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#47: Emotion Regulation Overview Part 1

The Emotion Regulation skills in DBT offer lots of ways to help you identify and respond to emotions. Some of the Emotion Regulation skills focus on change, while others focus on acceptance. This toggling back and forth between acceptance and change is the primary dialectic we are continually balancing in DBT.

This episode provides an overview of the Emotion Regulation skills as a whole, and takes a deep dive into change-oriented strategies such as Check the Facts, Opposite Action, and Problem Solving.

Show Highlights:

  • Emotions are hard-wired into us
  • Emotions motivate us to take action
  • Emotions provide us with important information
  • Emotions are also nonverbal communication to other people
  • Be mindful about not mistaking emotions for facts
  • Check the Facts helps you figure out whether or not your emotion is based on facts
  • Painful emotions may be based on your history, interpretations, or assumptions rather than facts
  • Is there a worst case scenario I am worried about? If so, how will I cope with it?
  • Opposite Action helps you act opposite to what your emotion is telling you to do
  • It’s important to do Opposite Action all the way
  • Problem Solving helps us figure out and name the problem, based on facts rather than judgements
  • Problem Solving helps us take small action steps to solve problems which is helpful for complicated, long-standing problems that we might avoid trying to work on because they feel overwhelming
  • Layering of DBT skills is often needed, and using just one skill may not be enough
  • You need to be in Wise Mind to do all 3 – Check the Facts, Opposite Action, and Problem Solving

Skills Discussed:

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#47: Emotion Regulation Overview Part 1 Transcript

Marielle Berg 

Hello and welcome to The Skillful Podcast where we explore DBT and RO-DBT skills to help you reduce emotional suffering, improve your relationships, and become more present in your life. I’m your host, Marielle Berg, a psychotherapist at the Bay Area DBT and Couples Counseling Center.

Marielle Berg 

Hey, Ed, how are you doing today?

Ed Fowler 

I’m doing good. How are you?

Marielle Berg 

Pretty good. Looking forward to discussing Emotion Regulation.

Ed Fowler 

Yes.

Marielle Berg 

So today’s episode is going to offer a broad overview of Emotion Regulation, focusing on a couple of the more change oriented skills. And that’ll be part one. And then we will record and release, in a in a few weeks or months, depending on how much we can get done, a part two overview of emotion regulation.

Ed Fowler 

I think it’s helpful to think big picture about the Emotion Regulation skill set in DBT. Because there’s a lot of really helpful information here. And we had done a couple episodes a while ago on Distress Tolerance, and the overview of how we think about and use Distress Tolerance in DBT. And so we thought it would be good to do the same thing with Emotion Regulation.

Marielle Berg 

And on that, note, thank you listeners who send in emails saying how helpful the overview of Distress Tolerance skills were, we love getting emails from you. Unfortunately, we are very often not able to respond, just because we have often too many emails, but we do try to read almost all of them. And they are quite motivating. I assume, I’m talking from my own experience, but I think they are for you, too, Ed. The positive ones.

Ed Fowler 

They absolutely are.

Marielle Berg 

Yeah.

Ed Fowler 

Yeah, like we, whenever we get one of those emails, we always have like an email back and forth of like, this is so cool, this is so nice, so.

Marielle Berg 

It’s very rewarding for both of us, I think to get those, and keeps us going.

Marielle Berg 

So let’s jump into Emotion Regulation, and let’s talk about the overall kind of point of this whole series of skills that we have. So first off, many, many people who come into DBT therapy, and probably just any kind of therapy are struggling in one way or another with their emotions.

Marielle Berg 

So maybe their emotions are confusing, or overwhelming, or a little bit foreign to them. And so the work in therapy focuses, quite often, on understanding emotions, naming emotions, becoming open, and I might say friendly to the different emotions that we have, even emotions that are uncomfortable or we don’t like. And the Emotion Regulation skills in DBT provide some of the groundwork for getting more familiar and understanding our emotions, why we have them, and what they do for us.

