S = Stop
When you feel like your system is being overwhelmed by an emotion, and there is a part of you that is about to take control of your behaviours, STOP! Do not react! Do not move a muscle! Just freeze! Freezing, even if its just for a moment, helps prevent you from doing what your blended part might want you to do. This part is reacting to the situation based on the emotion that’s in your system, and the emotion that’s in your system is always connected to your story about what’s going on, and your story about what’s going on doesn’t always line up with what’s actually going on. Stopping dead in your tracks creates the opportunity to maintain a sense of control. Remember, you are the boss of your emotions. If you are a person who uses visual imagery to support your system with behaviour change, then try to visualize a STOP sign in your mind whenever you want to stop from reacting to a situation.
For me, I would often experience situations like this as a part of my personality that wanted to react with anger. This part was provoked by my perception of what was happening in the external situation. Sometimes this perception was based in actuality, like someone calling me names or verbally attacking me, and sometimes it was based in my own created reality that had been formulated by a specific story that was dominant in my system at that particular time. Either way, I was often left with the urge to verbally attack the person in front of me as a way to defend myself, which I later discovered was all about defending a vulnerable child part of my personality that I perceived to be under threat.
More often than not, the aggressive, protective action that I wanted to take was definitely not in my best interest. Whenever I reacted in this hostile and heated way it left me in some kind of trouble, either physically, emotionally, financially, and sometimes even legally. So, developing my ability to stop, freeze, and don’t act on my impulse to “attack” was a key part of my own personal emotional development. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was the poster boy for the angry child, having temper tantrums left right and centre, and every now and again, when I am having a “bad day” this part of me still comes out.
If this type of reaction applies to you, then it’s something we have to accept if we identify as a highly sensitive person. Sometimes the emotion is going to overwhelm your system and, as a result, a part of you is going to react in a way that you have to be accountable for once the heat dies down. Fortunately, with all the work I have done, this doesn’t happen very often these days, and my use of the S.T.O.P skill has played an absolutely massive role in this personal behavioural change.
For example, see if you can Imagine a situation where your ex-partner, someone who you still have deep emotional feelings for, just broke up with you. You haven’t been behaving in the best way prior to the breakup, and then you randomly see them when you’re out and about, just walking down the street. Your first impulse might be to run over and give them a hug, to tell them that you miss them, and you want them back in your life. However, this is probably not a wise thing to do, given the way the relationship ended, and it’s highly likely that they are going to “reject” your advances, which would cause you a lot of emotional pain that’s probably connected to your sense of guilt, shame, loneliness, and sadness.
Given the way you normally react to the presence of these emotions in your system, this would definitely not be a good situation to find yourself in, as the angry child within you is the “go to” part of you that tends to take control, in an attempt to shut down these unwanted feelings. So, stop. Don’t act on the urge that is active in your system, do everything you can to resist the temptation for instant gratification, then move on to the next step in this vital DBT skill.