Develop Emotion Regulation Skills for Better Health

Control your emotions rather than letting them control you

Woman Having An Emotional Meltdown
Emotion Regulation Skills Training. sdominick / Getty Images

Many people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) struggle with basic emotion regulation skills. In fact, Marsha Linehan, one of the foremost researchers in BPD, has suggested that emotion regulation deficits are at the core of the disorder. But what is emotion regulation, and how can you improve your emotion regulation skills?

If you have BPD or a related personality disorder, use this overview to learn more about this kind of training and its potential benefits for you.

What Is Emotion Regulation Training?

So far there is no one agreed-upon definition of the term "emotion regulation." Many researchers define emotion regulation as the ability to enhance or reduce emotions as needed. For example, if you feel upset in the middle of a meeting at work, you might try to distract yourself from whatever was upsetting you by thinking about something else. Some experts would call this an example of “emotion regulation.”

Other researchers use a much broader definition of emotion regulation. These researchers see emotion regulation as a broad set of skills and abilities that help keep the emotional system healthy and functioning. Good emotion regulation includes the ability to recognize that you are having an emotional response and to understand what the response is. Regulation also includes accepting your emotional responses rather than rejecting them or reacting to them with fear. This can be difficult for even people without BPD, as emotions such as anger or sadness are often discouraged by society. 

Emotional regulation also refers to the ability to access strategies that allow you to reduce the intensity of the emotion when needed. This means if someone has enraged you, you don't give in to the desire to physically lash out at them or hurl a long line of epithets their way. In fact, when you're upset, you should be able to engage in goal-directed behavior if you're well versed in emotion regulation. Finally, this technique refers to the ability to control impulsive behaviors when upset. If you feel like trashing your home because you received upsetting news, you curb the inclination to throw everything on the floor or punch a hole in the wall.

Because people with BPD can struggle with some or all of the skills on this list, this broader definition of emotion regulation is probably the most helpful in describing the regulation deficits that are present in BPD. Fortunately, it is possible to develop some of the emotion regulation skills that you lack.

How to Improve Your Emotion Regulation Skills

If you need to work on your emotion regulation skills, you can try a number of exercises that may help. Emotion regulation skills training is best done with the help of a BPD therapist (for example, emotion regulation skills training is an important component of Dialectical Behavior Therapy for BPD), but you can try a few exercises outside of therapy such as:

Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment. Mindful people learn to be aware of the breaths they take, the tension in their muscles and even their pulse rates. They bite their food slowly and intentionally, and listen to their body for cues that they are full. They can objectively observe themselves in difficult moments, confident that even these times will pass. 

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View Article Sources
  • Gratz KL, Roemer L. “Multidimensional Assessment of Emotion Regulation and Dysregulation: Development, Factor Structure, and Initial Validation of the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale.” Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 26(1):41-54, 2004.
  • Linehan MM. Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: The Guilford Press; 1993.