Ed Fowler 

I think that’s a huge aspect of Emotion Regulation is just knowing what my emotions are. Understanding them, and what goes into emotions. In addition to that, a big chunk of the skills in Emotion Regulation in DBT focus on decreasing the frequency of unwanted emotions, and being able to manage unwanted emotions. So specific skills that help when we have painful emotions, difficult emotions, emotions that we don’t want, knowing what are our options for changing this emotional experience.

Marielle Berg 

And it can be sort of like a light bulb going off for folks and I, I know it was for me years ago when I learned about this, that we actually can change unwanted emotions and there are strategies that can help us. Because I think changing unwanted emotions can get a really bad rap because the tendency is to turn towards ineffective or destructive, in one way or another, ways generally, to help us deal with unwanted emotions.

Marielle Berg 

So if you don’t have other techniques or skills, common ways of dealing with unwanted emotions are just denial; compartmentalizing, which of course sometimes is useful, other times isn’t; you know, any kind of addictive or compulsive behaviors; you know, zoning out numbing out; we could probably list a whole host of ways that people try to distance themselves from unwanted uncomfortable distressing emotions that actually can create secondary problems. So DBT offers a different way of dealing with emotions that are ineffective, that don’t fit the facts and that may be harmful, or at least acting on them may create harm,

Ed Fowler 

Right.

Ed Fowler 

And then another aspect of Emotion Regulation in DBT, is decreasing emotional vulnerability. And the way I think about that is increasing emotional resilience. So we have a whole bunch of skills that increase our emotional resilience, our ability to have emotions, without them becoming overwhelming, things that we tend to do more like on a daily basis, or a regular basis, that help us not be so vulnerable to Emotion Mind. And the ways that Emotion Mind can make it hard for us to choose wisely.

Marielle Berg 

And these skills around decreasing emotional vulnerability are kind of the the foundation, or the bedrock, that sort of set us up to have more emotional stability. And this is incredibly helpful for anyone who feels like they’re really sensitive, or they feel a lot. It’s like, actually, there are things you can do, you may always be more sensitive, you may have a tendency to have a lot of emotions and big emotions, but you can sort of set the stage, so when those emotions happen, perhaps they’re less intense, or they’re happening with a little bit less frequency, and you feel less at the mercy of emotions.

Ed Fowler 

And this has definitely been my experience. I’ve always been someone who feels things strongly. And when I was younger, it was really a struggle. And, and from doing a lot of work, including using DBT skills, I do have less overwhelming emotions, I’m less afraid of my emotions, even when they’re strong. And so yes, I get strong emotions, at times, things get overwhelming at times, but I understand what’s happening better and quicker to get out of it. And the frequency of overwhelming emotion is less and less.

Ed Fowler 

And so that’s really what we’re going for, is to be able to have our emotions, learn from our emotions enjoy, our emotions, without our emotions being overwhelming at the level that it’s problematic for our lives.

Marielle Berg 

And then I’ll just add an additional goal is overall to decrease emotional suffering. And so just because we are feeling emotions, even if they’re painful emotions, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are suffering because we can feel pain and sort of withstand it, or tolerate it, or befriend it. But overall, the skills can help us reduce suffering when those painful emotions threaten to overwhelm you. And they can help you manage extreme emotions, so you don’t do something that will make things worse, or create additional problems for yourself.

Marielle Berg 

And that’s sort of the broad overview of why we teach skills that help you regulate your emotions, or why we have a whole module devoted to Emotion Regulation skills.

Ed Fowler 

So moving into, like the heart of what we talk about in Emotion Regulation, in DBT, is the awareness of what emotions do for us. Why as human beings, we have emotions. What’s the point of emotions. And the reality is that emotional experience is pretty common across all cultures. And we have, you know, all cultures have similar emotions and similar ways of describing and experiencing emotions. So emotions are just built into what it is to be a human. And in DBT, we think about a few reasons for that. Ways that emotions are an important part of who we are as humans.

