Emotional Vulnerability: 4 Skills DBT Can Teach You to Manage Overwhelm

overwhelmed woman with her head down and coveredPerhaps you found yourself dealing with some emotional vulnerability and ate too much comfort food and it still didn’t comfort. You may have raged at those you loved most or pushed away those you really want close. Maybe you tried to drown your sorrows with alcohol but find they still gather in waves of overwhelm.

When the latest emotional storm passed, did you wonder,” What’s wrong with me?”

If emotional overwhelm is fueling strong emotional reactivity that is making you miserable, you are likely dealing with emotional vulnerability. And things can get pretty intense.

This is not about something being wrong with you. You’re not broken. But you do have some emotional challenges that are probably driven by a combination of factors that may be genetic or activated by past trauma or neglect.

And more than likely, the way you’ve been coping (avoidance, substance abuse, volatility, withdrawal, etc) are not helping you live the life you long for. And they might be making things worse.

So you need a change. It’s good that you recognize that. Good work.

Now you can make change happen.

How? With help, and  DBT-skills therapy.

4 Skills DBT Can Teach You to Manage Emotional Vulnerability

1. Mindfulness

Emotionally vulnerable people often experience emotions in a more intense manner. Do you have a hard time returning to a stable feeling once upset? Mindfulness might be an excellent tool or skill to practice.

Why? Through a meditative process, you’ll learn to slow down your thoughts and notice them without judgment or actively trying to control them.  You simply access your thoughts and accept them as they are. This helps alleviate the tendency to act impulsively or rashly.

As the goal in mindfulness is to remain open and aware of your internal thoughts, feelings, triggers, and responses, you also learn to stay present and engaged. Thereby, you are less inclined to feel overcome by worry and upset.

2. Interpersonal Effectiveness

The emotionally reactive aspects of being emotionally vulnerable can be extremely isolating. People may not understand your impulsivity or tendency toward angry outbursts. You may be frustrated by your difficulty connecting with people or feel perpetually misunderstood. All of this can make you very lonely.

DBT can help by encouraging you to learn and employ strategies for interpersonal effectiveness. These skills include clearly asking for what you need, saying no when necessary, and managing conflicts with other people.

Why are these important?

Mastering interpersonal effectiveness skills will help you become more aware and attuned to your effect on others. These skills are meant to help you see and hear yourself more clearly. You can take these steps to recognize how your behavior impacts your relationships then come up with solutions to make the kinds of positive changes that will facilitate better relationships.

3. Emotion Regulation

Emotion regulation skills address emotional vulnerability directly. It is, essentially, the skills associated with regulating out-of-control states of emotion. This approach can affect positive change over time while giving you immediate tools for coping with overwhelm when it happens. Emotional regulation skill sets include the following tools:

Opposite action — Your body and emotions are linked inexorably. What happens to you emotionally inspires a somatic, or bodily, response.  For example, if you’re feeling sadness you may naturally withdraw from other people. If you follow the idea of opposite action, you would decide instead to pursue time with friends or meet up with coworkers. Behaving in a manner opposite of your usual action facilitates actual change in your emotions.

Checking the facts — This skill is built upon a bit of investigative work. You’ll practice asking questions like, “What happened to trigger my emotion?” and “ What assumptions did I make about the event to cause my overreaction?”

Do your emotions feel out of control or overwhelming? The emotion regulation quiz can help you identify which dimension of emotion regulation to focus on in order to achieve greater satisfaction and peace.

This will help you check the facts as an event is happening and give you a way to dial back the intensity of those extreme emotional waves.

P.L.E.A.S.E. — PLEASE Mastery, a DBT technique, is centered on tempering emotional vulnerability through intentional maintenance of a balanced lifestyle. PLEASE is an acronym that serves as a reminder of how to take care of yourself and avoid susceptibility emotional outbursts.

PL: Physical illness

E: Eat in a balanced way

A: Avoid mood-altering substances

S: Sleep well

E: Exercise

Focus on positive events — The goal is to learn to pay attention to what is good, edifying, and positive. Practice will help you avoid rumination and concentration on what exacerbates negative emotion overwhelms you.

4. Distress Tolerance

Distress Tolerance is about coping well in a crisis. You can learn to skip the emotional outbursts, impulsive overreactions, and that stuck feeling that is so difficult to overcome.

DBT techniques for distress tolerance include the following:

Radical Acceptance — Some things are out of our control. Your emotional vulnerability may lead you to ruminate on the thought that you shouldn’t be in a situation or that it is inherently unfair to you. Radical acceptance is a healthier way to think about the situation. Learning to accept the problem as it is and not focus on how it should be different promotes less anxiety, anger, and eventual overwhelm.

Self-Soothe — DBT advocates self-soothing with your five senses. Try to engage your five senses to mitigate your responses to negative emotions.

For example, engage all five senses when you go for a walk outside. Pay attention to the trees or sky. Listen for wildlife. Touch the leaves or the earth. Smell flowers. Take a piece of fruit with you to taste along the way.

Distraction — Intense negative feelings eventually burn out, but you may find it helpful to distract yourself until the emotions pass. DBT uses the acronym ACCEPTS to remind you how to keep your mind occupied when overwhelm sets in.

A: Activities requiring thought and concentration.

C: Contributing to something meaningful

C: Comparing your situation to something worse

E: Evoking a competing emotion

P: Pushing the emotions from your mind

T: Thoughts first, save emotions for later

S: Safe Sensations created to distract emotions

Don’t Think You Can Develop These New Skills?

You won’t be alone in this. Our Houston-based Dialectical Behavioral Therapy group will help you develop these four skill areas. You can live a life less ruled by your emotions. You’ve done the best you can. Let us help you turn the emotional corner necessary for a happier, more fulfilling life and relationships.

Call us today at 832-559-2622 to find out more about our DBT Skills Therapy Group for adults and teens.

Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP on Twitter
Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP
Rachel’s passion is to help people discover their personal gifts and strengths to achieve self-acceptance, create a healthy relationship with food, mind and body, and find meaning and fulfillment in work and life roles. She helps people create nurturance and healing from within to restore balance and enoughness and overcome binge eating, emotional eating, anxiety, depression and lack of career fulfillment.

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