Emotion Dysregulation


DBT Skills Training Manual

Although emotional responses are systemic responses, they can be viewed as consisting of the following interacting subsystems:

(1) emotional vulnerability to cues;

(2) internal and/ or external events that, when attended to, serve as emotional cues (e.g., prompting events);

(3) appraisal and interpretations of the cues;

(4) response tendencies, including neurochemical and physiological responses, experiential responses, and action urges;

(5) nonverbal and verbal expressive responses and actions; and

(6) aftereffects of the initial emotional “firing,” including secondary emotions


Emotion dysregulation is the inability, even when one’s best efforts are applied, to change or regulate emotional cues, experiences, actions, verbal responses, and/or nonverbal expressions under normative conditions.

Pervasive emotion dysregulation is due to vulnerability to high emotionality, together with an inability to regulate intense emotion linked responses. Characteristics of emotion dysregulation include

  • an excess of painful emotional experiences;
  • an inability to regulate intense arousal;
  • problems turning attention away from emotional cues;
  • cognitive distortions and failures in information processing;
  • insufficient control of impulsive behaviors related to strong positive and negative affect;
  • difficulties organizing and coordinating activities to achieve non-mood-dependent goals during emotional arousal;
  • and a tendency to “freeze” or dissociate under very high stress.
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