Marielle Berg 

And so emotions motivate, and kind of help us organize ourselves to take action. So we need emotions. If we didn’t have emotions, we wouldn’t necessarily be able to act in a timely manner to urgent situations. And so emotions can be super important, especially when something is happening in the moment, and you have to respond quickly. So they’re really hardwired into us. And this is, you know, as basic as a tsunami. Warning comes and fear arises, and you run, run to safety, or you do what you can to become safe. So we need those quick responses because it motivates us to take action.

Ed Fowler 

Emotions also communicate to other people without us using words. So, emotions and our experience of emotions can offer a shorthand to other people. And we all have this experience where, I say something and I see the look on someone’s face that’s instant, and I think, Oh, I think I offended them. Or oh, that made them really sad.

Ed Fowler 

And so our emotions can, especially like the early moments of an emotion, can communicate to others. And so just being able to like allow our emotions and allow that expression, like facial expression, or body movement, when we have a particular emotion, can communicate to others when we can’t or don’t want to use words, and can communicate more depth than our words could communicate.

Marielle Berg 

Absolutely. And so the positive of this is we can communicate a lot of care, or concern, or love through voice tone, or how we’re looking at someone or how we’re holding our body. I mean, so much can come through. I think the downside, or at least, I can think of it as a downside is, sometimes I don’t want people to know what my emotions are. But I have been told that I have an expressive face. And so I don’t always like that.

Marielle Berg 

So for better for worse, and some people I think, are more skilled at masking their emotions, which has positive and negatives to it. But we are communicating non verbally to others all the time, and they’re communicating to us.

Marielle Berg 

But one little caveat, especially if you feel like you’re very attuned to others, is we, even though this communication is happening all the time, we aren’t always accurate in our assessments. And this is where we really encourage people when you can to check things out to Check the Facts, which we will talk about very soon, because we we are not always accurate in reading people.

Ed Fowler 

And again, I think emotions happen within us like on a deep level. And it’s, and we talk in DBT, about Wise Mind being the balance of Emotion Mind and Reasonable Mind. And our emotions are a part of who we are, that can communicate like very subtly within us, in our own emotional reactions and how that shows up in our bodies. And we also have a history with emotions.

Ed Fowler 

And so for instance, what you just spoke about Marielle, like, if I have like learned to be really, really afraid of someone else’s anger, I may be on high alert for noticing anger, which means I may be picking up anger when there isn’t anger there. So we need to understand ourselves, our history with emotions, our history with what we’re skilled at reading in others and what we’re not. And so a big part of emotion regulation is understanding our own emotional experiences, including when we make emotional assumptions, especially about other people and being very slow to act on those.

Marielle Berg 

It’s such a good point, I think, in part what you’re talking about, or one way I’m thinking about what you’re talking about, is knowing kind of our emotional sore spots or vulnerabilities.

Marielle Berg 

So if we’ve been I mean, you use the example of anger. And I think many people have had not very positive experiences being on the receiving end of the expression of anger, or they’ve had scary experiences. But whatever our past wounding has been if we’ve been rejected, or, you know, whatever else it might be, we might have our feelers out. So we might be kind of searching. And so subtle things might happen with other people and how they respond to us or look at us where we might be reading into it when it’s not actually there. So just something to keep in mind as we go into our skills.

Ed Fowler 

And I think this is the segue into the third way that emotions work for us, is that emotions communicate to ourselves. In the same way that our emotions communicate to others, our emotions even more fundamentally, communicate to us. We can, when we notice emotions, we can get information that we’re not going to get just thinking about things. And we can get really helpful information.

Ed Fowler 

If I’m feeling really afraid in someone else’s presence, like what’s going on with that? And being able to notice, is this because I’m highly attuned to sniffing out anger or something dangerous, and so I’m, I often get afraid of out other people, or is this person acting in a way that is unsettling, and my emotions are telling me maybe you need to step away.

Ed Fowler 

And so emotions can communicate on a deeper level than what we can get just intellectually. And so that emotional communication to ourselves is important, and also does require our own fine tuning to hear the messages accurately.

