When you hear the words ’emotion regulation, what do you think of? 99 times out of 100 people say, “Reducing a strong feeling.” That certainly comes into it, but then couldn’t that process be better described as ’emotion reduction’? Why did Marsha Linehan call the skill emotion regulation? Because she wanted to help people move away from seeing emotion (even extreme emotion) as a problem.
A lot of the time clients in therapy have every reason to be livid, or heartbroken, or afraid. The skill of emotion regulation is much more about establishing the dialectics – how much of this emotion actually matches the facts? And if we do need to get it down let’s stop at the level that feels about right, neither overwhelming nor absent. Yes, sometimes we even need to add more emotion, because the client has been so used to dismissing their feelings or fearing them that they feel numb. Some have swung so widely from experiencing nothing to sensing everything acutely that they don’t know how to decipher their inner sensations.
In DBT we have been on a mission to change the perception of emotion regulation away from a management strategy to a beautiful, sophisticated relationship of a person with their legitimate inner experiences. To allow people to appreciate their responses, reducing only the levels that stop them living their lives effectively. To teach people how to increase an emotion if it is not enough, and reduce it when it feels too much. In essence to have their emotions, rather than allowing their emotions to have them.
My new book is out in September and available now for pre-order on Amazon. Designed to show therapists how to coach regulation skills. It’s a step-by-step guide, packed with examples and scenarios on regulating specific emotions, both up and down. I hope you enjoy it. pre-order here