Emotion Regulation Skills for Self-Harm Using DBT

June 26, 2019 Kayla Chang

You can regulate your emotions and better respond to distress through dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills training. Dialectical behavior therapy emotional regulation skills have proven to be especially effective in people struggling with self-harm and other self-destructive, maladaptive behavior. 

What Are DBT Skills?

Though DBT can seem complicated at first glance, DBT skills training is essentially composed of four modules: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness

Together, these skills teach patients how to recognize and honor their emotions, regulate emotional intensity, and respond to them without the use of maladaptive coping mechanisms.

Today, we will be taking a look at emotion regulation in DBT. 

What Is Emotion Regulation?

Emotion regulation skills teach patients how to manage negative and overwhelming emotions while also increasing positive emotions. The goals of emotion regulation are to help you identify and understand the purpose of your emotions, decrease emotional vulnerability, and reduce emotional suffering.

There are several skills within this module, many of which overlap in their goals. For simplicity’s sake, we will categorize these skills according to the goal with which they best correspond.

Understand and Identify Emotions

The key to emotion regulation is understanding that emotions are not “bad.” They help motivate and organize action, communicate with others, and communicate to ourselves. This skill addresses myths about emotions, such as “My emotions are who I am” or “There is a right way to feel in every situation.” It also makes the distinction between primary emotions (initial reactions to an experience) versus secondary emotions (reactions to one’s thoughts or feelings about an experience) and emphasizes the importance of naming both.

In an effort to understand and identify your emotions, you start by reviewing more descriptions labels for emotions, the prompting events that precede an emotion, interpretations of those events that prompted the emotion, expressions, and actions associated with the emotion, and their after-effects.

What to Try When You Need Emotion Regulation

Decrease Emotional Vulnerability

“ABC” Skills

  • Accumulate positive emotions. In the short-term, do incorporate pleasant activities into your day. In the long-term, create goals and step-by-step plans for meeting those goals in order to build an overall more positive life.
  • Build mastery. Do things that make you feel competent and effective. This will help you combat feelings of helplessness.
  • Cope ahead of time. Rehearse a plan beforehand to cope with upcoming emotional situations. Describe the situation and your potential reactions, know which skills you will use, and visualize yourself coping effectively.

“PLEASE” Skills

  • Physical illness -- Pay attention to your health and get regular check-ups.
  • Eat balanced meals. 
  • Avoid mood-altering substances. 
  • Balance sleep. 
  • Exercise.

Reduce Emotional Suffering

“Check the Facts” and “Opposite Action”

Evaluate if an emotional reaction fits the facts of the situation. If if you find that it does, use problem-solving skills to come up with a solution to the situation, or leave the situation if appropriate. 

If if you find that the emotional reaction does not fit, take “opposite action” by engaging in behaviors directly opposite to the behaviors you would typically use when experiencing the emotion. 

These skills may sound vague if you are not familiar with DBT but it will become easier and more natural with practice. Learning these emotion regulation skills will help you understand and make peace with your emotions and empower you to manage them effectively.


  1. Bray, S., “Emotion Regulation in Dialectical Behavior Therapy.” March 18, 2013.
  2. Linehan, M., “Emotion Regulation Handouts”. DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition. 2015. 

APA Reference
Chang, K. (2019, June 26). Emotion Regulation Skills for Self-Harm Using DBT, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 20 from

Author: Kayla Chang

You can find Kayla on Google+.

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