DBT Group: Week Six – Problem Solving to Change 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 12 – Problem Solving
Handout Reference:
Emotion Regulation Handout 13 – Reviewing Opposite Action and Problem Solving (3 pgs)
Emotion Regulation Worksheet 8 – Problem Solving to Change Emotions

Emotion Regulation Handout 7 – Overview: Changing Emotional Responses
– Checking the Facts
– Doing Action Opposite to Emotion
– Working to Solve the Problem

Starting with:
Emotion Regulation Handout 7 – Overview: Changing Emotional Responses
Third Box (Overview): Problem Solving
Moving to:
Emotion Regulation Handout 12 – Problem Solving

Alright, so this section I really liked, for two reasons. The first reason I liked it was because I wanted to know how does one “problem solve” an emotion anyway? I was most curious to find out. And the second reason was because I wanted to know if it worked, or if it was complete bullcrap.

Going through the homework for this one, I chose the emotion of Anger. I have been struggling for a long time with a health issue, and it was really starting to piss me off. I felt that I had done all that I could and the rest was unfortunately up to nature and my body. I wasn’t happy about this.

Folks, before I continue, let me give you a little tip when using the problem solving steps, maybe not start with a health issue that is pissing you off, because you’ll quickly come to an end in filling out the Worksheet. By default, with health issues, you are very limited in what you can do, and what science and medicine can do too. So the steps to problem solve may not be able to offer you other solutions that you can do for yourself.
As I encountered this very issue myself. As I went through the steps I kept getting stumped as to what to answer because I’d already seen my doctors, I’d already tried several treatments, so there was very little left by what else I could do. This meant my Worksheet was slightly less than half-filled for this one.

In order to illustrate the steps of problem-solving I’m going to use another situation that I didn’t do for homework.

The emotion is still Anger, frustration actually, and it felt pretty intense too, about an 80 out of 100.

The situation is that there is this project I am working on and I received some feedback that I didn’t quite understand, and because I didn’t understand it, I didn’t know how to incorporate the changes that they requested me to make.

Fear was also an emotion in this situation because I was very afraid to ask for clarification on the feedback. I thought I would look stupid, and incompetent, and that I would be taken off the project.

Now if I look at the facts of the situation, for the anger, things were not turning out as I expected, and an important goal of mine was being blocked, but I need to note here that things not turning out as I expected, and the goal being blocked, were both because I was angry at myself. I was angry that I was not doing as well as I had expected to, and because I couldn’t figure out the instruction, my goal was blocked.

I think it’s really important to be aware of who the emotion is directed at, especially when filling out the Worksheet because it makes a big difference in the solutions, and what you may or may not pursue, based on who your angry at. Is it me I’m angry with? Or the person who sent me the feedback? It was me.

I recognized that I was mad at myself, and so the Worksheet took on a different tone. The next step, after the situation has been described is what is a short term goal that I can achieve to feel that I am making progress in this situation?

This frankly, is a damn good question. What has to happen for me to feel I’ve made progress? Well, understanding the feedback would be great.

This however is not a short term goal. This is the problem. So I need to rephrase this to what has to happen for me to understand the feedback. I think that’s a better question. The obvious answer would probably be to go back to the person and ask for clarification, but my response to that is, let’s call that Plan B. Because of that other emotion of fear is still floating around, and it’s keeping me from asking. Since I can’t get past the fear, I’m going to see what other solutions there might be, if any.

To answer my question from what needs to happen for me to understand the feedback actually moves me to the next step of brainstorming ideas. What else can I do to understand the feedback given to me?

  • I can break down the instructions, line by line, and work on it in small parts to understand the bigger picture
  • I can go online and do some research around the feedback I was given and see if there are any samples or examples similar to what I’m working on that might help me see it in a different perspective
  • I can ask friends to read the feedback and see if they understand it and can help me
  • I can proceed with my best guess of what they mean and hope I’m right
  • I can bite the bullet, and just ask for further clarification
  • I can quit the project, consider myself a failure, and an idiot for even thinking I could do this in the first place

Yes, folks, that last one was an option (no bad ideas when brainstorming!). I was so terrified to ask because it seemed to me that the person giving me the feedback was under the impression that I would understand what they sent me, and be able to proceed. If I go back and ask, they may start to wonder if I am qualified to do this project. I am already wondering this but they don’t know that. And until I’m sure I’ve exhausted all other options I can think of, and have no choice but to go back to them, then they don’t need to know just yet.

Which brings us to the next step: Pros and Cons. My view on this was that I could do this one of two ways. I could list the Pros and Cons of continuing on this project, or I could list the Pros and Cons of asking for clarification. Since this was really the best solution to the problem. To be honest, it felt like a cop out to even consider quitting the project over this, when I already knew I really didn’t want to leave it. I was just too afraid to ask for help.

