The Biosocial Model

The Biosocial Theory

Dr Linehan’s research and other research on the brain shows that some people tend to experience things more intensely, and as a result are more reactive to events than other people.  This can be something that is part of the person’s genetics or the product of early life experience.. Either way, the person has a higher degree of sensitivity to emotions, so that they are activated more easily, heightened in their response, and slower to come back down once activated.

It is important to note that it is not just the person reacting more intensely. That could sound like blaming! It is that their experience is more intense for all events, both pleasant and unpleasant. Dr Linehan refers to this as lacking an emotional skin, and likens it to a burns victim who experiences pain at the slightest touch.

Emotional sensitivity is not a problem in itself, In fact it has many benefits, such as increased intensity of love, passion, empathy and connection.  However, when a person does not know how to take care of their sensitivity they may learn to dull the pain through escaping or avoiding emotions. This can lead to extreme behaviours that have their own consequences, as well the by-product of maintaining the belief that the person cannot tolerate and cope with intense emotions.

The Role of Invalidation and Validation

When a person experiences emotions that are more intense than those around them they often different from others, and that can leave them feeling disconnected or alienated.  They may receive a range of messages from those around that they should tone down their emotions, such as being told they are ”too emotional”, or “too sensitive”.  They may then experience a sense of being rejected, not understood or punished for their emotional intensity.  Over time the person starts to believe the messages that their emotions should not be as they are, or that “hey are over reacting. They may then learn to distrust their own emotional experience and start to reject or punish themselves for their emotional experience. Dr Linehan says that you cannot ride and have control of a horse without being on the horse, so if you reject your emotional experience it is hard to learn how to manage it. This brings us to another dialectic in DBT; in order to manage or change our response to our emotions we must first accept that this is the experience we are having.



Part of the solution in managing ongoing intense emotional distress.

What does DBT suggest is the solution to ongoing intense emotional experiences? The experience of having intense emotional experiences has been likened to being equipped with a Formula One race car motor when everyone around you is driving a standard car. Most people learn how to drive in an ordinary car and so the advice most people get about driving relates to this. However, to drive a Formula One car you need more specialised skills, otherwise you are going to careen around, feeing out of control, and crashing.  Similarly, most people can get on a horse, do a few laps around the paddock, or even a trail ride, without too much trouble. However, it takes specialist skills to ride a thoroughbred racehorse. What’s more, and this is very important, to learn how to drive a Formula One car or ride a thoroughbred, takes time and practice. Similarly, learning to manage emotions that are more sensitive to the outside world requires learning and practising different skills.