Marielle Berg 

Yeah, you can think about like a gut sense, or instinct when something feels maybe really good or right. And we’ve all probably had instances of that and hopefully those are mostly accurate, but not always. Or when something feels really off or wrong, and then you know, sometimes that’s accurate, sometimes it isn’t. So keeping that all in mind.

Ed Fowler 

And I think for for people who feel things strongly, we tend to be really in tune with our emotions and other people’s emotions. And one thing that we need to be careful of is treating emotions as facts. Because sometimes emotions are giving us factual information, and sometimes it’s not. And so we want to be careful about taking our emotions as facts.

Ed Fowler 

So for instance, if I feel uncertain, it means I shouldn’t act, when the reality is I can feel uncertain because of a history of insecurity, and I need to act in some way. So we want to really be careful about listening to our emotions, and trying to understand them, without assuming oh, I’m feeling so angry at them, my feeling of anger must be totally justified because it’s so strong. When really it’s like there’s we’re going to talk about the ways that our emotion might not actually be grounded in reality.

Marielle Berg 

So let’s, let’s jump right into that, because we have been referencing this directly and indirectly. And, and let’s talk about Check the Facts. Are you ready to go into that?

Ed Fowler 

Absolutely, definitely.

Marielle Berg 

So I love the skill. And I don’t know if if you want to introduce it Ed, or you’d like me to.

Ed Fowler 

Why don’t you, because I’m like, Oh, I can do that, I’m drawing a blank, so.

Marielle Berg 

Even though I know you know the skill very well. So Check the Facts. One of the powerhouses, and this is my own bias, in the Emotion Regulation Skill set. This is –

Ed Fowler 

Shared by me.

Marielle Berg 

Shared by you, right?

Marielle Berg 

Sothis really, I think and Opposite Action together are just kind of amazing. So Check the Facts is a skill that helps you figure out whether your emotions actually fit the facts. Because just as Ed was giving you examples a moment ago, we can feel something, but it doesn’t mean that the facts support our emotion. So our emotion might be coming from something in the past, where maybe we didn’t, you know, get a good night’s sleep, or we’re feeling emotionally vulnerable in one way or another. And doing Check the Facts, and when we’ll go through kind of a more formal way of doing this, but even a quick Check the Facts, which I feel like I often do, in my mind, because I’m so familiar with the skill, can really help kind of reset me.

Marielle Berg 

If I’m, for example, I’m feeling angry or hurt about something. I’m like, wait a minute, what are the actual facts here. And when I can just lay out the facts, and just kind of think about like the who, what, when, and where, you know, quite often the intensity of my emotion doesn’t really fit the facts, that’s coming from some old stuff. So that’s, that’s sort of the skill in in a nutshell. But let’s let’s dive into it a bit more.

Marielle Berg 

So, many emotions, and the subsequent actions that we take on those emotions are generated by our thoughts, and interpretations and assumptions about things that happen, rather than the actual thing. So if I text a friend, and I don’t hear back from a couple of days, which is a pet peeve of mine, I can have all sorts of assumptions about that. About them not caring about me, or maybe I did something to upset them the last time we talked, it can even spiral if I’m feeling more emotionally vulnerable, into feeling very kind of alone and friendless, and this is all old, old stuff that comes up for me that really often very often has nothing to do with the actual facts.

Marielle Berg 

And so if I can think of the facts and say, Okay, I texted a person, a friend, I haven’t heard back in a little while, and I’m assuming it has something to do with me. And that assumption is causing painful emotion. When actually when I Check the Facts, I don’t know why. I don’t know why I haven’t heard from that person. And that, you know, that realization, really looking at the facts can shift the emotion profoundly. And really help us kind of recognize and sort of drop all those extra things that we add to the facts. It doesn’t mean that I then like that I haven’t heard back from the person, it doesn’t mean that that’s my preference. But it can it can help me let go of some of those more painful emotions that are actually based on just interpretations I have about what happened.

