CBT Hot Cross Bun Model of Emotions, ft. A Real-Life Example

Group was certainly interesting this weekend….

Ironically, considering it was an Emotion Regulation group, the series of events that occurred was very emotionally dysregulating!

We were going through the homework assignment from last week, when suddenly one member of the group stood up and bolted out of the room exclaiming “HE’S TAKING MY BIKE” at the top of his lungs. What had happened was that he had noticed a teenage boy outside the community centre fiddling with his motorbike and trying to drive off with it, just as the bike’s alarm started going off!

All the members of the group (apart from me) jumped up and followed the owner of the bike outside, to see what was going on and (I assume) try help if they could. Both therapists in the group ran outside as well, one of them grabbing her phone and dialing the police simultaneously. The owner of the bike had made it outside and was now pinning down the culprit, trying to restrain him from getting away before the police made it to the scene. The male therapist was trying to break up the violence whilst also ensuring the boy didn’t get away. I wasn’t there but I could hear shouting and cussing from many people. Apparently some local residents had come out of their houses and were threatening the bike owner and both therapists, and my therapist even had to defend herself against a woman who was about to punch her in the face!

It seemed as though everyone else’s reaction to the situation was one of ‘flight’ or ‘fight’, whereas mine was simply to ‘freeze’. I felt totally paralysed within my seat and myself, and my body started responding to the drama by uncontrollably shaking. Even though mentally I didn’t notice any particularly painful thoughts, within that moment my body seemed to have a mind of its own and I genuinely felt as though I was going to have a full blown panic-attack.

The police arrived within a few minutes but it was too late; the boy had already escaped and all the other locals run away to hide in their flats, as soon as they heard the sirens. The next hour or so was a process of formalities between the witnesses (everyone in the group besides me) and the policemen. I felt on a completely different level to everyone else who was caught up in the chaos of the incident and showing curiosity, excitement and a seeming desire to be involved.

I, on the other hand, just wanted to get the fu*k out of there. It felt surreal, and I didn’t feel physically safe – as evidenced by my shaking body and the oncoming feelings of dissociation. I couldn’t understand why I was the only one who felt a desperate need to get away from the scene, whilst everyone else seemed so contrastingly driven towards it…

After my therapist had done her bit with the policemen, she came to sit with me and see if I was okay. By this time I had migrated outdoors and was sitting on a bench smoking a cigarette in an attempt to regulate myself, my hands and legs still shaking uncontrollably, my brain in a zombified state. We tried to do some breathing exercises and grounding together to target the body sensations I was experiencing, and although it did help the shaking lessen eventually, I was feeling more and more dissociated instead.

I think my body was simply exhausted. This happens to me often after a period of high emotion, especially anxiety, when my system just shuts down because it’s been overloaded. It felt predominantly physical, and was a very visceral experience. I have no idea what was going on for me mentally as I didn’t have any particularly noticeable thoughts; it genuinely seemed to be an entirely sensory – not cognitive – experience. I couldn’t concentrate at all when group resumed because I felt so spaced out, and at one point the male therapist even shouted my name out loud in an attempt to bring me back into the room; to reality.

Eventually I decided to go to the bathroom and run my face under freezing cold water, as in the T for Temperature in the Distress Tolerance skill of TIPP, to try and ground me further.

Unfortunately I don’t really remember much of what we talked about in group. I will however post a photo of the ‘Hot Cross Bun’ model which we explored briefly before the whole incident kicked off. This model basically represents the way in which our thoughts, feelings, body sensations and behaviours interact with each other after a prompting event occurs. This ‘trigger‘ sets off a process of thoughts, feelings, sensations or urges manifesting themselves for an individual, and these responses act to directly and indirectly influence and perpetuate one another. They lead to further thoughts, emotions and body sensations, and result in behaviours occurring too, as depicted in the diagram below:

Based on the responses we have to the trigger, and how effectively or ineffectively we manage these, we will take away from the situation a belief of some definition – a cognition regarding ourselves and our self-efficacy, for example how able we feel we can cope with X, Y or Z, or whether or not we feel able to manage certain urges, within a given situation.

Imagining the incident that occurred in group I will give an example of how this Hot Cross Bun interaction can occur by adding to the diagram in red:

Hopefully there won’t be any further dysregulating incidences such as this in any coming Saturday morning sessions…
Although I suppose it was good practice for managing intense emotions and sensations within a safe and ironically fitting context of a DBT Skills Group!


6 thoughts on “CBT Hot Cross Bun Model of Emotions, ft. A Real-Life Example

  1. I probably would have responded similarly to the situation. Unless an incident actually involves me I tend to shut down.

    This was a great opportunity for skill use and self-reflection! I recently had to stop my dbt class as we were starting emotional regulation so reading about the hot cross bun method is exciting!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my gosh! That was a pretty eventful session. I have in fact reacted in a similar way to episodes of stress before – shutting down emotionally, and retreating into myself a little. If there’s anything to take from it – it was certainly useful to be able to regulate in a safe environment – and to have valuable 1:1 time as well. Good job, pal.

    Liked by 1 person

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