How to control your actions when you’re upset

How to control your actions when you’re upset

As a San Francisco DBT therapist, I work with plenty of people who struggle with controlling their actions when they’re upset.

If you’ve tried to stop any kind of compulsive behavior, you know how hard it is to NOT do the thing you are trying not to do when you’re emotional.


It’s hard to stop compulsive behavior when you’re emotional

Imagine this:
You promised yourself that the next time you and your partner fight, you will not text them repeatedly. You made this promise to yourself when you were feeling super close to your partner.

A week later, you and your partner have a disagreement in the morning before work.

As the day goes on, you find yourself getting more and more upset about the disagreement. You reach for your phone and start texting rapid-fire, not even waiting for them to respond. Each text is more accusatory and angry than the next.

The following day (after you’ve calmed down) you’re so embarrassed and mad at yourself.

In addition to the burden of shame, you also have secondary problems to deal with now – new problems that engaging in that behavior have created.

In the example above, your partner may now be more upset with you or may start to doubt whether the relationship can work.

Substitute any problem behavior here – drugs or alcohol, food, spending, sex, or self-harm. You reach for the behavior – a beer, the credit card or a box of cookies – which gives you short-term relief but makes things worse in the long term.


How to control your actions when you’re upset

Send a message from your calm self to your upset self: make a Pros and Cons list

In a DBT skills group, you learn lots of way to stop this cycle. One powerful way is making a list of pros and cons while you are calm and centered. Or in DBT parlance, in your wise mind.

The pros and cons list will help you control your actions when you’re upset.

The list should have the pros and cons of engaging in the problem behavior, and the pros and cons of not engaging in the problem behavior.

For example, a pro of not sending an angry text to your partner is that you feel more self-respect. And a con for not texting is that you don’t get immediate relief.

The trick is to write out this list when you are not in distress.

If you try to do a pro and cons list when you’re too upset it won’t work. The part of your brain that enables you to make wise mind decisions is shut down.

Keep that pros and cons list in a handy place and in multiple places so you always have it – in your wallet, your car or on your fridge. This way, when you most need it, it’ll be right there to help you out.



Do you want real help to control your actions when you’re upset?

Call 415-310-5142 to schedule a session.