How Can DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) Help with Those Big Emotions?

An introduction to acceptance and change.

Some of us are born with higher levels of emotional sensitivity than others, and therefore, we experience emotions on a more profound level. In talking to children about this, we sometimes refer to “those big feelings.” There are up sides to big feelings. For example, we may be able to feel compassion for others very deeply. And, there can be a difficult side too. Those big emotions are sometimes hard to handle and hard to bear. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a type of therapy developed to provide skills and help to adults and youth with sensitive emotional bodies and minds. DBT views the capacity to manage intense emotions (emotion regulation) as a core skill to be strengthened. DBT sees emotional dysregulation as a core problem to be addressed. What are some examples of emotional dysregulation, you may ask. In children it might be expressed in frequent meltdowns and tantrums over what may seem to an adult as “little things.” In teens and young adults, dysregulation may express in inclinations to self-harm, suicidal thoughts, spiking anxiety, frequent angry outbursts and more. DBT helps us learn how to be increasingly balanced in the face of our strong emotions. The more we can do this, the better our relationships can be and the more likely we are to reach our personal goals.

The good news is, no matter what, our emotions are there for a reason, and they make sense. The hard work is learning how to validate and trust ourselves again. DBT combines ancient Buddhist wisdom and mindfulness practices, with cutting-edge research in western psychology to help individuals in DBT to “go with the flow” of life itself. This sounds simple, yet for anyone who has tried to change a behavior or accomplish a goal like losing weight, waking up earlier, or meditating daily, we know that “going with the flow,” particularly when the flow goes where we don’t want it to, is extremely difficult. Changing a behavior in the face of a strong emotion is much harder. DBT helps those of us who are more sensitive to accept that part of ourselves, while also challenging us to try new skills that will lead ultimately to better outcomes. So we learn to love and trust our emotional experiences and we learn how to respond rather than react to our emotional experiences for the sake of our longer term goals. We learn how to be in relationships with more ease and how to respond to our own needs with compassion and wisdom.

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