Using DBT to Help You Identify & Describe What You Feel

I’ve noticed recently in DBT class (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) that when I feel a sense of overwhelm of emotions, it is often difficult for me to clearly and immediately identify which emotion(s) I am feeling.

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The therapist who leads the group suggested that I utilize my DBT binder and head over to the Emotion Regulation section, Handout 4.  It is a very long section that goes into details about some very specific emotions.

For example, under “Anger” are the following sections:

Ways to Describe Emotions

  • Anger Words (a ton of examples are listed, including: “anger, aggravation, agitation, annoyance, bitterness, grumpiness, and outrage.”)
  • Promoting Events for Feeling Anger (examples include: “Having an important goal blocked or prevented, Having an important or pleasurable activity interrupted, postponed, or stopped, and You or someone you care about being attacked or hurt physically or emotionally by others.”)
  • Interpretations of Events That Prompt Feelings of Anger (some examples: “Believing you have been treated unfairly, Believing that things ‘should’ be different, Ridgidly thinking ‘I’m right,’ Judging the situation as illegitimate, wrong, or unfair.”)
  • Biological Changes and Experiences of Anger (some examples: “Muscles tightening, Teeth clamping together/mouth tightening, Hands clenching.”)
  • Expressions and Actions of Anger (examples: “Physically attacking the cause of your anger, Verbally attacking the cause of your anger, Making aggressive or threatening gestures, Pounding, throwing things, breaking things, and Walking heavily, stomping, and slamming doors.”)
  • Aftereffects of Anger (examples: “Narrowing of attention, Attending only to the situation making you angry, Ruminating about the situation making you angry and not being able to think of anything else.”)
  • Typical Secondary Emotions of Anger (examples: “Intense shame or fear.”)
(This information was sourced from my DBT binder, and the citation at the bottom of each page is Skills Manual for Disordered Emotion Regulation by Marsha Linehan (c) in press Guilford.)

This handout, comprised of about 20 pages, covers an array of emotions.  I am finding it really helpful for identifying exactly what I am feeling at any given time.  If I don’t know the word for the emotion, I can look at prompting events, interpretations, biological signs, expressions and actions, aftereffects, and secondary emotions, and I am usually surprised to find out that what I am feeling lines up with one or more category of a very specific emotion.  Sometimes, when I am feeling more than one emotion at a time, I have to do the process again to figure out what other emotions are also present.

I appreciate having this tool, because prior to it, I would feel quite odd when I could not put into words or understand what I was feeling.  This would lead to frustration and feed into the idea that I am not in control mentally.

Now that I have it, it actually makes me feel less stressed and like I have a stronger connection to other people. Why? If the contents of a certain emotion handout precisely describe what I am thinking and experiencing, then I realize that my reaction is very human. It is what pretty much every other human being experiences in similar situations.

While I may experience my emotions more intensely than someone who is not diagnosed with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), I can learn to identify, understand, and moderate my emotions  — all steps on the road of progress.

Thank you for reading.
More Soon.

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