Regaining Control: Mastering the STOP Skill to Manage Emotional Intensity

Person holds hand out to communicate stop.

Introduction: Unlocking the Power of Emotional Regulation with the STOP Skill

Understanding the Purpose of This Blog Post

Welcome! In this blog post, we will delve into the significance of emotional regulation for trans* and nonbinary individuals, highlighting the unique challenges they may face in their lives. We will introduce the powerful Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) technique known as the STOP skill, which can be an invaluable tool for managing intense emotions, increasing resilience, and ultimately leading a more fulfilling life.

Understanding and managing emotions is essential for everyone, but it can be particularly crucial for Two-Sprit, transgender and gender non-conforming people. They may experience a range of emotions related to the steps they’re taking to transition, societal expectations, and discrimination, among other factors. In addition, these individuals might face unique stressors, such as gender dysphoria, relational challenges, and issues that naturally arise when navigating the complexities of accessing safe and effective healthcare from uninformed or resistant medical practitioners. Developing effective emotional regulation skills becomes even more important for their well-being.

The STOP skill, a core component of DBT, offers a practical and accessible method to enhance emotional regulation in the face of intense emotions. By practicing this skill, individuals can learn to pause, step back, reflect, and make more informed decisions when confronted with difficult situations or emotional activation. The ultimate goal of incorporating the STOP skill into one’s life is to cultivate emotional resilience, self-awareness, and healthier coping strategies, leading to a more balanced and fulfilling life.

In this blog post, we aim to provide you with the knowledge and tools necessary to better understand and manage your emotions using the STOP skill. Through this exploration, we hope to empower you to navigate your unique emotional experiences and foster a greater sense of well-being and personal fulfillment.

The Importance of Emotional Regulation for Transgender, Nonbinary, and Gender Questioning Individuals

Emotions play a crucial role in our lives, serving as essential indicators of our environment and experiences. They help us navigate complex situations, form connections with others, and make informed decisions. Emotional regulation, which encompasses the ability to manage and respond to emotional experiences effectively, is vital for everyone. It holds particular importance for Two-Sprit, transgender and gender non-conforming people who may face exceptional challenges related to family-of-origin relationship issues, dealing with racism, workplace discrimination, responding to lay-person comments, navigating unfair biases, safely accessing washrooms, and resisting societal pressures.

The goals of emotional regulation include:

  • Naming and understanding our own emotions: Developing self-awareness around our emotional experiences enables us to identify patterns, triggers, and reactions. This understanding can serve as the foundation for healthier coping strategies and improved emotional well-being.
  • Decreasing the frequency of unpleasant emotions: By cultivating emotional regulation skills, individuals can reduce the occurrence of unpleasant emotions, leading to a more balanced emotional life and greater overall satisfaction.
  • Decreasing vulnerability to emotions: Emotional regulation helps individuals build resilience and reduce their susceptibility to emotional triggers. This resilience allows them to navigate challenging situations with a greater sense of control and stability.
  • Decreasing emotional suffering: Through effective emotional regulation, individuals can mitigate the intensity and duration of emotional distress, minimizing suffering and enhancing their overall quality of life.

By focusing on improving emotional regulation, Two-Sprit, transgender and gender non-conforming people can reduce their vulnerability to unwanted emotions and enhance their emotional resiliency. This, in turn, can lead to greater self-understanding, healthier coping strategies, and a stronger foundation for personal autonomy and speaking up.

Introducing the STOP Skill as a DBT Technique for Emotional Regulation

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) offers a comprehensive set of skills designed to help individuals manage difficult emotions and navigate challenging situations. While some techniques, such as distress tolerance, concentrate on coping with intense emotions as they arise, emotion regulation strategies take a more proactive approach. They aim to establish a foundation for healthier emotional experiences, thereby preventing emotional distress and improving overall well-being.

