What Are DBT Emotion Regulation Skills?

Emotion regulation is a dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skill to help us understand the function of emotions, the action urge that accompanies each emotion, and whether to heed or oppose these urges. The following skills also help reduce vulnerability, increase resiliency against unwanted emotions, and improve overall mental health.

Why We Use Emotion Regulation

Emotional regulation reduces vulnerability toward unwanted emotions and increases emotional resiliency when these feelings do come up. While DBT includes other skills such as distress tolerance to help you cope with difficult emotions in the moment, emotion regulation strategies are preventative.

Understanding Our Emotions

Each emotion you experience has a specific purpose. These feelings provide information to you about the situation you’re in. This is often referred to as our “gut instinct”. An example of this could be meeting a stranger who, on the surface, seems perfectly decent. But for some reason, you feel uneasy-without being able to pinpoint the exact reason. This reaction comes from your emotions advising you that something is off. It’s important to note that emotions are not always accurate assessors or your situation, but it’s worthing listening to them. Additionally, emotions communicate our feelings to those around us1, whether verbal or nonverbal (such as a facial expression).

Identify the emotion you’re feeling and consider what this emotion may be trying to tell you about your situation.

Emotions are also able to influence those around us to feel similarly. When a person is feeling hurt, a caring friend can help uplift her spirit. On the contrary, if we angrily gossip and spread rumors about another person, those who hear the gossip may also begin to feel negatively about this person.

In some circumstances, such as a “fight or flight” case, our emotional experience is so quick that we don’t mentally process what happened until after the fact. This happens because another function of emotions is to encourage us to respond or react in certain ways. Our bodies instinctively try to keep us safe from situations that seem dangerous.

When you notice that you’re experiencing an emotion, observe it without judgement. While some emotions may be more pleasant than others, each is valuable. Identify the emotion you’re feeling and consider what this emotion may be trying to tell you about your situation. Then, you can decide whether to listen to the emotion or let it go.

Emotion Regulation Skills


The purpose of the ABC PLEASE skills are to decrease your vulnerability to experiencing unwanted emotions. In the past, these skills were known as “PLEASE MASTER”.



Accumulating positive experiences: By regularly participating in activities that we enjoy, as well as setting and working toward long-term goals, most of the negative experiences we have won’t seem as detrimental.



Build mastery: This skill reminds us to constantly work on improving ourselves and our talents. As we learn and master a new hobby or skill, we feel successful and accomplished on a regular basis. We become more confident and learn that we can be successful in other areas, as well.



Cope Ahead: We are often aware of the situations that will make us uncomfortable before they happen. Coping ahead helps us to prepare in advance for these situations. If, for example, you have a test coming up, you are able to prepare ahead by studying, talking with your teacher, and identifying a self-soothing skill to use during the test. This preparation will likely decrease the anxiety you feel before and throughout the exam.



Treating physical illness
Balanced eating
Avoiding mood-altering drugs (non prescribed)
Balanced sleep

The PLEASE skills are guidelines to help us take care of our physical health, since our physical health is closely tied to our mental health. When we are sick, exhausted, or otherwise unhealthy, we are more susceptible to negative emotions. By caring for our bodies we increase the likelihood of a more positive emotional experience.

Opposite Action

The dialectical behavior therapy skill of opposite action helps us take control of our emotions when they don’t fit the facts. Each emotion we experience comes with an action urge, or behavior, associated with it. After identifying the emotion you’re experiencing, try to identify the associated behavior. If you are feeling ashamed, the behavior might be isolating from others2. If you are feeling happy, the behavior might be smiling. When you are feeling proud, it might be giving the person a hug. Exactly what the action looks like will be different for everyone, but each person experiences an urge associated with each emotion they feel.

The dialectical behavior therapy skill of opposite action helps us take control of our emotions when they don’t fit the facts.

Often, these action urges make sense for the situation you’re in. These urges are often intended to protect you. But emotions aren’t always right. For example, feeling fearful before public speaking and having the urge to run away doesn’t fit the fact. Public speaking does not put your life in danger; therefore, you don’t need to run away. When the emotion doesn’t fit the fact, you’ll want to identify an action that opposes the emotional urge. If you’re feeling ashamed and experience the urge to isolate, you could intentionally seek out the companionship of a safe friend and speak your shame. While this is easier said than done, you’ll almost certainly feel better afterwards. Individuals with borderline personality disorder may find opposite action particularly useful, as their action urge is commonly a self-destructive behavior. Though challenging, the opposite action strategies can reduce and eventually eliminate self-destructive urges.

Opposite action is most effective when it’s done “all the way”, meaning that you act opposite in thoughts, words, and deeds. Although it’s difficult at first, continue practicing opposite action until you start to feel differently. Eventually the action urge will be replaced with the new, more productive action. Because you know how to counter the urges of your unpleasant emotions, they’ll be easier to tolerate and you will bounce back quicker.

When we regularly practice the ABC PLEASE skills, we keep ourselves more mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy.

Each time we practice an emotion regulation skill, we decrease the likelihood that a negative emotion will severely impact us. When we regularly practice the ABC PLEASE skills, we keep ourselves more mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy. This increases our positive emotions and reduced vulnerability to unpleasant emotions. By identifying our emotions and their urges, as well as evaluating whether or not they fit the facts, we are able to healthily alter the way we feel. Emotion regulation skills help us understand that we do have some control over the emotions that we feel and how they impact us.

Emotion Regulation Skills ABC Please


Sunrise uses more comprehensive outcomes than any other fully integrated DBT program. By integrating DBT into every aspect of our program, your daughter will live the skills, not just learn them. We focus on the family to create a healthy system in which your daughter will thrive after returning home. Through therapy, activities, academics, and support, your daughter will become a healthy young woman with a passion for life.

If practicing emotion regulation and other DBT skills at home hasn’t been enough to help your daughter and family, we’re happy to discuss treatment options with you. Call us at 866.754.4807 to determine if Sunrise would be a good fit for your daughter.

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1 "4 Ways to Improve Your Emotional Communication" Psychology Today, Dec 02, 2014
2 "What are the effects of isolation in the mind?" How Stuff Works