Ed Fowler 

I think that for me, checking the facts is so powerful because it reminds me to slow down and notice when I’m having a strong emotion, and really start by noticing okay, what am I feeling naming the emotion, what is this? Is this anger? Is this sadness? Is this fear? What is this? And then what are the facts of the situation? And what are my interpretations or my assumptions, my judgments that may be inflaming this emotion, so that I can get a sense, and for my experience, most emotions have a mix of facts and my interpretations.

Ed Fowler 

And so being able to understand what are the facts of the situation? And you know, somebody got angry at me, and I feel really angry now. Those are the facts, right? And then what are the assumptions? Because they always get angry at me, and they never listen to me. And I, this always happens that I, people get mad at me, whatever it might be. So being able to notice, what is the emotion? What are the facts? What are the assumptions and interpretations? So that I have a better handle of what is the whole picture of this emotion.

Marielle Berg 

And, and often, you know, going through those steps can really change your emotion right there. And if it doesn’t, you can go, you know, several steps further with the scale, and ask yourself like, what am I scared of? Am I assuming some kind of threat? And so very often just doing the steps that Ed laid out are enough to change our emotions, or to help us feel differently or reduce the intensity of our emotion. But if it isn’t, you can go a step further, and think about okay, what am I scared of? What am I most scared of?

Marielle Berg 

So with the example that you gave out of, you know, potentially someone being angry at us, am I scared that I’m actually in danger? Or that I’m going to be abandoned in some way? Like, what’s the fear underneath this, that’s keeping the intensity of the emotion going, even when I’ve discovered that the emotion doesn’t really fit the facts. And so naming what you’re scared of, naming it yourself, assuming, or looking at what you might be assuming about potential negative outcomes, or a potential catastrophe, and then kind of going there in your mind. Like if the thing I’m most scared of happens, how will I deal with it?

Ed Fowler 

So the basic Check the Facts is just name the emotion. What are the facts? What are the assumptions or interpretations? If it’s really strong, what am I afraid of? What’s the threat here? And what, is there a worst case scenario I’m afraid of? And if necessary, really, you know, acknowledge, okay, if it seems like this worst case scenario might happen, what will I do? How will I cope with it, because there’s a big difference between Oh, the worst is going to happen, and I won’t be able to cope. And the worst might happen, here’s how I will cope. And all of that together can oftentimes bring that emotion down. So whatever the emotion, thinking it all the way through engaging Reasonable Mind, to Check the Facts, can help to bring that emotion down.

Marielle Berg 

Thank you, that was a really great kind of overview of the scale. And so let’s talk a little bit about some common examples of emotions that fit the facts, just to give listeners an idea. I mean, we’ve been talking about some of them. But let’s let’s maybe look at some emotions that we haven’t mentioned as much.

Marielle Berg 

Let’s let’s discuss a little bit about sadness. So sadness fits the facts. Again, very broad strokes, when you have lost something or someone permanently, or when things are not the way you wanted, or expected, or hoped them to be. I mean, so that again, this encompasses a lot of things in our lives. When things haven’t turned out the way we want them to be, or we’ve lost someone, sadness fits the facts.

Marielle Berg 

Let’s talk maybe a little bit about shame and guilt, because those can get confusing and are such common, painful emotions.

Ed Fowler 

So shame fits the facts, when we will be rejected, by someone or a group of people that we care about, if the aspects of ourselves or our behavior are made public. So we’ve said this before in other episodes, shame is a social emotion. Shame helps us recognize ways that we may end up rejected by others, by the group or by other people, and attunes us to being careful about staying in line with people around us.

Ed Fowler 

If I do something that is going to cause people to be really upset with me, shame is an appropriate response. That’s why we have shame as an emotion. I think for a lot of us, the struggle is we feel shame about things that we’re not going to get rejected for, or if we do get rejected. We don’t care about those people. Those are not people who, whose judgments are things that we want to live by. And so sorting out, is shame appropriate is really important because I think for a lot of us, we have way more shame than is functionally helpful.