So the Pros and Cons of asking for help…
Asking for Help
– Get a direct, clear answer from the person who sent the feedback in the first place
– Will know exactly what was meant by the feedback instead of getting the answer elsewhere who may be wrong in what was meant
– They might be pleased knowing that something I don’t understand I am not afraid to ask for help
– They could respect me for being able to admit I need help or clarification

– They will know that I didn’t understand their feedback
– They will know that I am unable to proceed
– They might re-consider if I’m qualified to do this
– They might take me off the project

Okay then…

Not Asking for Help
– They won’t know that I have no idea what they mean
– I can hopefully figure it out so they never have to know
– I won’t be thought of as unqualified
– I stay on the project

– I may not figure out what they mean on my own
– I may misunderstand what they mean if I don’t ask for clarification
– I might not complete the task, or complete it successfully
– They may wonder why I didn’t just ask for help
– They may not respect me as much knowing I was too afraid to ask for help

You guys might be reading this thinking that the answer is still painfully obvious but you need to understand how scared I was to admit I didn’t understand it. I was terrified. And I was absolutely certain it would mean coming off the project.

Next thing for me to do is, make a decision. What was I going to do? From my list of brainstorming, and breaking down the Pros and Cons of the most obvious, and let’s be honest, the quickest way to understand the feedback. Guess what I chose? Give up. I decided to break it down, line by line, and research online what I could for samples of the suggestions given to me. I was determined (read: stubborn and scared) to try and figure this out on my own.

And get this? It worked. I actually did figure it out. I broke it down to line by line of the instruction, and worked to understand each piece individually, and then understand the big picture. It took me longer than it would have had I just asked for clarification but I was proud that I did end up figuring it out by myself. I admit too that I was relieved I didn’t have to ask.

You need to understand that when I encounter something I don’t understand, even if it’s something that there is no reason I should know what it means, from feedback to the definition of a word, I could have absolutely zero exposure to a concept, and have never seen or heard a word before, but when I encounter it, I feel I need to get it by myself. I don’t know why.

To be honest, the likelihood of me being considered incompetent or unqualified was really low, and even lower that I would be kicked off the project altogether. My fear of what is really an assumption that I can’t back up with facts, but it was still strong enough to me that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Did I reach my goal? Yes. As a matter of fact, I did. Although I went about it the long way.

Considering that my original problem was that I was angry at myself for not understanding some instructions given to me about a project I am working on, the problem solving worked. It actually worked on two levels because in the brainstorming I ended up figuring it out by myself. And the second thing was, especially through the Pros and Cons, how many assumptions I was making, none of which based on hard facts. That me asking for help would mean I’d be seen as incompetent or unqualified. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. I doubt that I would have been the first to ask.

An additional benefit I learned was that if I was patient with myself, and instead of getting angry for not knowing right off the bat, I can take some time, and break it down, and it’s possible I could figure it out on my own.

I need to really consider my fear, and even the anger, because I am assuming an awful lot by keeping it to myself and not asking for help. I am assuming a threat and/or a catastrophe that is highly unlikely to happen in this situation. They are all assumptions, until I ask.

Problem solving is quite effective, through checking the facts, realizing assumptions, knowing what needs to happen for the emotion and situation to change, brainstorming ideas, and doing pros and cons of the best ideas from that list. It may seem like a lot, and it does take some time, but it’s exceptionally effective.

I highly recommend using the Pros and Cons list whenever making a decision that you’re unsure of how to proceed. It is extremely helpful.

Doing the Pros and Cons of what happens if you choose “X” solution, but also doing Pros and Cons of NOT choosing “X” solution allows for a more complete picture of what you’re dealing with, and can really help to point to the best solution.
I use Pros and Cons a lot actually.

That covers the Worksheet taken up as homework.

The second half of the group, the lesson was about reducing vulnerability to emotion mind.

When we are in “Emotion Mind” we tend to make hasty, rash decisions, we often don’t consider the consequences, and the decisions we end up with we often tend to regret.

The balance is to make decisions in “Wise Mind”, a combination of emotion mind and reasonable mind. “Wise Mind” will be covered in greater detail in the next module: Mindfulness.

But while in Emotion Regulation, it helps to learn how to reduce the factors that make us vulnerable to making hasty or uninformed decisions in emotion mind.

That’s it for now! See ya soon!

Homework Assigned:
Handout (Reading):
Emotion Regulation Handout 14 – Overview: Reducing Vulnerability to Emotion Mind – Building a Life Worth Living
Emotion Regulation Handout 15 – Accumulating Positive Emotions: Short Term
Emotion Regulation Handout 16 – Pleasant Events List (3 pgs)
Emotion Regulation Handout 17 – Accumulating Positive Emotions: Long Term
Emotion Regulation Handout 18 – Values and Priorities List (3 pgs)
Emotion Regulation Worksheet 10 – Pleasant Events Diary
Emotion Regulation Worksheet 11A – Getting from Values to Specific Action Steps

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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