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?
What is Emotion Regulation?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
- Understand what the emotional response is
- Accept your emotional responses (rather than reject them or react to them with fear)
- Access strategies that allow you to reduce the intensity of the emotion when needed
- Engage in goal-directed behavior when upset
- Control impulsive behaviors when upset
Because people with BPD can struggle with some or all of the skills in this list, this broader definition of emotion regulation is probably the most helpful in describing the regulation deficits that are present in BPD.
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:
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.