Marielle Berg 

Absolutely. Because shame is useful in certain discrete times, let’s say. But very often what people feel is like a shame about who they are, or just kind of an overall sort of bad feeling that they can’t quite put their finger on. And that is usually not particularly effective. And it’s very hard to get out of.

Marielle Berg 

And then moving on to guilt. Guilt is more about our own kind of morals or values. And when we do something that violates that. So absolutely, at times, we need guilt, because it can help us course correct. So we’re not talking about the sort of toxic guilt where you just feel guilty for having needs or, you know, being alive and wanting things. But the, the guilt that fits the facts can really help us make amends if we need to, and do things differently. So for example, if you have committed to a monogamous relationship, and you have an outside relationship, guilt would fit the facts, it helps you try to make things right, or stop that outside relationship.

Ed Fowler 

So when we have checked the facts, and have a sense of what’s going on with this emotion that we’re having, sometimes we recognize that this emotion actually doesn’t fit the facts, it’s out of proportion, it’s not giving me helpful information. And so the follow up skill would be Opposite Action to change that emotion, that doesn’t really fit the facts, or the intensity, or the duration of the emotion doesn’t fit the facts. And it’s not working for us. And we want to feel differently.

Marielle Berg 

And so this, if we do the Check the Facts, and it doesn’t shift things enough, again, we move on to Opposite Action. And in a nutshell, I’ll just do the broad strokes of the skill, in Opposite  – and I know you have your own way of talking about it, Ed, which I’ll, I’ll give you a space to do in a moment. And I love how you frame it. But I think about it as just doing the opposite of what your emotion is telling you to do, which can feel so hard.

Marielle Berg 

But if you are feeling sad, and you want to stay in bed all day, and your emotion either doesn’t fit the facts, or maybe your emotion does fit the facts. And the sadness is actually based on things that are currently happening. That would evoke sadness, but acting on that urge to stay in bed all day is not effective. You do the opposite, you get out of bed, you take a shower, you get dressed, you move on with your day. And we have more to say about how to do this and how to do it kinda like fully all those things matter. But that’s sort of that’s the essence of it. But you want to share how you think about it your shorthand for Opposite Action, Ed?

Ed Fowler 

Yeah, so my, my shorthand is act the way you want to feel, not how you do feel. Which, you know, I think that sometimes that can help because oh, what is my emotion telling me to do? If we can’t get there? It’s like, how do I want to feel I’m gonna act that way. And so this is where we start to get into how to do Ppposite Action. Because if you don’t go all in, and really commit to acting, the opposite of what your emotion is telling you are acting, the way that you want to feel, is not going to work.

Ed Fowler 

And so really, Opposite Action as a skill can be so powerful, because we do feel differently, when we really act the opposite of what our emotion is telling us to do, we stop feeling that emotion in the same way. The emotion does change. That’s the point of Opposite Action.

Marielle Berg 

Doing it fully is so important. I’m thinking of many times in my younger life where, and I didn’t know about the skill then, and I didn’t know you should do it all the way, but I really would like get irritated, I feel like well, I’m trying like I’m really trying to change this emotion or do the opposite of what my emotion is telling me to do, because I know it’s not very useful right now, and it just wouldn’t be all that effective, because it was sort of lackluster, half hearted, I wasn’t kind of fully throwing myself into that opposite emotion, are acting in alignment with that opposite emotion.

Marielle Berg 

So if I was scared of something, maybe I would approach it, which is Opposite Action for fear when fear does not fit the facts, or acting on it isn’t effective, but kind of like with still some trepidation, without a lot of enthusiasm. And then the fear would still be there. And I’d be like, well, this doesn’t work. So you have to kind of really have the willingness and courage I think to throw yourself in.

