DBT Emotion Regulation Intro

Yesterday in my DBT Skills Group, after four weeks of studying Mindfulness, we started on our second module – Emotion Regulation.

Week 1 consisted firstly of an introduction to the module through the “3 Circles Diagram” of our Emotion Regulation Systems. The three systems depicted are the Threat system, the Drive system and the Self-Soothe system:

  • The Threat system detects real or perceived danger in our internal and external environments. It encourages us to seek protection and safety.
  • The Drive system helps us focus on gaining and achieving things. It is what motivates us to keep moving and doing what needs to be done (and more) in our lives.
  • The Self-Soothe system helps to nurture feelings of contentment and safety within oneself and one’s environment. It is necessary in helping restore an inner balance once the Threat and Drive systems have calmed down.

For most people, these three systems vary in their size and intensity, and the extent to which we rely on them – whether healthily or not. In a totally balanced person however, with a generally settled system and well-established ability to self regulate, the three systems should be equal in each of these areas.

After talking through the theory for a while, we were asked to draw our own three circles representing our personal systems. For a lot of us in the group, the Threat system was suffocated by the Self-Soothe system, with the Drive system somewhere in between:

What I got from this exercise is the motivation to increase my Self-Soothing system and the need to decrease my Threat system’s activation and responses!


We then moved on to talk about how emotions are neither “good” nor “bad”, and that labeling them as such is often unhelpful. Emotions just ARE! They don’t need to be judged, they don’t need to be aggressively pushed away or denied, and they don’t even need to be acted on.

In fact, emotions can often be effective tools – acting as messengers to let us know that something within us needs attending to – promoting awareness, acceptance and if necessary, change. They can inform us of what needs to be done in order to take care of ourselves and others. They can, if dealt with healthily, lead to personal growth and healing.

This was the main thing I took away from the session – Emotions are neither “good” nor “bad”, they just are.

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