had been sitting around for six months, that attendance at group meetings had fallen, and even that a colleague answered her cell phone when clients were present. He went from one item to the next and he would not allow me to speak. He would cut off anything I tried to say with, "JUST LISTEN!" and he kept his hand out in front of him with his palm facing me to gesture "Stop. Don't say anything." He ended his tirade by saying "You can go now."

When I went back to my office I was shaking with anger. I tried to be mindful of my emotions. I tried breathing. Every cell in my body wanted to go back into his office get the chance to explain things in a normal dialogue where each person takes turns at listening and speaking.

Did my emotion fit the facts? YES. Is acting on this emotion effective (at reducing the emotional distress)? NO, if I went back into his office to try and talk, I would have felt even more gaslit and more angry. Looking at the flowchart, it says, Do not act on the urge. Consider opposite action.

There are various opposite actions to anger. It may be to gently avoid or take a time out. Going deeper, opposite action would be doing something kind or being empathic. Gently avoiding by sitting in my office for another few hours with steam coming out of my ears would not have helped. In this case, the best I could do was to take a time out and leave the office. (It turned out to be my last day at that job and my anger turned into relief and then joy.)

Another example: A friend called me this morning feeling anxious and confused the morning after a second date that she had been on. She was worried about whether she should see him again or not. During dinner the night before, she learned that he was actively involved in a political party that she deeply disagreed with. Then after dinner he asked her if he could spend the night with her. She said no because it was a weeknight and she had to get up early the next morning. Then she woke up anxious and distrusting herself. She called me wondering if she should call him and apologize or explain.

What was she feeling? Anxiety and insecurity (in the fear family). Did it fit the facts. NO, there was no objective threat, just thoughts and interpretations triggered her feelings. Would acting on her anxiety (calling this guy) be effective (at reducing the emotional distress)? Probably not. The flowchart gives her three options: Do not act on the urge, change the thoughts to fit the facts, and/or do opposite action. She felt too confused and insecure to be able to change her thoughts to fit the facts. However, she decided not to act on the urge and to go to a yoga class which would be her opposite action.

Method 2:

Download the attached document. If you can identify exactly what the emotion is that you want to regulate, you can check the first column to see if it is justified or not. If the emotion is NOT justified, do opposite action, and the possibilities for opposite action is listed in the second column. If the emotion IS justified, pick from the third column options including Act on the urge, problem solve, or avoid.

Justified - Not Justified Emotions
Download PDF • 120KB

Try both methods. Pick an emotion that you want to regulate. Think of a specific and concrete event in which it arose. Use the flowchart to decide which skill would be the most effective to reduce the emotional suffering. Then put that strategy into action, using one of the prior Wiser Minds blog articles as necessary. Then respond to the following questions:

What was the emotion?

Was it justified or not?

What strategy did you try to reduce your emotional distress?

Exactly how did you apply this strategy?

What was the result?

Would you do something differently next time?

Good luck. Try these written practices enough times and you will become a champ at emotional regulation!

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