If you didn’t have the opportunity to read my last blog, I’d suggest checking it out before reading this one. As I mentioned in my discussion of emotional regulation, it is very common for people to come to counseling hoping to control their emotions. However, emotions are not always controllable. But with the skills of DBT you may learn how to change your emotional responses. This is emotional management.
The process of managing what sometimes seems like a hot mess of emotions is actually relatively straightforward (thank goodness!). First, explore the logic and appropriateness of your identified emotion in context. Then, if your emotion is illogical, or acting on it would not be appropriate or helpful, practice “opposite action.” If however, your emotion is logical and appropriate, then practice a skill called problem solving. Let’s dive a little deeper into these terms so that they can hopefully become useful tools in your own emotional toolkit!
The first step to changing your emotions is identifying a specific emotion you want to change. I highly recommend using a feelings wheel (like the one included in my previous blog) to help with this step. Next, identify the event or situation that caused the emotion. Begin by stating the facts of what happened using your five senses. For example, I heard the woman smacking her gum loudly and I smelled it too. Now, beyond the facts, how did you interpret this event emotionally or cognitively? What assumptions did you make? Could there be any other interpretations or points of view on this event? If you are feeling threatened, consider the likelihood of actual danger, as well as other potential outcomes. If there is an imminent threat or catastrophe, imagine how you would cope with it.
Finally, take all of this mental processing into account and consider whether or not your emotion and level of emotional arousal fits the facts of the situation. To continue our example, perhaps you interpreted the gum-smacking as intentionally rude and it hurt your feelings and caused you to become cold and rude. However, after thinking about how the woman with the gum may have a different perspective (perhaps she was not raised, as you were, to find gum-smacking rude), you decide that it is unlikely that she is actually threatening or ignoring you in any way.
When Emotions Don’t Fit Facts (Opposite Action)
If you have determined that your emotional reaction is disproportionate to the situation or acting on the emotion would not be appropriate or helpful, you may change your emotion by practicing “Opposite Action.” This means figuring out what action your emotion is suggesting, such as anger telling you to gripe at the incompetent waiter at a restaurant, and doing the opposite. Smile at them, tip them well, tell them to have a good day. The key is to do it all sincerely and without bitterness. You may feel silly, but in order for this to work, you must commit. And if it doesn’t work the first time, keep trying until it does!
When Emotions Fit Facts (Problem Solving)
If you have fact-checked and determine that your emotion is an appropriate response and not merely an overt reaction, move to practice problem solving. Problem solving helps you cope with the situation and your emotions. First, set a goal for what solving this problem would look like. What would need to happen for you to feel stable? How would you know if the problem was fixed (what would look different)? Next, brainstorm solutions. Brainstorming means writing down any and every idea that pops into your head, without judgment or filter. The next step is to choose the idea you think is most likely to work and achieve the goal you’ve set. Finally, try out your chosen solution, and evaluate how well it worked. If it didn’t work, go back to your brainstorming notes and try again with a different solution.
An example of problem solving could be if you were forced to attend a family function in which you felt very threatened or uncomfortable because of past experiences or trauma. It is appropriate to feel uncomfortable because you have good reason to believe that this experience will not be pleasant. You may choose to give yourself an escape plan such as a friend you could ask to call you or pick you up if you needed an excuse to leave. Or, you may bring a friend along who you know would be supportive and helpful.
It may be difficult or overwhelming to imagine practicing this all at once in the heat of extreme emotions. However, you may begin practicing by considering how you would apply these techniques to a recent experience. Once you’ve done this enough to familiarize yourself with the process, it will become easier and more natural to incorporate it into your daily life. Amazingly, you will find that your emotions can actually change as they happen.
Intrigued by this idea of managing and changing your emotional reactions, I love to talk about how to learn and apply these skills in your particular situation. You can contact me at 940-222-8703 x705 or LauraL@acorncounseling.services, or schedule an appointment online!