DBT Skill: How to Observe and Describe Emotions

Module: Emotion Regulation

DBT Worksheet:
Emotion Regulation Worksheet 4A – Observing and Describing Emotions

In order to learn how to observe and describe emotions, covered in DBT Group: Week Three. I thought it might help to give some guidelines, based on the Worksheet, for those who don’t have access to the Worksheets.

Since the copyright of the content belongs to Marsha M. Linehan, and cannot be reprinted without permission, I’ll be paraphrasing what’s on the Worksheet.

To actually see and use the Worksheet you will need the DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets book.

If you do have access to the Handouts and Worksheets, I highly suggest using the 10 pages of Ways to Describe Emotions to help you the first few times you observe and describe emotions.

I’ll do my best to give as close a guideline to the Worksheet as possible.

  1. Name the Emotion
    First, choose the emotion you want to dig further into. It could be an emotion you felt recently, or one you are currently experiencing.
  1. Rate the emotion’s intensity.
    Next is to rate the intensity of the emotion. On the Worksheet it’s from 0-100, but you can do 0-10, or whatever works for you. The key is to determine how great are you, or were you feeling the emotion in the moment.
  1. What happened that brought up the emotion?
    Describe the situation, you don’t need to go into great detail, of what happened that brought up the emotion for you.
  1. Is there anything that could be contributing to why this emotion came up, or why it was so intense?
    These are called “Vulnerability Factors”. I’ll be doing a short post to go into detail of vulnerability factors because it comes up a lot in DBT.
    For example: If Anger is the emotion, then a ‘vulnerability factor’ could be that you didn’t sleep well the night before and are feeling grumpy, or agitated; or it could be that the relationship is tense to begin with leading to a predisposition of agitation even before the situation, and exacerbating it after; or it could be anything that may directly or indirectly affect the emotion that came up, and its intensity.
  1. How are you interpreting the situation?
    Are you making assumptions about the situation? Are there any beliefs about yourself, the situation, or the other person, that might colour or cloud how you’re interpreting the situation?
  1. What are you feeling in your body?
    Are you feeling tense? Tightness in the chest? Throat achy? Is your jaw clenched? Are you holding your breath, or breathing rapidly?
  1. What urge are you feeling?
    Are you feeling like physically responding to the situation and emotion? If you’re angry, do you want to yell? Or do you want to punch something? If you’re sad, do you want to cry?
  1. How is, or was you posture, or your expression?
    If someone were looking at you as you experienced the emotion, could they tell by your face, or posture what emotion you were feeling?
  1. What did you say in the situation?
  1. What did you do in the situation?
  1. How did you feel after the situation?
    Did it affect the rest of your day? Did it affect how you spoke or treated others? Did you think of it for a short while, or for the rest of the day?

That’s it. Those are the guidelines.

By going through what you thought, how you saw the situation, what you felt physically, what you wanted to do, if anything, and how it did or didn’t affect the rest of your day or mood, can help break down the emotion and situation into digestible steps. This allows you to see where you might be able to change the situation, or how you respond to it the next time it occurs. It can show you where maybe you assumed something that wasn’t actually happening or relevant to the situation.

It can also help to figure out if you’re dealing with a primary or secondary emotion.

Learning how you respond to any given situation is key to becoming more aware of your emotions as they happen, and gives you better opportunity to either change the situation, or the emotion.

Bye for now!

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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