Biosocial Theory

Marsha Linehan developed DBT and also came up with the biosocial theory model which I find a very interesting theory, it certainly makes a lot of sense.

The biosocial theory model says that you are born with a temperament. Some babies are happier than others, some cry more. If you look at siblings who had exactly the same upbringing one sibling may be more outgoing than the other, one may react to problems in a different way to the other. If you combine a dysfunctional biological predisposition with an invalidating environment, so a social environment that makes feelings feel invalid it can cause emotion dysregulation, so difficulties in regulating emotions.

So the biosocial theory explains that emotional vulnerability is biological, people are born that way. People can be born more sensitive to emotional stimuli than others and so they experience emotions more often than others and also have more intense and long lasting emotions. Impulsivity has a biological basis, some people find it harder to regulate action and restrain impulsive behaviours.

On top of this biological basis an invalidating social environment can make it difficult to regulate emotions. An invalidating social environment does not understand your emotions, people may tell you that your emotions are invalid, weird, wrong or bad and often ignore emotional reactions. People may say things like “Don’t be such a baby” for example. An invalidating social environment does not have to be an abusive situation, often people are doing the best they can and they may not know how to deal with their own or others emotions or they may be under a lot of stress and pressure. When talking about an invalidating social environment it is not a case of blaming the people who brought you up, it is just identifying that you were in an unhelpful environment.

People who experience an invalidating environment and a biological predisposition respond to criticism, rejection and abandonment, or fear of these when they perceive this to be happening. They may react to these quickly and intensely and often feel very distressed. When they perceive the above to be happening they may become very sensitive to anything happening around them. The person’s high sensitivity may mean they are on the look out for things to happen. When the person is feeling these intense and distressing emotions they may behave impulsively in order to cope. Behaviours include self-harm, binge eating, alcohol/drugs and so on which give the person short term relief, however in the long run it keeps the cycle going and makes things worse rather than better. Through using these negative and impulsive behaviours it means that the person does not show their emotions because they learnt not to but this does not mean they are not feeling these emotions.

People may find it hard to understand and regulate their emotions, particularly if others command you to change your emotions but don’t coach you on how to do this. The person may believe their emotions are wrong.

It is important to remember that it is possible to change the way that you respond to your emotions. It may take a lot of hard work and a long time but it is possible to change.