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This week included some review of last week’s material for the benefit of me and another person, so you get a double-dose of emotion regulation DBT today. I’m starting to think this stuff is actually going to pay off.

We began with the DBT model of emotion, which is a process model that outlines different stages of an emotion. It seems weird to talk about emotion that way but from a physical/cognitive standpoint, emotions are indeed a process.

  1. Event: something that happens within yourself or the environment
  2. Thought: you make a judgment about the event
  3. Automatic response: internal body changes; urge to do something
  4. Behavior response: external body changes; action
  5. Emotion name: what emotion is this? Use body changes as cues.
  6. Aftereffects: consequences of the action I took

Sometimes I get a little fuzzy in my head when it comes to emotions.

I have to admit, when I slow down long enough to think about it, I’m surprised to find how often that I don’t know exactly what emotion I’m feeling – only that it’s unpleasant. Immediately following the description of the 6-stage model, there’s a fill-in-your-own-adventure version in which you describe how an emotion worked for you (last week’s homework, which I completed in class – quite reminiscent of middle school…)

Mine was about anxiety, rated 78 on a 100-point scale.

  1. Prompting event: thought about work I need to do, tried to sit down to work
  2. Interpretation: realize there is too much to do, I don’t know where to start, I won’t be able to finish
  3. Emotional experience: upset stomach, shaking hands, elevated heartrate; desire to avoid/self-medicate, hard to think straight, confused, jumpy, edge of tears
  4. Emotional expressions: worried look, compulsive cleaning/organizing, took an Ativan
  5. Aftereffects: makes me worry more, makes the work more emotionally charged, frustrated about time lost, feel helpless, continue to avoid working

The DBT emotion model also shows that the aftereffects then become prompting events. So when I get anxious, it makes me more anxious about being anxious in a self-generating loop of crazy thinking. Lovely, isn’t it? Right. A huge handout went with this one (13 pages!) about ways to describe emotions (apparently some people do not have the vocabulary.) The categories of emotions that are provided include love, joy, anger, sadness, fear, and shame. Two to one on negatives to positives, but whatever.

Then we went on to talk about the functions of emotions — what they do for us. From an evolutionary perspective, we wouldn’t have developed emotional capacity if it weren’t somehow useful. And there are obvious benefits, for example, fear prompts us to leave the scene when someone pulls out a sawed-off shotgun. I think most of us will agree that’s a good thing. But in our day-to-day experiences, what role does emotion play?

According to the handout entitled, “What Good Are Emotions?”, there are three good things emotions can do:

  • Emotions communicate to (and influence) others
  • Emotions organize and motivate action
  • Emotions can be self-validating

Each of those points goes into a bit of detail, but I’m willing to bet that in the next session, we’ll be going into more depth on them. And in any case, they’re pretty logical arguments for a functional role of emotions, as far as I’m concerned.

The associated homework was basically to build on last week’s assignment. I had to come up with a situation that occurs this week and analyze it with the following questions:

  1. What was the prompting event? Though about upcoming oral surgery.
  2. What was your interpretation? It will hurt, I don’t want to go through it again, it will fail again. Basically catastrophizing.
  3. What was the emotion and intensity (0-100)? Anxiety, 82 – stomachache, tension, worry, fear, nausea.
  4. Use the following to identify the function(s) of the emotion:
    1. Did the emotion communicate something to others or influence their behavior? No.
    2. Did the emotion organize or motivate you to do something? It reminded me to check my pre-op instructions (which I promptly forgot to do.)
    3. Did the emotion give you information, color your perception, or lead you to any conclusions? I realized that it would be smart to take the anxiety meds preemptively before the surgery appointment to prevent a panic attack.

So that moment of anxiety was probably worth the insight. Working that stuff out sounds easy enough on paper, but it can be pretty challenging. However, it’s actually quite enlightening to critically think through emotional experiences this way.

And of course, there was some weather event that led to DBT being cancelled for this week. Until next week, then.

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