DBT skills for emotional regulation include:

  • STOP: A mindfulness-based technique that helps individuals pause, take a step back, observe, and proceed mindfully when experiencing intense emotions or facing challenging situations.
  • Opposite Action: A skill that involves intentionally engaging in behaviours opposite to one’s current emotional state to reduce the intensity of that emotion.
  • ABC Please: A combination of skills designed to help individuals build mastery, reduce vulnerability to emotional triggers, and increase the likelihood of positive experiences.
  • Build Mastery: A technique that encourages individuals to engage in activities that build competence and self-efficacy, fostering a sense of accomplishment and control.
  • Cope Ahead: A skill that involves anticipating and preparing for potential stressors or emotional triggers, enabling individuals to navigate these situations more effectively.
  • Positive Self Talk: A practice that involves replacing negative, self-defeating thoughts with more balanced, supportive self-talk, promoting a healthier self-concept and emotional well-being.

For this blog post, let’s focus on the first skill.

What is the STOP Skill?

Defining and Explaining the Acronym: STOP

The STOP skill is a simple yet powerful acronym that represents a step-by-step process to help you effectively manage intense emotions and challenging situations. The acronym stands for:

  1. Stop: The first step involves pausing and halting any impulsive actions. This momentary break allows you to resist the urge to react immediately and potentially make decisions that may exacerbate the situation or your emotional state.
  2. Take a step back: This step encourages you to mentally and emotionally distance yourself from the situation. By creating this space, you gain a broader perspective and avoid getting overwhelmed by your immediate emotional reaction.
  3. Observe: In this phase, you should take the time to notice and acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. This act of observation fosters self-awareness, enabling you to better understand your emotional state and recognize any potential triggers or patterns.
  4. Proceed mindfully: Finally, with a clearer understanding of your emotions and the situation at hand, you can respond with intention and self-awareness. By considering the potential consequences of your actions and making informed decisions, you can navigate the situation more effectively and foster healthier emotional experiences.

The STOP skill is designed to help you pause, reflect, and reassess your emotional state in the face of deeply upsetting and relationally challenging situations, allowing you to make more intentional and self-aware decisions. By using the STOP skill, you can cultivate a stronger sense of self-control and emotional regulation, leading to improved overall well-being.

The Importance of the STOP Skill in Managing Intense Emotions

Intense emotions can be overwhelming and, at times, may lead to impulsive decisions or reactions. For transgender, nonbinary, and gender-questioning individuals, these emotions may be heightened due to unique challenges related to gender identity, societal pressures, or experiences of discrimination. The STOP skill is particularly useful in managing these intense emotions by providing a clear and structured approach to self-regulation and emotional awareness.

By following the steps of the STOP skill, individuals can learn to:

  • Recognize and pause when experiencing strong emotions: The first step of the STOP skill encourages individuals to develop the ability to identify intense emotions and intentionally pause to prevent impulsive reactions.
  • Assess and process their emotions in a more objective manner: By taking a step back and observing their emotions, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of their feelings, identify potential triggers, and develop a more balanced perspective.
  • Make more informed and mindful choices in response to emotional triggers: With a clearer understanding of their emotional state, individuals can proceed mindfully and make intentional decisions that are in line with their values, goals, and well-being, rather than reacting impulsively.

Ultimately, the STOP skill can enhance emotional awareness, foster self-compassion, and strengthen resilience, supporting transgender, nonbinary, and gender-questioning individuals in their journey toward personal autonomy and empowerment. By consistently practicing the STOP skill, these individuals can develop healthier coping strategies and navigate their unique emotional experiences with greater confidence and well-being.

How to Apply the STOP Skill

Detailed Explanation of Each Step

  1. Stop: Pause and Halt Any Impulsive Actions

When your emotions threaten to take control, stop! Don’t react, and don’t move a muscle. Focus particularly on freezing the muscles around your mouth to prevent speaking impulsively. Taking this brief pause helps prevent you from acting without thinking. Stay in control, and remember that you are the boss of your emotions. Name the emotion by putting a label on it, which can help create some distance between you and the feeling.

