DBT Emotion Regulation Flowchart: Changing Unwanted Emotions

After we’ve checked the facts, we can use this emotion regulation flowchart to figure out how to best change our unwanted emotions.

Figuring Out How to Change Unwanted Emotions

In dialectical behavior therapy, there are various emotion regulation skills. So, how do we know which one to apply? In this video, we’re going to explore an emotion regulation flow chart that helps us determine which skills to use to change our unwanted emotions.

We start by identifying the emotion we’d like to change or influence. Then, we ask ourselves, “Does this emotion fit the facts?” An emotion fits the facts if it’s appropriate for the situation and its intensity and duration are reasonable. There’s a worksheet to evaluate this, which you can learn about in my “Check the Facts” video.

If our emotion fits the facts, we proceed down one path; if it doesn’t, we take another path. Regardless, the next question is, “Is acting on this emotion effective or helpful to me?”

Every emotion comes with an action urge, but before acting on it, we consult our wise mind. Wise mind considers both reason and emotion. If accessing wise mind is challenging, a pros and cons list can help.

Now, based on our answer, there are several options. If acting on the emotion is effective, we can either be mindful of the emotion and accept it or act on it directly. If not, we may choose to use opposite action or engage in problem-solving.

So, let’s plug these options into the flow chart. If acting on our emotion is effective, we first become mindful of our emotion, then act on it. If our emotion fits the facts, we problem-solve. If not, we consider using opposite action or modify our thoughts through “Check the Facts.”

If acting on our emotion isn’t effective, and it fits the facts, we take opposite action and then problem-solve. If it doesn’t fit the facts, we modify our thoughts and then consider using opposite action.

Let’s consider some examples. If we’re sad due to work stress, and our emotion fits the facts, we may call a friend for support, leading to emotional relief. If we’re anxious about an exam, but our emotion doesn’t fit the facts, we may calm down and study instead of panicking.

In a situation where we’re angry about late takeout, even if our emotion doesn’t fit the facts, complaining might be effective. However, we can use opposite action by expressing our frustration assertively rather than aggressively.

Alternatively, if we’re panicking about a test, but our emotion doesn’t fit the facts, we can modify our thoughts and take opposite action by relaxing and getting rest, leading to reduced anxiety.

That’s how we decide which emotion regulation skills to use to change our unwanted emotions.

Click to download the Emotion Regulation Flowchart, which is adapted from DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets by Marsha M. Linehan. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.