Emotion Regulation and Checking the Facts in DBT

In DBT, there are a number of emotion regulation skills that help us change our emotional responses. The first step in changing these emotional responses is Checking the Facts.

Emotion Regulation and Checking the Facts

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

In dialectical behavior therapy there are three main skills that we can use to help us change, or I prefer the term influence, our emotions and how we feel: checking the facts, opposite action, and problem solving. In this video we’re going to learn how to check the facts.

Checking the facts stems from a similar premise to cognitive behavioral therapy, and that is our emotions aren’t the direct results of situations or events we experience. These events trigger beliefs, thoughts, assumptions, and interpretations, that then lead to an emotional consequence. In cbt we call this the ABC model. Checking the facts involves looking at the beliefs, thoughts, assumptions and interpretations we have about things that happen to us or situations we find ourselves in, to see how accurate they. Are we ask ourselves, do these beliefs, thoughts, assumptions and interpretations fit the facts?

And if they don’t we change them so they fit the facts better. And when we do, this since we’ve changed the b in ABC, the consequence the emotion we experience also changes to reflect the change in b, usually by reducing the intensity and duration of the negative emotions we’re experiencing, but we may also begin to experience a different less negative emotion altogether.

So that’s the first reason we check the facts. When our beliefs, thoughts, assumptions and interpretations of events aren’t that accurate, they affect our emotions in a negative way. When we check the facts and make these more accurate, we generally start feeling at least a little bit better right away.

And the second reason we check the facts is when we get to the end of this exercise, if it turns out our emotions don’t fit the facts, there are certain steps we can take to regulate our emotions and help ourselves feel better. And if it turns out that our emotions do fit the facts, there’s a different set of emotion regulation steps to take. And so do my emotions fit the facts is the first question we ask ourselves on the flow chart to figure out how to change our unwanted emotions that we’ll talk about in the next video.

So on the checking the facts worksheet we start by identifying the emotion we want to change or influence. And we just write it down with a one word descriptor like sadness, anxiety, anger and so on. And then we rate the intensity of this emotion on a scale from zero to a hundred.

And then we ask ourselves, what is the prompting or activating event or situation that triggered this emotional reaction: the who, what, where, and when of the situation. Who was I with or who else was involved? What happened? What did I do? What did other people do? Where was i? When did it happen? And we want to make sure we stick to the facts with as neutral a description as possible. We describe the situation as if we were just a bystander watching it, without attaching our own interpretations or emotions.

So after we write down our description we read it over and ask ourselves, does it fit the facts? And if we find any exaggerations or assumptions or judgments or interpretations or emotional statements we rewrite the description to remove these and make it more accurate by sticking only to the facts. And one thing that often creeps up in these descriptions are what we call cognitive distortions, which are exaggerated and negatively biased thoughts that lead us to perceive reality inaccurately. So in other words they don’t fit the facts. So be on the lookout for cognitive distortions and make sure to remove them when rewriting your description.

So if our description is something like, john was supposed to meet me for coffee, and like usual he didn’t show up on time or text me because he’s so selfish and disrespectful, so I gave him the silent treatment because I don’t deserve to be treated that way. Well just writing that down is probably going to make us start feeling angry again, or if we’re still angry it’s going to make us even angrier. So then we check the facts and we remove any exaggerations, assumptions, interpretations, judgments, emotional statements or cognitive distortions. And then we rewrite the description and stick to the facts.

I was meeting up with john for coffee at three o’clock. He showed up at 3 30 without letting me know he was going to be late. I didn’t talk much to him after that and made an excuse to leave early. And when we stick to the facts it’s not going to provoke the same sort of emotional reaction as the original statement we wrote down. So just by keeping our description neutral and making sure we stick to the facts we can already start feeling a little bit better, because by making our description less emotionally charged we start to calm our emotions.

So let’s look at another example and say we’ve written down a description like, I texted my partner about something important and i’ve been waiting all day and I still haven’t heard back from them yet. They never text me back. They’re so inconsiderate. If they cared about me they wouldn’t treat me this way.

When we check the facts we find that there are exaggerations, judgments and assumptions in this description, so it doesn’t actually fit the facts, and we need to rewrite it with something more accurate and neutral: I texted my partner an hour ago about something important and they still haven’t texted me back, and I’m worried they might be upset with me.

And then in step 3 we ask ourselves, what are my beliefs, thoughts, assumptions or interpretations of the situation or event? They’re ignoring me. They’re sick of hearing from me. They must be mad at me. If they cared about me they would answer my texts.

Now we check the facts by listing all of the other interpretations of the situation we can come up with. Maybe they’re just really busy and haven’t had time to text back. Or maybe they’re in a meeting and their phone is off. Maybe they didn’t even realize I was expecting a reply right away.

