When dealing with intense emotions, it’s easy for me to suppress them or turn to an addiction to soothe the pain. I’ve been learning over the years there are much better ways of doing this. First, by allowing the feelings to exist and, second, finding healthier ways to self-soothe.
I’ve been working with a Bipolar diagnosis for a while, and one of the hallmarks of the condition is extreme moodiness. My moods and emotions can swing back and forth very quickly. The emotions and feelings can also be quite intense. A day rarely goes by where I do not feel some type of intense sadness or emotional pain.
This doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless, though. I’ve been working on myself in therapy for several years and I’ve discovered many ways to cope with intense emotions. That being said, I’m certainly not perfect with using my coping strategies and I never will be. As we say in recovery, it’s progress and not perfection.
A few years ago, I began to study and practice what’s called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT for short. As I understand it, DBT is a therapeutic philosophy that was originally designed for people with borderline personality disorder. Professionals began to see, though, that DBT could be helpful to people with other mental health diagnoses.
DBT teaches a variety of techniques to deal with overwhelming emotions. People who frequently deal with intense emotions often react in self-destructive ways, falling prey to addictions or self-harm. DBT teaches mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness skills.
I have a paper copy of a DBT workbook that I go through often. The workbook has a bunch of exercises and readings that have made me more aware and better equipped to deal with emotions.
I’ve been thinking about it more often the past week or so because I also downloaded a DBT app on my phone. My go-to is usually the emotional regulation section. I recently checked it and saw the advice to “allow your feelings to exist without judging them.” I love this advice.
The reason I love it so much is because when I do have intense emotions, I often beat myself up about them. It sounds irrational and counter-intuitive, and it is, but I still do it. Emotional regulation in DBT teaches me to allow myself to feel sad, angry, or any other type of “negative” emotion I may be experiencing. Instead of repressing the emotion, I feel it, process it, and do something to soothe it without resorting to a bad habit.
For anyone who’s not familiar with DBT, I highly recommend it. Most people are more familiar with CBT, which is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT is also very helpful and I use those techniques, too, to get past distorted thoughts. DBT is less well known, but equally awesome.