DBT Group: Week Three – Ways to Describe Emotions

Module: Emotion Regulation
List of Handouts and Worksheets covered in group and assigned as homework will be listed at the end of this post.

Homework Take-Up:
Emotion Regulation Handout 6 – Ways to Describe Emotions
Emotion Regulation Worksheet 4A – Observing and Describing Emotions

Picking up from where we left off with learning about ways to describe emotions…

Starting with:
Emotion Regulation Handout 2 – Overview: Understanding and Naming Emotions
Fourth Box (Overview): Ways to Describe Emotions*
Moving to:
Emotion Regulation Handout 6: Ways to Describe Emotions
*For those of you who noticed, or are wondering about the Third Box from the Overview page, it contains a Model for Describing Emotions. The model looks a lot like a machine that can put describing and observing through the works, via arrow and boxes and whatnot, and then spit out an emotion at the end of it. It breaks down into a visual map of how complex emotions are and how it works like a system (as per DBT Skills Training Manual), with one piece or part leading to the next. The model wasn’t discussed in group, but for those interested, it is Emotion Regulation Handout 5 – Model for Describing Emotions.

Ways to Describe Emotions
Each of the 10 pages covers one emotion per page.
The emotions are:
– Anger
– Shame
– Happiness
– Love
– Guilt
– Sadness
– Fear
– Envy
– Jealousy
– Disgust

Each page covers the main emotion, variations or synonyms of the main emotion, prompting events for the emotion, interpretations of events that prompted the emotion, biological changes and experiences of the emotion, expressions and actions of the emotions, and the aftereffects of the emotion.

For example (I’ll only give a sample of each section):
Main Emotion: Anger
Variations or Synonyms of Anger: aggravation, annoyance, bitterness, frustration, fury, outrage, etc.
Prompting Events for Feeling Anger: You or someone you care about being attacked or threatened by others. Etc.
Interpretations of Events that Prompt Feelings of Anger: Believing that you have been treated unfairly. Believing that things “should” be different. Etc.
Biological Changes and Expressions of Anger: Muscles tightening; Hands clenching; etc.
Expressions and Actions of Anger: Physically or verbally attacking; Using a loud, quarrelsome voice; etc.
Aftereffects of Anger: Narrowing of attention; Ruminating; Etc.

When I first flipped through the 10 pages of emotions I was overwhelmed to say the least. I didn’t know there were so many emotions, and couldn’t believe these were all out there. I felt like where did all these emotions come from? I had heard of them of course but when it comes to feeling, I could narrow mine down to half a dozen or so (I’m including the variations and synonyms). I typically move between three states of emotion: fear, shame and numbness. Actually I guess I can’t count numbness since that’s a feeling, or lack thereof. But fear and shame paint my world in either black or white. I do feel frustrated a lot, as well as annoyed, and guilty, but I am always quick to move from frustration, or the others, to either fear or shame, or both. One thing I can tell you is regardless of what I am feeling, if it’s a difficult or overwhelming emotion, which for me, really they all are, I almost immediately move to avoid it, ignore it, or suppress it. Difficult emotions for me are very near to being totally intolerable for me.

If there is any emotion I can handle, it’s fear. I have spent a great amount of time with fear. I am so used to fear that I often switch from the initial (or primary) emotion to fear so it becomes an emotion I feel more comfortable to handle. This is particularly true of when I feel any variation of anger. Anger, in short, terrifies me. Has for years. Especially other people’s anger. But even my own anger will send me running to either fear or total numbness so fast that I often completely missed that I felt anger in the first place. I find anger totally intolerable. So when I move into fear or shame, it’s often the secondary emotion I’m experiencing.

Secondary Emotions
What a secondary emotion is, is the emotion that comes up in response to the initial (primary) emotion, or is in response to the interpretation or assumption that was made of the primary emotion. For example, when I feel anger and I automatically move to fear or shame, it’s actually the fear or shame I find myself trying to handle, avoid, ignore, or suppress. I rarely give my emotions a chance to have their say and tell me what’s going on. This is where Handout 6 – Ways to Describe Emotions really can help because of the breakdown into detail of what we experience when we feel an emotion.

Really I urge anyone going through DBT Skills, whether on their own or not, to give a considerable look to all 10 pages of Handout 6 because it is an invaluable source to figure out what we’re feeling. It’s particularly helpful when looking over the Interpretations of the events that prompted the emotion, and the biological changes that occur. It’s worth noting that often our bodies know what we are feeling before we become aware; when our chest tightens; when our fists clench; or when our throat aches. These are the first cues we get as to what emotion has come up, and it’s usually to these cues that we respond to and instead move to the secondary emotion.

By breaking down the emotion through observation and description allows you to see if first you are dealing with a primary or secondary emotion, although it can be tricky to separate primary from secondary emotions because there are a few interpretations or biological changes that overlap in a few of the emotions. But taking each of markers as a whole can help to identify the emotion.

It will definitely take some practice to be able to identify and name the emotion, and figuring out if it’s a primary or secondary emotion will take even more practice. I am still working on identifying my emotion, and have yet to be able to differentiate if it’s the primary or secondary emotion. I need my DBT therapists’ help for that, for now.

A Word About Interpretations
One of the trickiest things to navigate when it comes to emotions are the interpretations that we have with them. These are assumptions, beliefs, and even judgments that plague us as an emotion takes hold. The thoughts that race around inside our minds like marbles spilled into our head, bouncing and banging off of each other, and we feel powerless to control or stop them. The worst part about these interpretations is that they are often not true. When we think “I am failure”, “something is wrong with me”, “why can’t I do this?”, or believing that we are helpless, hopeless, worthless, or unlovable. How we interpret an emotion is instrumental in how we do or do not handle our emotions. Often it is in the interpretation that we are able to change how we feel because our interpretation has changed. One of the most effective ways to work through our interpretations and assumptions is to check the facts.  (Check the facts will be covered in more detail in Week Four). But it’s important to note here that are assumptions can sometimes carry great weight in determining how we feel, how we handle it, or not, and is often the reason we are moved to action, as opposed to responding or reacting to the prompting event itself.

In the second half of the group, building on identifying, naming, observing, and describing emotions, we moved to learning how to change our emotions. Starting with Check the Facts.

Now that the emotion is named, we can work towards changing it, or moving on from it. To start, we need to check the facts. We need to challenge the interpretations and assumptions, and break the situation down to just the facts in order to be able to properly manage them. Without stripping away all our beliefs, assumptions, and interpretations, we are stuck in a cycle of trying to figure out where we are at, what we are feeling, and how to move forward.

Check the facts is fast becoming a favourite of mine because it tears away all the obstacles, and crap, that keep from getting to the heart of the matter, deal with it, and move on. I was anxious (in a good way) to put this to the test because I so fiercely believed in my assumptions that I assumed they were already facts. I thought I was already dealing with the facts. Well it turns out, I was mistaken. I was pleasantly surprised at how effective this was. So much of my mind was clouded by crap that I finally got to see what was really going on with me. It was quite enlightening. As you’ll see…in the next post 😉

Handouts Covered:
Emotion Regulation Handout 6 – Ways to Describe Emotions
Worksheets Covered:
Emotion Regulation Worksheet 4A – Observing and Describing Emotions

Homework Assigned:
Emotion Regulation Handout 8 – Check the Facts
Emotion Regulation Worksheet 5 – Check the Facts

Skills, Handouts, and Worksheets from DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan. Copyright 2015 by Marsha M. Linehan.


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