So now we reframe our interpretation of the event taking into account all of the various different interpretations we’ve come up with, and write out an interpretation that’s more accurate and balanced and better fits the facts than our original ones, which might be something like: I’m not sure why they haven’t texted me back yet. They’re probably just busy and haven’t had a chance.

So that’s the first part of the check the facts worksheet, which is all pretty similar to a thought record in cbt. And once you’ve completed this first part you’ll probably feel at least a little bit better, because your emotions will usually be a little less intense, because now your beliefs, assumptions and interpretations of the event or situation fit the facts better and aren’t as emotionally charged.

So then in step four we start off by asking ourselves am I assuming a threat and if so what is the threat what is it about this situation or event that’s threatening to me what am I worried or expecting will happen what outcome am I afraid of so maybe the threat is I’m worried they’re upset with me and they’re not going to want to talk to me again or they just don’t care about me anymore

And then once again we check the facts, and we list other possible outcomes. Often the threat we’re worried about is the worst possible outcome. So we want to ask ourselves, what are some other possible outcomes, including what is the best possible outcome. So the best possible outcome might be, they’ll text me back as soon as they’re not busy anymore. And other possible outcomes would be things like, they’re annoyed because I text them so much when they’re at work so they’re just going to wait a while before they respond. Or they’re mad about the argument we had this morning and they don’t want to argue over text so we’ll talk about it when they get home.

And then we check the facts and assess the accuracy of the threat we’re worried will happen and see if there isn’t a more probable outcome that fits the facts better, in which case we write down the most probable outcome, which might be: they’ll text me back as soon as they’re not busy anymore. Or if we’re not sure what the most probable outcome, is we write down a more likely, less catastrophic outcome than the one we originally wrote down. And again this helps calm our emotions because now the threat that we’re worried about isn’t so severe and may not even be much of a threat at all.

And then in step five we ask, what’s the catastrophe if the outcome I’m worrying about does occur? And we describe in detail the worst possible outcome we can reasonably expect. And so it’s probably not that they don’t like us anymore and they’re never going to talk to us again, because while that might be the most catastrophic outcome, it’s not very likely. So in this case maybe the worst outcome we can reasonably expect is they are mad at me and they’re not going to want to talk to me all day, and I’m going to be anxious and worried and have to wait till they get home to find out what’s going on, and maybe we’ll end up in a big fight or argument tonight.

So then we ask ourselves, if this catastrophe did happen, what could we do? And we describe ways that we could cope if the worst case does occur. So maybe these are things like: if I start to worry too much about what’s going on, instead of texting them over and over looking for reassurance, I could do something to distract myself. Or call a friend or meet up with someone for coffee. Or go for a walk or get some exercise or use any of my distress tolerance skills.

And then when they do get home if there is an argument, I can do my best to listen to what they’re upset about without reacting emotionally. And then use my objectives effectiveness skills to let them know how I feel about the situation and what I’d like from them. And this helps calm our emotions because we know that even if the worst case scenario does occur there are things we can do to help ourselves cope.

And then finally in step six we ask ourselves does my emotion fit the facts so first we go back to part one where we wrote down our emotion and rated its intensity. And now we re-rate the intensity of that emotion based on how we feel now. And then we ask ourselves, does my emotion fit the facts? And does its intensity and duration fit the facts? And we rate how much it fits the facts on a scale from zero to five, where zero is no not at all it doesn’t fit the facts, and five is yes it absolutely fits the facts.

Now how do we determine whether or not our emotions fit the facts? Well Marsha Linehan gives us some examples of emotions that fit the facts, and this isn’t a complete list and there could be other reasons you feel an emotion and it does fit the facts.

So sadness fits the facts if you’ve lost something or someone important to you, or if things aren’t the way you wanted or expected or hoped them to be. And anxiety or fear fit the facts if there’s a threat to your life or health or well-being, or that of someone you care about. And anger fits the facts if an important goal is blocked, or a desired activity is interrupted or prevented, or if you or someone you care about is attacked or hurt or insulted or threatened by others, or if the integrity or status of your social group is offended or threatened.

And then we can judge how well the intensity and duration of an emotion fits the facts by asking ourselves, how likely is it the expected outcome will occur, how important the outcomes are, and how effective the emotion is in my life right now. Is the emotion helping me or is it getting in the way? So once we’ve determined whether or not our emotions fit the facts, there’s a flow chart we can use to help us decide what to do next and I’ll talk about this emotion regulation flow chart in my next video.

This Check the Fact worksheet is adapted from from DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets by Marsha M. Linehan. You can download the Check the Facts worksheet in PDF or Word format. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.