When to Use DBT Crisis Survival Skills vs. Sitting with Emotions

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Managing intense emotions effectively is crucial for mental well-being, particularly for individuals dealing with emotional sensitivity or Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) offers powerful tools for such challenges, distinguishing between crisis survival strategies under its distress tolerance module and the practice of sitting with emotions. Understanding when to employ each approach can greatly enhance emotional regulation and resilience. Here’s a guide to help you discern which method to use in different emotional scenarios.

When to Use DBT Crisis Survival Skills vs. Sitting with Emotions

Understanding DBT Crisis Survival Skills

DBT’s crisis survival skills are designed for situations where emotions become overwhelmingly intense, potentially leading to harmful behavior or decisions. These techniques are practical in “crisis” scenarios where immediate relief is needed to prevent acting on impulsive, destructive urges. The primary goal is to help individuals navigate through a crisis without making the situation worse. Key skills include:

  1. Distraction: Focusing on something other than the distressing emotion, such as engaging in a hobby or physical activity.
  2. Self-Soothing: Calming oneself through the five senses, like listening to soothing music, enjoying a favorite scent, or taking a warm bath.
  3. Improving the Moment: Using techniques such as imagery, relaxation, and making comparisons to put the distress into perspective.
  4. Pros and Cons: Evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of not acting on harmful urges versus succumbing to them.

When to Use DBT Crisis Survival Skills

Crisis survival skills should be used when:

  • Emotions Threaten Safety: If there is a risk of self-destructive behavior.
  • Emotions Are Overwhelming: When emotions are so intense that they impair your ability to function or think clearly.
  • You Need to Prevent Destructive Actions: In moments when immediate actions could lead to negative consequences, like substance abuse or verbal outbursts.

Exploring the Practice of Sitting with Emotions

Sitting with emotions, on the other hand, is a mindfulness technique that involves observing and accepting feelings without judgment. This practice does not aim to change the emotion but rather to understand and accept its presence. It’s about developing tolerance to emotional discomfort, recognizing that emotions are temporary and do not need to dictate actions.

When to Sit with Emotions

Consider sitting with emotions when:

  • Emotions Are Intense but Not Overwhelming: When feelings are strong but manageable, and there is no immediate risk of harm.
  • You’re Learning About Emotional Patterns: To better understand emotional triggers and the natural lifespan of your emotional responses.
  • You’re Building Emotional Regulation: To enhance your capacity to tolerate discomfort without resorting to destructive behaviors.

Guidelines for Choosing the Right Approach

  1. Assess the Intensity of the Emotion: Gauge whether the emotion is so intense that it could lead to unsafe behavior. If yes, crisis survival skills are appropriate. If the emotion is intense but not dangerous, try sitting with it.
  2. Evaluate the Situation: If the emotional response is to a passing event or a solvable problem, sitting with the emotion may be more beneficial. For ongoing crises that need immediate action to prevent worsening, use crisis survival skills.
  3. Consider the Long-Term Goals: If the goal is to build long-term emotional resilience and understanding, sitting with emotions is appropriate. For immediate stability in a crisis, turn to DBT skills.

Both DBT crisis survival skills and sitting with emotions are invaluable tools in the journey towards emotional well-being. By understanding when to use each, individuals can better navigate their emotional landscapes, leading to more balanced and fulfilling lives. Whether managing a temporary crisis or working towards deeper emotional understanding, the right approach at the right time can make a significant difference.

For a resource designed to help with coping with emotions, click here.