4D Decrease emotional suffering

This page talks about the DBT ‘decreasing emotional suffering’ skills for ‘emotion regulation’.

These skills are really important in helping you to take control of your emotions, to prevent painful feelings from causing you suffering.  They do this by helping you to:

        • let go of painful emotions (through mindfulness)
        • change the urges associated with painful emotions (through ‘opposite action’)

Letting go of urges linked to painful emotions (through mindfulness)

This skill is particularly useful in helping you to distance yourself from your emotions, giving yourself chance to stop before you act upon these emotions, allowing you to see the picture more clearly, noticing the emotions for what they are rather than what you think they might be.  Letting them go without fighting them.

Remember there are good reasons for feeling a negative emotion, so don’t judge yourself for feeling it, just notice it and the urges associated with it, so that you can be aware of it and better understand it; then try to let it go of the urges, because fighting it often makes it more painful and leads to suffering.

To help you practice letting go of your painful emotions, you could try our ‘Thought Bubbles’ podcast.  Give yourself time to practice and learn this skill, it won’t come to you straightaway; but with practice, it can become a tool you can have ready to use when you need it most.

Changing the urges associated with painful emotions (through ‘opposite action’)

This skill is about doing things that would usually create an emotion which is opposite to the urges you are currently experiencing.

Here is an example:

Imagine you are about to go into an exam, and you start to have worrying thoughts that you won’t pass the exam, these thoughts cause you to experience a strong emotion of anxiety, from which you get an urge to leave the building and skip the exam:

  • Observe the emotion that you are currently experiencing, and describe it.
  • Then identify which emotion it is, give it a name – try to be specific e.g. anxiety.
  • Validate your emotion – by telling yourself that it’s understandable to feel anxious when you go into an exam.   Then, choose to let the negative emotion go, as you breathe mindfully.
  • Then, think about what action or behaviour might bring about a different emotion; e.g. stand up straight, take deep breaths, be kind to yourself using cheerleading statements  – repeat to yourself in your mind an encouraging message ‘ I can do this’, ‘I can get through it’, ‘I will do the best I can’; then, smile and walk into the room with your head held high.

This skill is not about denying your current emotion; it’s about naming the emotion, letting it go and responding with opposite actions to the urge you might otherwise have had.  Acting opposite will help to lessen the length and severity of the negative feelings, and allow you to experience new and more positive and effective ways of responding.

Again practice is important in helping you deal with your negative emotions, so:

  • maybe if you feel fear or anxiety about doing something, you could (if it’s safe) choose to do it again and again
  • if you experience anger towards someone, you could choose to do something kind for them
  • or, if you are overcome with a strong feeling of sadness, you could choose to get up and go for a walk in the sunshine

Until you try them, these skills might be hard to understand; but once you give them a go, they should make sense; and with practice, they can give you the tools to manage your emotions, rather than your emotions managing you.  Good luck!


My 4D Toolkit Activity

ACCEPTChoose to Re-Act differently

Part of the 4D DBT Toolkit, this podcast helps explain how important it can be not to give in to negative emotions. Choosing to do the complete opposite, both physically and mentally can bring about very different results, leading to positive improvements.


For more information about ‘DBT’ skills check out the ’4D Toolkit’.

Related Pages: Emotion Regulation, Understanding emotions, Reduce emotional vulnerability,

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