The biology part of the biosocial theory in DBT

The Biosocial Theory in DBT: Part 1 (Biology)

If your emotions sometimes feel out of control and you struggle with impulsive behaviors, you may relate to DBT’s explanation of emotional sensitivity called the biosocial theory.


What is the Biosocial Theory in DBT?

The biosocial theory helps explain why some people struggle with controlling their emotions and actions by looking at both biology and social environment.

This is a 2-part series on DBT’s Biosocial Theory. This post looks at the biology or “bio” part, while part 2 covers the social half of the biosocial theory.

The biology part of the theory

The biology or “bio” part of the biosocial theory asserts that some people are just born more sensitive to emotional stimuli than others.

If you’re one of these people you may:

  • Feel emotions more frequently than other people
  • Feel like your emotions come out of the blue, or happen for no reason
  • Feel emotions more strongly than other people
  • Have a hard time returning to baseline after experiencing an intense emotion

If you struggle with your emotions, you may also find yourself acting impulsively at times, as the two usually go hand in hand.

If you are impulsive you may:

  • Struggle to inhibit behaviors, even though the behavior may hurt you in the long run
  • Feel like some of your behaviors come out of the blue
  • Have a hard time consistently achieving your goals because your fluctuating moods get in the way
  • Struggle to control behaviors that are linked to your moods

If you relate to any of the above, it can be a relief to know there is nothing wrong with you – you are just wired differently.


Emotional sensitivity

The DBT Biosocial Theory asserts that some people come into the world genetically predisposed to feel things more strongly than others. This is a good thing because it makes for passionate, creative and sensitive people.

We need folks like this in the world!

Without emotionally sensitive people, we wouldn’t have awe-inspiring paintings, beautiful poems or music that moves us to tears. Also, we probably wouldn’t have activists and healers of all sorts.

Managing your emotions

But being highly emotional can create havoc in your life if you don’t have tools to deal with your intense feelings.

Without ways to manage your emotions, you may act rashly, hurting yourself or your relationships. It’s also nearly impossible to create the life you want if your changing moods dictate your behavior.

The biosocial theory helps relieve the shame and isolation you may feel if you relate to being an emotionally sensitive and/or impulsive person. Others may have told you to “just get over it” or to “pull yourself together” adding to the shame and self-blame.

DBT offers concrete skills to help you mange your emotions and to help you act in ways that make your life better, not worse.


This next post talks about the “social” part of the biosocial theory.


Want to learn how to manage your emotions and curb impulsivity?

Call (415) 310-5142 for your free phone consultation and learn more about individual and group DBT.