Addressing Feelings through Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical method begins by addressing the interaction between elements of a whole: the interaction between individuals and groups; the interaction between emotions, thoughts and behaviors; the interaction between desires and needs.

According to Dialectical Behavior Therapy, “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 worth listening to them” (Sunrise Residential Treatment Center, 2017).

Healthy Feelings We are born with 360 degrees of feelings: Angry, sad, lonely, elated, giddy, silly, afraid, nauseous, tired, excited, anticipatory, glad, distrustful, uneasy, uncomfortable, racy. All of these feelings are legitimate feelings.

All of our feelings serve a purpose: fear warns us of danger. Gladness is a response to having a need met. Nauseous lets us know we have eaten something that is not good for our body and we need to expel it.

Attraction is an emotion which, when it is felt by someone who is physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy, brings that person to something they need or something that will benefit them. Healthy people are attracted to other healthy people — one may have an important character trait in common with some other person. Or, the two people may balance each other with opposite attributes, attributes which each of them brings to the relationship.

All 360 degrees of our feelings are legitimate and needed for us to live healthy, free and purposeful lives.

Unhealthy ways of addressing feelings The disease of addiction is part of the spiritual core of the culture in which we live. This spiritual disorder is characterized by the profit motive. Driven by the profit motive, this culture has each of us trying to meet our basic needs by selling ourselves.

Under these social circumstances, part of the disorder is our inability to address our feelings in healthy ways.

Feelings as commodities In this culture feelings are products, commodities to be bought and sold. In this culture we are taught that some feelings are “good,” and some feelings are “bad.” The truth is feelings are neither good nor bad. “Good” is not a feeling, and neither is “bad.” Judging feelings in this way is not healthy, but it is a basic way of the culture in which we live — to judge feelings is to say that some are better than others, and that some are valuable and others are not. This is unhealthy.

The role of the psychiatrist today, beyond his endeavor to make money for himself, is to offer up to us debilitating psychotropic drugs which alter our feelings. The normal psychiatrist in the United States today is nothing short of your local drug dealer. He has replaced the kid on the corner with his bag of dope for $10. The psychiatrist’s drugs go for much more money, they are more powerful, and your health insurance (if you have any) is supposed to cover the cost. (Remember, heath insurance under the for-profit system is designed to make certain the health insurance corporation … makes money. Making money makes them feel “good.”)

In this situation, we are provided, all day, every day with unhealthy alternative ways to address our feelings or to get rid of them. We are offered, for a price (your “co-pay,” or in the case of Obamacare — “universal health care” for-profit — through our taxes), all manner of ways to not feel our feelings:

Let us count the ways. Think of feelings that are supposed to be “bad.” What are ways we are offered to avoid, not feel or otherwise deny these feelings? What are mechanisms and common practices in this culture whereby we are offered ways to avoid certain feelings for a price?

While the “exchange” we are speaking of is most often directly economic, this culture is also famous for trading in emotions. Emotional manipulation goes on daily and hourly, and people are constantly trading in emotional rip-offs. People are routinely engaged in social processes in which they find themselves having payed too high an emotional price. The end result of people engaged in such socially-ill exchanges is always being left with feelings that one does not want to feel.

How do we address feelings in a healthy way? It has been observed that the disease of addiction is “a disease of feelings.” Finding healthy ways of addressing our feelings is of the utmost importance to a healthy life style, for each of us, and toward the creation of a healthy social order by we-the-people.

For example, the emotion of sadness gets a bad rap in today’s life. In fact, sadness visits itself upon us when some otherwise normal part of life occurs, such as the passing of a loved one. While an elder dying of old age can evoke the emotion of sadness, it is not necessarily accompanied by a sense of tragedy. After all, each of us will die one day. Death is part of normal daily life.

On the other hand, we are living during a time when untimely death, death through murder or terrorism, death through overdose or suicide, are each common everyday occurrences. These circumstances complicate the feeling of sadness.

We are living in a time where people have forgotten how to grieve. Grieving is very difficult when it appears as if a loved one has passed due to manifestly unjust circumstances. That is, when a loved one’s death has occurred by unhealthy means, the requirements of grieving become much more important than they are in the circumstance of a healthy passing. In these circumstances it is all the more important that we maintain our community skill with regard to the grieving process.

Sadness has been given to us by a power greater than us to address certain basic elements of life. It is not necessary to buy a product which will help us not feel sadness. Feeling our sadness, and staying around for the lessons this feeling affords us is part of a healthy lifestyle.

It is possible and necessary for us to feel our feelings and act appropriately to their meaning. It is necessary for us to honor the emotions that come independently of our will. It is not necessary to buy products to enable us to avoid feeling our feelings.


Sunrise Residential Treatment Center. (2017). “What Are DBT Emotion Regulation Skills?”