Riding the Wave of Emotions

Every day, we encounter a variety of emotions; we can respond to these feelings in many different ways. When most people experience a negative emotion like sadness or anger, we tend to either push the feeling away or react to it quickly.

However, there is a different way of handling difficult emotions— a DBT or Dialectical Behavior Therapy technique that can make our negative emotions more manageable. It’s called “Riding the Wave.”

“Riding the Wave” encourages us to experience our emotions like waves in the ocean.  We float with less intense feelings or ride the waves of stronger emotions. This skill is like riding a surfboard during the emotions - knowing that it will last only a little while and then will subtly subside. Here are a few tips to help you practice “Riding the Wave”:

  1. Be aware of the emotion
    In a non-judgmental and mindful manner, recognize the feeling that you are experiencing. Name the feeling and think of it as part of you, but not all of you.
  2. Experience it
    Experience your feeling like a wave moving like the ocean.  You can’t stop a strong wave from coming towards you. Try not to push the feeling away or take hold of it. Don’t try to control it too strongly or make the feeling bigger than it is either. Instead, ride out the wave of emotion in an appropriate manner.
  3. Remember, this feeling is only one part of you
    This emotion should not force you to react in any certain way, especially in a way that is harmful to you. Recall moments when you experienced more positive emotions to remind yourself that they will return soon enough. Like a wave in the ocean, this feeling will take its course.
  4. Accept and tolerate your emotion
    Try not to assign positive or negative thoughts to this feeling. Fully accept that this feeling is part of you right now, but it is only temporary. Try pretending that your feeling is a “guest” in your home, who you can tolerate “hosting” for the time being.

Remember to think of your emotions like the ocean. Feelings come in waves; some waves may be stronger than others, but they all will pass.

Next time, instead of putting your feeling aside or trying to control the emotion quickly, try riding the wave. Recognize what you feel, let yourself experience it, know that it is only temporary, and accept that the feeling is part of you in the moment. “Riding the Wave” will help you feel more comfortable managing difficult emotions.
(Source: “RIDING THE WAVE”-A Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Metaphor For Mastering Emotions by Ben Caunt)