Ed Fowler 

And you use this example that I find so helpful. So for instance, with with fear, like if you have social anxiety, and you recognize that like being really worried about being in groups of people is limiting you and you don’t, it doesn’t fit the facts. You’re you know going to get together with people who are really supportive and your fear is telling you don’t go. But you know that this is a supportive group and I want to go, if you do half way Opposite Action, and you show up at they get together and you stick to yourself, you keep your eyes down, you don’t make conversation with people, you’re probably going to leave feeling like see, I’m terrible in groups, I can’t enjoy any get togethers, I really am meant to be alone.

Ed Fowler 

Opposite Action, all the way Opposite Action, is you show up at the get together, and you make conversation, you make eye contact, you put yourself out there, you really try to fully engage. When you notice yourself, pulling back into Oh, my gosh, what are people thinking about me, oh, I hate this, I just want to go, you throw yourself back into engaging with people. And probably many of us have had this experience of like, I don’t want to go to that thing, but I’m gonna go and I’m gonna throw myself in, and oh, I had a good time. That’s how Opposite Action works.

Marielle Berg 

That’s Check the Facts and Opposite Action, two of our biggest change oriented skills. And just as a reminder, in DBT, that’s the the D, the dialectic. We have skills that are focused on change, and skills that are more focused on either acceptance or in the Emotion Regulation module, we also have skills that we’ll talk about next week that are focused more on kind of, as we said earlier, decreasing our vulnerability to feeling strong, painful emotions in the first place. But Check the Facts and Opposite Action are about change. And then our third change oriented skill is Problem Solving.

Ed Fowler 

And Problem Solving is the skill that we use when we’re experiencing a painful or difficult emotion that does fit the facts. Where this emotion is really grounded mostly in what’s happening. And we need to respond to that, like, we need to take this seriously. I am angry because someone is doing something harmful to me. And I need to act effectively on that anger. Or I’m feeling guilty, because I’ve done something that’s way out of line with my values, and I need to correct my actions. And I need to act on this guilt and do something differently. So Problem Solving gives us kind of a structured approach to actually address what’s the facts that are the problem that’s causing this unwanted emotion.

Marielle Berg 

And I think that we might avoid, and I’ll include myself in this too, tackling difficult problems, because we can get overwhelmed, we don’t know where to start. And so we can run through the different steps that DBT has for their more kind of formal Problem Solving. And that, this can really help us get a handle on sticky problems or long standing problems, and begin to help us think about, okay, what small action can I take, that might move me in the direction towards solving this problem.

Marielle Berg 

And the first thing, the first step is just figure out, name and describe what the problem situation is. And sometimes just similar to when we just kind of named what emotion we’re feeling, even just doing that can feel a little bit reassuring. Like, Okay, here’s this problem, here are the different, and then here are the different facts that support this problem, or that, you know, go into making this situation a problem. And you want to make sure you only have facts in there, and not things like well, I’m a terrible, awful lazy person, or they’re an awful, terrible, lazy person, you know, some kind of like, just judgment about yourself or someone else. But so you want to just stick with the facts when you are describing your problem.

Ed Fowler 

So, you know, identifying the problem, factually, is is the starting point. And then once you know what is the problem that you’re dealing with, you want to identify a goal that will move towards solving the problem. What would need to happen to change the situation so that I would feel okay or feel better?

Marielle Berg 

Want to keep it simple, and something that can actually happen. So if you have a problem relating to financial security, you wouldn’t want to put your goal as win the lottery. Not to say that can never happen, but something that reasonably could happen.

Ed Fowler 

Right.

Marielle Berg 

And then the next step, and this is I think, left out of for many people, is left out of how they think about Problem Solving. But the next step asks you to get pretty creative and to brainstorm all sorts of different solutions, that, that you can. And maybe even ask other people, and not sort of censor off the bat, you can just kind of throw it out there. And this I think this is important because it gets us thinking outside the box, and something might come up that we hadn’t thought of before.

Ed Fowler 

And again, with Problem Solving, we’re doing it because we have uncomfortable emotions. And so we can get stuck, and I think this is where people struggle with Problem Solving in general. We get stuck in a limited set of options, very influenced by the emotion that we already have. So really trying to take time to do a very broad and creative brainstorm, where you come up with lots of ideas, of possibilities, including ones that you will never try.

