Emotional Crisis Plan of Action: A Recovery Tool (DBT)


Sometimes we try to force things to happen, even when out gut tells us that doing so will have unpleasant consequences.  You know the feeling, right? That sensation in the pit of your stomach when you text or call an ex because, in that moment, you're feeling lonely and distressed?

Perhaps you'll get a response that makes you feel good in the moment, only to later regret having initiated a connection again. Alternatively, you may get a response (or no response at all), which leaves you feeling rejected, hurt, and in even more distress than before you reached out.

It is human to seek connection when we are feeling emotionally unwell, unstable, or lonely. Dr. Marsha Linehan compares people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD),who are highly emotionally sensitive, to emotional burn victims.  For that, you should not judge yourself.  When you begin to find, however, that the choices you make around who  you contact are not serving you but rather causing you more emotional pain, it's time to come up with an Emotional Crisis Plan of Action. This is a great tool that you can share with your therapist in your next session.

Also, perhaps your knee-jerk reaction is less about reaching out to exes and more about binging or shopping beyond your means. Whatever the maladaptive behavior is, if you're ready to face, it, I'm proud of you! I saw a funny quote online today that had no author: "By the time I'm ready to figure out what to do, I've already done it."  People who struggle with impulsive behavior can often relate to this. 

One of the keys to change in this area is to slow things down a bit and approach situations more mindfully. I get that it's considerably more easily said than done when you are in the midst of feeling emotionally dysregulated, so it's important to work on this plan when you are feeling relatively well. Pick a day where you might put your mood at 6.5 or above on a scale of 0-10 (with 0 being the most awful you've ever felt and 10 being the best you've ever felt in your life).  Pick a day when you're feeling less emotionally vulnerable.

In your diary, you might set aside a page or two and label it:

Emotional Crisis Plan of Action

Next, answer the following questions, which are based in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) concepts:


1.) When I feel lonely, the behaviors I engage in but wish to avoid because they only cause more problems are: _______________________________________________________________.

2.)  The benefits (pros) I get out of the above behaviors are: __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

3.)  The negative effects or consequences (cons) I get out of the above behaviors are: __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

4.) My ultimate goal in engaging in the behaviors listed in item #1 is (for example: to feel relief, to feel less anxious, to feel less lonely, to feel wanted): ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

5.)  When I realize that the negatives aren't worth the positives I get out of this behavior, I realize that I can use the following skills to cope more effectively with my distress: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.




Recovery is a challenging process that involves a lot of investment and tons of hard work. Every time you make a choice to look at your behaviors and choose your Wise Mind when faced with the temptation to give into behaviors that you'll regret, you get stronger. Every time you choose self-respect (if that is one of your goals) over temporary relief, you get stronger.

What other ways might you cope with loneliness and the impulsive desires to do things you may later regret when feeling emotionally distressed?


Thanks for reading.
More soon.


PS, Although this may sound really strange, holding a piece of ice can actually help when feeling intensely distressed and impulsive. You can read about this method here: DBT Ice Cube.

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