Mastering Emotional Control with the STOP Technique

Person with closed eyes and holding hands to chest

Clients often express their desire to just “put an end” to their unhealthy behaviours or troubling emotions. As helpful as that might sound, overcoming psychological distress isn’t as simple as “stopping” it. However, the concept of “stop” can be utilized in a way that improves mental well-being.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), founded by Marsha Linehan, introduces a distress tolerance skill called the STOP technique. This strategy can be particularly helpful when emotions threaten to lead us toward impulsive, harmful actions. For instance, when tempted to reach out to an ex or lash out at a customer service agent, the STOP technique might be just what’s needed.

The STOP technique is an acronym for Stop, Take a step back, Observe, and Proceed Mindfully.

1. Stop

The initial action involves physically stopping oneself. Though this might be the easiest part of the acronym to remember, it could also be the most challenging to apply if one’s emotions are used to taking the lead.

2. Take a Step Back

The next step entails taking a step back, which might involve momentarily stepping away from the situation or pausing to calm down. This step provides additional time to transition into a wise mind state, enabling a clearer assessment of the situation.

3. Observe

During the observation step, the goal is to evaluate the situation objectively. This involves observing one’s emotions, thoughts, environment, and physical sensations, as well as the events unfolding in the situation and the behaviour of others.

The aim is to view the situation without judgment, as if from the perspective of a detached observer. By focusing on the facts, it becomes possible to avoid the assumptions that our emotional mind creates to justify our feelings.

4. Proceed Mindfully

The last step involves proceeding mindfully, using the information gathered during the observation phase to act responsibly and thoughtfully. This entails keeping personal goals and the overall context of the situation in mind.

Ultimately, the objective is to choose an action that results in a better outcome. By employing the STOP technique, it becomes possible to regain control over one’s emotions and effectively disrupt and end impulsive behaviour.

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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