  1. Take a Step Back: Mentally and Emotionally Distance Yourself from the Situation

In challenging situations, it can be difficult to think clearly. Give yourself time to calm down and reflect. Step back from the situation, both mentally and emotionally. Take a deep breath and continue breathing deeply as long as you need to regain control. Do not let your emotions dictate your actions. Most situations do not require split-second decisions, so take the time to decide how to respond effectively and thoughtfully.

  1. Observe: Notice and Acknowledge Your Thoughts, Feelings, and Bodily Sensations

Observe what is happening around you and within you. Consider who is involved, what other people are doing or saying, and how you’re feeling. Listen to any Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) that arise, but remember that they may be based on outdated beliefs formed in childhood. To make effective choices, avoid jumping to conclusions. Instead, gather relevant facts to understand the situation and explore your available options. This practice of observation and mindfulness will enable you to gain a clearer perspective on your emotions and the situation at hand.

  1. Proceed Mindfully: Respond with Intention and Self-Awareness

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • “What do I want from this situation?”
  • “What are my goals?”
  • “What choice might make this situation better or worse?”
  • “What action will lead to success?”

Stay calm and in control. As you gather information and consider the potential impact on your goals, you will be better prepared to handle the situation effectively. Remember that your brain needs time to think everything through. By proceeding mindfully, you can make decisions that align with your values and contribute to your overall well-being, ultimately fostering healthier emotional experiences and responses.

Emergency Mindfulness: Using the STOP Skill

The STOP skill can be thought of as an “emergency mindfulness” technique to use when emotions are running high. Utilize it when your emotions threaten to get the best of you and you’re tempted to take unhelpful actions.

For instance, after someone has said something hurtful, you would:

  1. STOP and not move, refraining from saying anything. This pause prevents you from reacting impulsively and allows you to regain control over your emotions.
  2. Take a step back, distancing yourself physically and mentally from the situation and person. By creating some space between yourself and the emotional trigger, you can more effectively process your feelings and make thoughtful responses.

By practicing and incorporating the STOP skill into your daily life, you can cultivate greater emotional regulation, enhance self-awareness, and make more informed decisions in challenging situations. This skill is especially useful for transgender, nonbinary, and gender-questioning individuals who may face unique emotional challenges linked to their relationships, interpersonal effectiveness, and access to quality care. Regularly using the STOP skill can help you navigate these challenges with resilience, self-compassion, and a greater sense of well-being.

Benefits of the STOP Skill for Transgender, Nonbinary, and Gender Questioning Individuals

Enhancing Emotional Awareness

The STOP skill encourages individuals to pause, reflect, and observe their emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations. This process increases emotional awareness, which is crucial for understanding one’s emotional experiences and developing healthier coping mechanisms.

Reducing Emotional Distress and Dysregulation

By utilizing the STOP skill, individuals can learn to better manage their emotions and reduce the likelihood of impulsive actions driven by intense emotions. As a result, emotional distress and dysregulation can be significantly decreased. F

Improving Decision-Making and Coping Strategies

The mindful and intentional approach encouraged by the STOP skill helps individuals make more informed decisions and develop healthier coping strategies. By taking the time to assess a situation and consider the potential outcomes of various actions, individuals can choose more effective responses to emotional triggers.

Strengthening Resilience and Self-Compassion

Regularly practicing the STOP skill can foster resilience and self-compassion, as individuals learn to acknowledge their emotions without judgment and respond to challenging situations with greater understanding and kindness toward themselves.

Inspiring Stories and Testimonials

Real-Life Examples of Individuals Successfully Using the STOP Skill

Journey to Self-Acceptance

A nonbinary individual struggled with intense emotions related to their gender identity and the lack of understanding from their family. They often found themselves reacting impulsively, leading to strained relationships and feelings of isolation. By learning and practicing the STOP skill, they gained a greater understanding of their emotions, allowing them to engage in more thoughtful conversations with their family. Over time, this led to improved relationships and a deeper sense of self-acceptance.

