BY VAALPARK MHU | August 20, 2021

Blog By
Prof Hayley Walker- Williams
Clinical Psychologist


One of the skills taught in Dialectic Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is called emotional regulation. This is a rather complex concept to understand. It is a skill to help us recognize the function of our emotions, the action urge that accompanies our emotions, and whether to attend to or oppose the emotional urge. It is indeed a misconception that there are “right” or “wrong” ways to feel in certain situations, instead emotions serve the purpose of alerting us to something in our environment which is either beneficial (constructive) or problematic (destructive).

An important skill in emotional regulation involves recognizing and naming our emotions. Clients are taught to use descriptive labels such as: “I am feeling anxious” or “I am feeling irritated” rather than general phrases like “I am feeling bad”.

A good starting point in applying this skill is remembering that: “If you can name it, you can tame it”. By simply putting this tool to work, your emotions are easier to manage as specific feeling words inform you and don’t overwhelm you.

By labelling (naming) an emotion, we can create distance (taming) between ourselves and our experience and that allows us space and time to choose how to respond to the emotion. So when next you notice that you are having a strong emotional reaction, describe it and name it – whether to yourself or out loud. Next, attempt to decrease your emotional distress by letting go or engaging in an opposite action approach.

Letting go refers to being aware of the emotion by being mindful, present in the moment while naming the emotion, and then taming it by creating distance and letting it go, rather than avoiding or dwelling it or fighting it. So take a breath and visualize the thought or feeling floating away or picture the emotion as a wave that comes and goes.

Taking opposite action means to engage in a behaviour that would typically be the opposite of what you would usually do, for example, when you angry talking softly instead of yelling, or when you feeling depressed stand up straight and talking confidently. Opposite action does not deny our feeling as we still need to name them but it does create distance which lessens the span and severity of the negative emotion hereby reducing your emotional vulnerability.

When attempting to reduce emotionality focus on building in a routine and specifically taking care of your physical health, avoiding psychoactive substances, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly. Lastly, do a daily activity that allows you to feel confident and competent. This can include a positive experience like reading a book, gardening, going to gym or doing a sport, volunteering or visiting a friend.

The above skills empower us to manage our emotions before they manage us!

Prof Hayley Walker- Williams