Check the Facts: Managing Your Emotions to Improve Relationships
By Jeanette Lorandini
We’ve all experienced it before. A sudden, knee-jerk emotional response. Likely, it’s one we wish we could take back when all is said and done. We respond to our interpretation of events. Therefore, our responses are often valid given what we believe.
But, is our interpretation true?
When given the appropriate tools, you do have the power to control your response in emotionally charged situations. With practice, you can even begin to modulate your emotions in order to respond most appropriately. How? Checking the facts.
Checking the facts is a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) technique that aids in modifying our emotional response, which results in better decision-making and improved relationships. By utilizing this Dialectical Behavior Therapy, we can ensure appropriate responses given the size of the problem and what information we have available.
However frustrating a situation may be, checking the facts allows us to step back, identify the emotion, assess the situation, and respond in ways that are more appropriate. When we provide ourselves this time to pause, we can ask important questions that help us to determine the factual information available that would warrant this level of response.
The result of checking the facts? Happier relationships are rooted in trust, perspective-taking, and healthy communication. That’s something that everyone benefits from.
The Root of Emotions
Many believe that events are the most influential factor in our emotions. However, this isn’t always the case. Oftentimes, our emotions, and therefore behaviors, are set off by the thoughts and interpretations we experience following an event. This is known as the cognitive-behavioral triangle, which is based on cognitive behavioral therapy.
In this case, we would experience it as:
Event → Thoughts → Emotions
Our emotional responses can also greatly influence our thoughts and interpretations. Or,
Event → Emotion → Thoughts
In both cases, when we are able to first critically examine our thoughts and check the facts, it can help us modify our emotions and respond appropriately in a given situation.
How to Check the Facts
So, how do we check the facts? The good news is that it’s easier than you may think. However, just like any skill, it takes practice and a conscious effort. While it may not feel natural on the first try, repetition breeds routine.
Once you are aware of the questions to ask yourself, you will be better equipped to resist those knee-jerk emotional responses. When we avoid these strong reactions, we can have a more meaningful conversation and behavior with the ones we care for most.
In order to check the facts, there are six important questions to remember:
- What is the emotion I want to change?
When we identify the emotion we’re experiencing, we can pause, reflect, and determine whether or not we wish to change that experience. By checking the facts, we can evaluate whether or not that emotional response is appropriate given the information we have available to us. If we want to change that emotion, we need to be able to honestly reflect if the facts we know warrant that level of response. This initial question allows us to step back and take an initial assessment. Name it to tame it.
- What is the event prompting my emotion?
What event triggered this response? Who did what to whom? What led up to what? What is it about this particular event that is most problematic? When we describe the facts that we observed by the senses we experienced, we can challenge judgments that we may or may not be aware of, reject absolute thinking, and avoid black-and-white descriptions. Don’t be afraid to dig deep and identify the specifics.
- What are my interpretations, thoughts, and assumptions about the event?
When we are checking the facts, it is crucial to think of and consider other possible interpretations or explanations. By analyzing the situation from all possible sides and perspectives, we can more accurately test our interpretations of the event to determine whether or not they are factual and fit what is true. Are you adding your own interpretations? Or, do the facts support this interpretation? Your answer will guide you.
- Am I assuming a threat?
When we experience a threat, it is natural to take defense and put up our guard. However, we do need to take a step back and assess the actual probability that this threat will come to fruition. What about this event is most threatening? What is most worrisome? Instead of jumping toward catastrophization, we can first think of other possible outcomes. In doing so, we can identify alternatives to our interpretation.
- What’s the catastrophe?
In the case that this is a significant threat or catastrophe, the healthiest way to protect our peace is not to avoid, it but instead to walk through it by imagining this event really occurring. What is the absolute worst outcome that you could reasonably expect? By placing ourselves in the event and imagining coping well with a catastrophe, we can plan for healthy problem-solving, coping, and radical acceptance.
- Does my emotion and/or its intensity fit the actual facts?
Last, but certainly not least, we have to determine whether or not the emotion, or intensity of the emotion, is appropriate given the actual facts. We can do so by asking, “Do the facts that I have available justify the intensity of this response?” This can not only help us to prevent overreaction, but it will also encourage us not to shy away from more significant events. When in doubt, refer to the wise mind, which is the balance between the emotional and rational mind. Here, we are able to respect our feelings and experiences while also responding rationally.If, at the end of these questions, you are still unsure whether your emotional experience fits the facts, keep asking questions and reviewing the information you have available. While this may require some creativity, we can also refer to others, ask their opinion, or experiment to see whether or not our interpretations hold any ground.When we check the facts before we react, we have all of the information available to be mindful of our response. By asking these questions, we can step back, assess the situation, and decide how we want to move forward in a healthy, productive way for all involved.
Checking the facts really draws on mindfulness skills, which are drawn from Eastern meditation practices. Here, we emphasize the importance of being in the moment, observing, and focusing our attention. In turn, these skills can help us to regulate our emotions and impulses more effectively. Mindfulness also helps us to improve our self-monitoring, which aids in maintaining a sense of reality, allows us to see a situation more clearly, and supports effective decision-making.
In practicing mindfulness, we can first recognize how we’re feeling and look for evidence to check the facts. We must honestly observe and reflect on how we’re feeling and use words to name this experience. As you observe how you’re feeling, be careful not to cast judgments on yourself or others. Instead, simply notice. This is a clear-sighted way to reasonably move forward in collecting evidence to inform our reflection.
While the questions and skills reviewed certainly take time and practice to develop, they can have significant benefits when used consistently and across settings. Nowhere might this be more true than in our relationships – both with ourselves and with the ones closest to us.
When we practice checking the facts, we learn to control our reactive emotional responses. We develop the skills to mindfully recognize our own emotions, evaluate events that led up to our response, analyze our own interpretations and assumptions, and determine whether or not our response matches the evidence we have available to us.
In doing so, we can respond in healthy ways to our partners, children, friends, and family. Together, you can build a strong foundation of common language and skills that encourage a balanced perspective and outlook, instead of black-and-white thinking.
When we practice these DBT skills with ourselves, others take notice. The impact we have by incorporating new skills in our repertoire ensures that those closest to us see the effects and are able to share in the benefits. Our partners and children feel safe and successful when they experience safe and successful interactions at home. We have the opportunity to set this into motion for those around us. How powerful!
When we rely on DBT skills, we can communicate in effective ways that promote understanding instead of division. With this shared experience comes deeper, more meaningful relationships.
Additionally, when we are successful in implementing these skills, we feel empowered in our own abilities. Building this independence in self-regulation encourages healthy coping and self-acceptance.
Believe it when I say, we’ve all been there. We all have moments that we regret or wish we could take back. While it’s easy to feel ashamed at the moment, these are opportunities to reflect on what skills we need to make different choices next time. When we get caught up in the moment, we let our emotions control our response. Instead, check the facts first. Take a moment to evaluate what’s actually going on with what you really know to be true, not just your interpretation of what you think is happening. In doing so, we can save ourselves a whole lot of frustration and get back to enjoying our lives and the people that matter most.
At Suffolk DBT, we offer Dialectical Behavioral Therapy in our Manhattan and Long Island locations. We implement treatment methods tailored to our clients’ individual needs and goals. Our therapists are here to provide a safe and supportive space and teach you practical skills that you can use in your day-to-day life.