DBT: Modulating Intensity

In my online DBT class, we have moved on to “Advanced Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills”. This is intimidating because it involves skills that actually require you talking to others (it’s not just identify anymore). One area I know I will struggle with is modulating my intensity. Since I’m a very emotional person I tend to see everything I feel as urgent. I need to deal with it right now, the world needs to stop while I do this and we need to solve the problem within the next 5 minutes or I will fail at life. I also tend to not care how others are feeling in these moments because I’m too caught up in how I am feeling. I also struggle with seeing that thinking of others is a good thing and doesn’t mean that I forget how I feel and what I need.

My workbook has a handy little scale to help determine urgency and vulnerability for each issue I may come up against. This helps me know the intensity I should approach it with.

Modulating Intensity


The higher the number the more appropriate it is to be forceful (not aggressive but assertive) when addressing something and the lower the number the more gentle you should be.

For example,

I would like help from my partner to keep our room tidy while I am at work during the week (hypothetical, he does an alright job at this and I’m a huge slacker).

Modulating Intensity-example

In the grand scheme of things, keeping our room clean isn’t very high on the list of things I need from him in our relationship right now. It’s important to have a tidy room but the need, given the current state of our room, is not high so I circled 1 (low urgency). When I decide to share this will my partner I know that our relationship and he are stable enough to have this need addressed with little problem so I circled 10 (not vulnerable).

Having a 1 in urgency and a 10 in vulnerability means that I should gentle in addressing my need (because it is not pressing) but I can be forceful, that it is something that needs to be addressed because I know the relationship can withstand it.

So, I may say to my partner something along the lines of, “I need your help keeping our room clean while I am out at work during the week and you are at home. It would be great if you could sweep the floors and wipe the surfaces down.” 

I will need to practice this because I find I usually have something nice planned in my head and then I say it so poorly! The visual is helpful. I hope some of you find this helpful as well!





10 thoughts on “DBT: Modulating Intensity

  1. I really like this idea, because it requires one to slow down and really look at their problem/issue. I’m kind of like you in that I view everything as incredibly urgent (but only until I decide it’s incredibly not, at which point you couldn’t pay me to care) and I tend to let myself get swept up in the rush of it all. It’s very concerning to my fiance when I am near tears because I really, really need to get my bedroom furniture rearranged or else my life is over. That’s not fun for anyone.

    Thanks for sharing! I’m definitely going to try to implement this into my life.

    • It’s not fun to be so emotional about something that really isn’t the end of the world. When I was finishing this post, I failed horribly at modulating my intensity. I was wrong about something and instantly became embarrassed and I couldn’t catch myself. A few years ago i did flip out over where my ex had placed our couch. We fought for a good few hours about it. A few days later I was fine with it 😛

      I’m going to keep practicing this one, include a real example, not a hypothetical. I would love to hear if you have tried it and how it went 🙂

  2. i wish when i received DBT lessons that you had been the teacher. it makes so much sense and seems so easy when you present it here. i never quite got on to how you were to utilize the tools before, and it was always so hard i just quit trying.

    • Aw, thank you! Maybe in a few years I can offer something 😛 Learning from peers (both facilitators of my class have/had a BPD diagnosis) has been so valuable. It makes sense when someone gives you concrete examples from their lives and really know the material because they PRACTICE it, not just teach it. A lot of professionals probably don’t even even practice the skills.

      I quit trying a few years back (I was learning on my own). There is no point in sticking with something if we can’t understand it. I’ll keep posting things as I go 🙂

  3. This is helpful! I too get emotional and highly excited when things feel pressing, when they really are not THAT pressing.
    I can see why it will take some practice. It is like learning CPT (and the like). Making your brain wrap nicely around it so when the time comes, it is easy and flows nicely.

    My husband taught me a great deal about the timbra of voice, and getting emotional, and how it affects a person. At least now, i can look and sound cool calm and collected . . . until i get home. This may assist me in getting internally calmer, faster.

    You are a great instructor! Thanks!

    • It’s funny, as I was finishing the last paragraph I completely failed with my partner in modulating my intensity and it was quite the disaster. (Note to self, keep practicing).

      Your husband sounds like he was a good support in this area! do you find that projecting cool, calm and collected is something you can do most of the time now?

  4. After everything I have learnt about myself you have just uncovered another personality quirk…I get so lost in the urgency of what I have to do, the world doesn’t exist! I might be given a month to do something but I must do it now and I am totally insensitive to my wife’s (and anyone else for that matter) feelings….aahhhh where does it end????

  5. Pingback: DBT Skills: Onto the Next Module | Pride in Madness

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