Ed Fowler 

So if you’re struggling with your finances, throw win the lottery on there, throw rob a bank on there, you know, throw, you know, ask everyone I know for $10, right and get creative. But that kind of gets the juices flowing, to think about, I could literally borrow money from this particular person, or I could set up a new budget that will help me manage my money in a different way, or, you know, lots of options.

Ed Fowler 

So with brainstorming, you want to be very creative, don’t censor. Just put lots of ideas out there, and then go back and evaluate which ones are realistic, which ones aren’t, which ones are more likely to be doable now, and get me towards my goal.

Marielle Berg 

And if you aren’t sure, you can pick a couple of those ideas that you throw out and do Pros and Cons. Like, okay, I rob a bank, I’ll probably get a whole bunch of money, but I might injure people or myself, or go to jail for a very long time, and have a lot of justified guilt. So anyway, so we wouldn’t, we wouldn’t want that one.

Marielle Berg 

But so doing the pros and cons for one set. For options, I feel like they might actually be workable. And then one of the most important, or the most important step, I feel like, or the step I might leave out, is put one of these solutions into action. Like try it. Take some action. Make a phone call, meet with someone, send an email, whatever you need to do, apply for a job, you know, depending on whatever the problem is, and take some action and see what happens. And then you’ll get more information.

Ed Fowler 

And I think the value of this kind of more structured approach of like, okay, I have this emotion that does fit the facts. And so I need to do something to change the situation. What what’s a realistic goal? What are a bunch of options, pick one and try it. And instead of thinking and thinking, I hate this, I hate this situation, this is so terrible, I wish it wasn’t like this, we’re actually taking action, there’s movement, we’re doing things. And that tends to get the ball rolling, where we do start to change the situation so that our emotion changes.

Marielle Berg 

While we’re talking about this, I’m thinking about the importance of kind of knowing the most effective skill to use in a moment, because, or for a situation. And very often we have to layer skills. And so I have seen people try to apply the Problem Solving to habitual, we might say addictive behaviors. And I think that that can sometimes be going down, not the best track. And maybe what’s needed is Distress Tolerance skills first.

Marielle Berg 

So that you want to be mindful when you’re doing this, that you have a situation where actually the facts are the problem. And that isn’t that it’s just Emotion, Mind getting in the way, or some kind of habitual response that you might need other skills to to help you tackle.

Ed Fowler 

And I think to finish up this episode, it is important to remember that with all the Emotion Regulation skills, we want to be in Wise Mind.

Marielle Berg 

Yes.

Ed Fowler 

Or at least getting close to Wise Mind because if we’re in Emotion Mind and emotions are really running the show, we’re going to Check the Facts and all the facts are going to justify the emotion. And so oftentimes, when it comes to whether it’s Check the Facts or Opposite Action or Problem Solving, we want to make sure that we’re in kind of a more Wise Mind balance, and do Distress Tolerance if we’re not.

Ed Fowler 

Get that emotion down a little bit so that we can think clearly about what to do. Do I need Opposite Action here? Do I need Problem Solving? Am I, is my fact checking, accurate or inflamed by emotion? So, you know, primarily, we, you know, this is an interesting way to end the episode by saying the thing that was probably helpful at the beginning, but you know, access Wise Mind before doing Emotion Regulation, and that’s going to really set you up to be able to make the most of Check the Facts, Opposite Action or Problem Solving.

Marielle Berg 

Alright, so that seems like a good place to stop, and in our next Emotion Regulation overview, we will talk about skills that help you either accept your emotions and or make you less vulnerable to feeling those painful emotions in the first place. So until next time.

Ed Fowler 

Thank you.

Marielle Berg 

Thanks for listening to today’s episode. To learn more, or if you’re in the Bay Area and want to get started with therapy, you can find us online at bayareadbtcc.com. That’s bayareadbtcc.com.