Young Woman Contemplating

Difficulties with regulating emotions is a common reaction to psychological trauma. Emotional dysregulation is a multifaceted construct that, on a spectrum, includes lack or presence of self-regulating behaviors. The inability to use adaptive and flexible emotional regulatory strategies (Gross & Thompson, 2007), like practicing goal-directed behaviors under distress (Linehan, 1993), is common. The inability to accept one’s emotional responses (Gratz & Roemer, 2004), like discomfort, rejection, or anxiety, constitutes emotional dysregulation. Additionally, the inability to identify, name, or express an emotional experience (Feldman Barrett, Gross, Christensen, & Benvenuto, 2001) is considered as lacking adequate emotion regulation strategies. Emotional dysregulation encompasses maladaptive emotion regulation or maladaptive coping skills, which are defined as strategies that alleviate distress without getting to the root cause of the distress itself (Najdowski & Ullman, 2011).

Emotion regulation as the awareness of emotions, acceptance of emotions, self-regulation and impulse control behaviors, as well as the flexibility and adaptability for regulating emotions (Gratz and Roemer, 2004). We can rethink a challenging situation, as we learn to exert control over our emotional responses.

Emotion dysregulation correlates with greater history of childhood sexual assault, increased sexual partners, greater alcohol and drug use during intercourse, exchange of sex for money, and decreased sexual refusal assertiveness among SA survivors (Ullman and Vasquez, 2015). Sexual assault is distinctly linked to increased emotional dysregulation among survivors (Marx, Heidt, & Gold, 2005; Walsh et al., 2012). Sexual victimization, particularly revictimization, negatively affects emotional dysregulation (Boeschen, Ross, Figueredo, & Coan, 2001; Cloitre, Koenen, Cohen, & Han, 2005; Walsh, DiLillo, & Sealora, 2011; Walsh et al., 2012). Emotional dysreguatlion has been associated with borderline personality disorder as well.

Strategies to help us cope better with emotions, practice STOPP (Vivyan, 2015):

  1. S – Stop!
    Just pause for a moment.

  2. T – Take a Breath
    Notice your breathing as you breathe in and out.

  3. O – Observe
    What thoughts are going through your mind right now?
    Where is your focus of attention?
    What are you reacting to?
    What sensations do you notice in your body?

  4. P – Pull Back – Put in Some Perspective
    What’s the bigger picture?
    Take the helicopter view;
    What is another way of looking at this situation?
    What would a trusted friend say to me right now?
    Is this thought a fact or an opinion?
    What is a more reasonable explanation?
    How important is this? How important will it be in 6 months’ time?

  5. P – Practice What Works – Proceed
    What is the best thing to do right now? For me? For others? For the situation?
    What can I do that fits with my values?
    Do what will be effective and appropriate (Vivyan, 2015).

These resources were found on PositivePsychology.com. A handout is included here.

Trauma Care: Regulating & Coping with Difficult Emotions