Summary Module 5: Therapy - Emotional Behaviors Summary

Emotional Behaviors

This is a summary of the module Emotional Behaviors for your reference.

In this module, we'll focus on how to manage unhelpful emotional behaviors.

Countering emotional behaviors is represented by the middle room on the 3rd floor of the “emotions” house. It’s built upon your goals and ability to stay motivated (the foundation) and your understanding and awareness of your emotions (the first and second floors).


Before continuing, did you complete your Emotion Assessments and Progress Record this past week? You might want to take a look at your Treatment Goals form to check your progress.

Did you work on Practicing Cognitive Flexibility and Identifying Core Automatic Thoughts during the week? If you haven’t, please work on them with this week’s forms. 

Now back to emotional behaviors


Emotional behaviors or “actions” are part of emotional experiences. 

To remind you, we use the 3-Component Model. It includes what you do (behaviors), what you think (thoughts), and what you feel in your body (physical sensations).

Recall that changing your behaviors, thoughts, and experience of physical sensations can change how you feel.


Emotions have some natural action or behavior tendencies. As you learned, they can be helpful.


What is a helpful emotional behavior for you when you feel sad, anxious, angry or guilty?

For example: setting boundaries when you're angry, or apologizing when you feel guilty.


Emotions also have unhelpful behaviors:

  • Avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable (overt avoidance)

  • Taking actions that prevent fully feeling emotions (subtle behavioral avoidance)

  • Distraction to avoid thinking or feeling (cognitive avoidance)

  • Holding items like a good luck charm to make you feel safe in situations that are not really dangerous (safety signals)

  • Taking actions to provide short-term relief from distress (emotion-driven behaviors)


Which of the following is an unhelpful emotional behavior for you?

  • Completely avoiding certain situations/activities.

  • Making small changes to avoid fully feeling emotions.

  • Using items, people, or pets to feel safe with intense emotions.

  • Leaving situations that cause intense emotions.

  • Keeping your mind occupied to avoid feeling emotions.


What are the results of these emotional behaviors?

Short term - they may lessen or prevent distress, even if briefly.

Long term - they may cause you to believe that you’re unable to handle situations and problems do not get solved.


Consequences of Emotional Behavior

Overt avoidance 

You’re feeling too sad and tired and don’t attend a party. In the short term, you can rest. But, in the long-term, you continue to feel sad. You avoid other social events and miss out on time with friends.

Subtle avoidance

You’re angry at a work meeting so you check your email as a way to disengage. You may feel less irritated in the moment. But, long term, you remain angry and relationships with colleagues suffer.

Cognitive avoidance

You watch a movie instead of addressing an issue you have with your partner. It distracts you, but long term it doesn’t solve the problem. Cognitive avoidance often leads to excessive worry and increased avoidance of your feelings.

Safety signals

You’re anxious about boarding a plane so you hold something that makes you feel secure. It helps your anxiety, but you continue to believe that you can’t cope with flying unless you're holding onto something.

Emotion-driven behavior

You sign up for a dance class. As the class starts, you have trouble keeping up with the movements and feel embarrassed. To avoid more embarrassment, you make an excuse to leave early. In the short term, you avoid more embarrassment. But long term, you miss the opportunity to learn a new skill.


Think about your intense emotions (e.g. anxiety, sadness, shame). What are some of your unhelpful emotional behaviors associated with those emotions?


Choose an alternative action to break the cycle of unhelpful emotional behaviors

An alternative action is when you choose to do something that’s different than what you’ve done in the past. Your choice should be an activity that “engages” your emotions, instead of avoiding them.

Countering emotional behaviors may be difficult in the short-term.

But long-term, you can better deal with unhelpful emotional behaviors and do things that help you work towards your goals.


Think about your intense emotions (e.g. anxiety, sadness, shame). What are some of your unhelpful emotional behaviors associated with those emotions?


What are some alternative behaviors you could try when you’re having a strong emotion?

It may be challenging to perform new, alternative actions or behaviors in the short term. However, you’re likely to have less intense emotional experiences in the long term. In fact, you may feel good about yourself - feel proud and positive.


Alternative Behavior Tips

  • The behaviors may be small, e.g. - change your posture, relax your jaw, smile, etc.

  • They require you to do something. Doing nothing doesn’t count. The idea is to replace a behavior with another one.

  • If you’re struggling to think of an alternative behavior - try thinking of something that is the extreme opposite, then scale back.


Here’s an example of scaling back. Let’s say you’re really angry with your closest friend and want to cancel your lunch date. An “extreme opposite behavior” might be asking them to spend the day together - go for a walk, a picnic lunch, etc. 

Instead? Send a brief, yet kind email saying you need to reschedule lunch. Take some time, then call them and talk about the situation.


Homework Reminder

Remember - Make time for your homework!

This week, you’ll complete two new forms in your UP Therapy Workbook: List of Emotional Behaviors and Countering Emotional Behaviors. You’ll create a list of some of your common emotional behaviors, then you’ll come up with some alternative behaviors for them.

As with all weekly homework, complete your Emotions forms and Progress Record.


Think back to your therapy goals. How can countering emotional behaviors help you reach your goals?

Please describe progress you've made towards your therapy goals.


Time for a knowledge check. Which of the following are true?

  • Over the long term, emotional behaviors can discourage you from thinking you can handle emotional situations.

  • Safety signals help you realize you’re able to handle situations.

  • Alternative actions or behaviors engage your emotions.

  • Most people find it easy to perform short-term alternative behaviors.



  1. True. Emotional behaviors provide short-term relief from intense emotions. However, they prevent you from thinking you can handle emotional experiences.

  2. False. Short-term, safety signals make you think you’re handling situations. Long-term, they prevent you from learning you can handle a situation without them.

  3. True. An alternative action is when you choose to do something that’s different than what you’ve done in the past. You engage your emotions instead of avoiding them.

  4. False. It’s often challenging to perform alternative behaviors in the short term, especially if they're new to you. However, you’re likely to have less intense emotional experiences long-term.