- Do you feel like your emotions drive your behaviors and reactions?
- Do you find yourself feeling embarrassed or ashamed about the way you reacted after the fact?
- Do you wish you felt more in control of yourself and your emotions?
Great, this blog is for you.
Feelings aren't facts. This is not to say that our feelings don’t matter or aren’t valid. Every emotion we experience is caused by something, and therefore valid. It gets tricky when we start talking about valid vs. justified; that is not for this blog post as I am working hard to stay in my “long enough to get the point across and not be aversive” wordcount. Bottom line is: valid means it make sense that you are feeling the way you are feeling, i.e. because you ARE, and justified means the feelings fits the facts, and the intensity of the emotion is appropriate and justified. The intensity part is usually where folks get in trouble. The main take away is that emotions are always triggered by something, it is often difficult to decipher what exactly triggered them, this takes practice, but the fact that every emotion we experience is caused and therefore valid is so damn validating!
Level 4 validation in DBT’s 6 levels of validation is:
- Validate Behaviors based on history: We react to the world based on our life experiences and biological wiring, assuming if someone is having an emotional reaction there is a reason or a cause even when the reaction is not one you relate to or identify with. Identifying why it makes sense for this person given their history or biology that they may react in a certain way.
Emotions and feeling out of control is one of the main struggles people come into therapy with. Knowing you are behaving or reacting in a way you aren’t proud of or happy with but not being able to change it is really challenging. I have come up with 3 steps to help you practice getting those emotions under control.
STOP IT! Immediately pause, there is a 30 second window between skillful reactions and hot-mess emotional bomber. The art of pause is one of the most important skills in regulating difficult emotions. Pro Tip: meditation helps to build your pause muscle (read more about getting started with meditation). Stop, take a step back, don’t do anything. There is a fabulous slogan in addiction recovery, “Don’t just do something, sit there.” It is fucking Brilliant!
Check Yourself: Check in with any stories, judgments, or assumptions you may be making about the current situation. Check in with all the different parts of yourself that may be reacting to the current situation because it is like a past situation. A past situation that is difficult, perhaps traumatic, and therefore difficult to react to with accurate intensity. There is a reason we often experience the same things happening repeatedly in our relationships or lives. Maybe they are happening and we have crap luck or continue to recreate the dynamic we need to heal, or maybe we are seeing our relationships through the lens of our experiences, where we interpret behaviors based on the things we fear most. Again, your emotions are valid and caused, however, they are sometimes not caused by what it is happening in the present moment. Rather, caused by a historical wound that is just below the surface and when it is activated it takes over leaving us feeling like prisoners to our emotions.
Pro Tip: Ask yourself 1. Do my emotions fit the facts of the situation I am currently facing? 2. Is my intensity measured and appropriate? Am I at a 9 when the current situation only warrants a 2 or 3?
Self-Validate: Validation is the best. As humans, we need a lot of it. When it comes to our emotional experiences one of things that makes our reactions worse and more difficult to regulate is invalidation. For example, “why am I so sensitive,” “why can’t I just chill,” “I shouldn’t be feeling this way” etc. When you are feeling intense emotions there’s a reason, something is happening, our emotions communicate to us and for us. Saying to yourself, “of course, this is difficult for you it is another example of feeling taken advantage of by someone you trust. That is shitty, and that is hurtful.” Simply acknowledging our reactions to difficult situations can help regulate them. Pro Tip: Validate yourself and validate the people around you. (More on levels of validation in Why you “Help” Isn’t helpful.)
Practice, Practice, Practice! Change is really hard, and emotion regulation is a difficult skill to master specifically because we don’t always know when or what will trigger them. The more fluent you become in your own experiences and identifying what your emotional triggers are, the more quickly and effectively you will become at modulating and regulating emotional reactivity.