Transition to a New Environment

A transgender person experienced overwhelming emotions as they transitioned and moved to a new city for work. Facing discrimination and adjusting to a new environment, they felt lost and alone. The STOP skill provided them with a framework to manage their emotions, make mindful decisions, and cope with challenging situations. By implementing the STOP skill, they developed resilience, self-compassion, and confidence, enabling them to navigate their new life with greater ease and happiness.

Path to Emotional Stability

A gender-questioning individual had difficulty managing their emotions, often experiencing intense mood swings and impulsive behaviors. Upon discovering the STOP skill, they began incorporating it into their daily life. By consistently practicing the technique, they experienced a significant reduction in emotional distress and dysregulation, leading to a more stable and balanced emotional state. This newfound stability allowed them to engage in healthy self-exploration and growth.

The Positive Impact of the STOP Skill on Individuals’ Lives

These inspiring stories showcase the transformative impact of the STOP skill on the lives of transgender, nonbinary, and gender-questioning individuals. By learning and applying the STOP skill, they have been able to achieve remarkable progress in various aspects of their lives:

  • Enhanced emotional awareness and understanding: The STOP skill has allowed them to better recognize and comprehend their emotions, facilitating more meaningful connections with themselves and others.
  • Reduced emotional distress and dysregulation: The practice of the STOP skill has contributed to a significant reduction in emotional turmoil and instability, promoting a more balanced and stable emotional state.
  • Improved decision-making and coping strategies: By utilizing the STOP skill, these individuals have gained the ability to make more informed decisions and develop effective coping strategies in the face of adversity, resulting in increased resilience and self-reliance.
  • Strengthened resilience and self-compassion: Through the consistent application of the STOP skill, they have cultivated greater resilience in the face of challenges and setbacks, while also developing a deeper sense of self-compassion and empathy for themselves.

The STOP skill has equipped these individuals with the tools necessary to navigate the unique challenges they face, fostering personal growth, enhanced self-awareness, and a greater sense of overall well-being. Embracing the STOP skill empowers them to thrive in their journeys of self-discovery and personal development.


Recap the Importance of the STOP Skill for Emotional Regulation

The STOP skill is an invaluable and easy-to-implement technique for emotional regulation, specifically designed to support transgender, nonbinary, and gender-questioning individuals as they navigate the unique challenges associated with their gender identity and personal experiences.

Encouraging Readers to Practice and Utilize the STOP Skill in Their Own Lives

We wholeheartedly encourage you, our esteemed readers, to integrate the STOP skill into your daily routines and emotional self-care practices. By actively and consistently applying this technique, you can establish a robust foundation for emotional regulation, personal growth, and overall well-being.

It is important to remember that, like any skill, the STOP technique requires dedication, practice, and patience. Gradually, as you become more adept at employing this method, you will likely experience noticeable enhancements in your emotional health, interpersonal relationships, and overall life satisfaction.

As you embark on this journey of emotional self-discovery and growth, remember that support and resources are available to help you develop your mastery of the STOP skill and other emotional regulation techniques. Embrace this opportunity to create a more balanced, fulfilling, and resilient life.

Offering Resources and Support for Further Learning and Self-Discovery

For further learning and support on your journey to emotional regulation and self-discovery, consider exploring the following resources:

By seeking additional resources and support, you can continue to build upon the foundation of the STOP skill and foster a greater sense of self-understanding, resilience, and well-being.

Disclaimer: This blog shares general information only, not professional advice or recommendations. Consult healthcare providers for personal guidance. Decisions based on content are the reader's responsibility. Thank you.

Clayre runs a group practice of three queer and trans therapists, including youth therapist Audrey Wolfe, RCC, LGBT therapist Camber Giberson, RCC, CCC, and gender-affirming therapist Clayre Sessoms, RP, RCT, RCC, CCC, ATR-P. Work with us: book a session.

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