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Hitting the Pause Button

Emotionally sensitive people are not comfortable with conflict. When you are in conflict there is usually a sense of urgency. That sense of urgency makes you want to take action, even when there is no reason to take action, because you feel threatened by the conflict itself. You may have a strong urge to apologize, run away, tell the person off, quit your job, yell, scream, break up, or do something to express how strongly you feel. It’s a basic, primal urge to protect yourself–you sense danger. The problem is that in today’s world acting quickly is not usually the best choice for the problems we face–it’s not the same as running from tigers. Acting when you are in a state of urgency usually results in more problems, not solutions. When you are in emotion mind you may say “yes” when you really should have said “no,” or “no” when you needed to say “yes.”

Photo by Judith E. Bell

The best move you can take is to pause, take a step back to think about the most effective way to respond to the situation. But how do you get that time to think and calm yourself?

Assertive Delay (from The DBT Skills Workbook) gives you a way to wait, particularly when you or someone else is on the edge of anger or people are pressuring you to make a decision or agree with a plan or solution right away. Assertive delay is a way to take a break to observe and describe and check facts.

The break might be for a few minutes or several hours. During the time out you can calm your energy, think carefully about the issues and the facts of the situation and prepare a carefully thought out response. An example of an assertive delay is “You’ve said some important things and I need time to think it through.” “Another example is “Give me an hour. This is important and I want to think carefully before I say anything.”

Today, practice assertive delay. Give yourself time to make decisions or reply to people’s requests when you feel any internal energy at all. Give yourself time to consider what you really think and want and what is best in the situation.

McKay, M, Wood, J, and Brantley, J. The Dialectical Behavior Skills Workbook. New Harbinger Publications, 2007.

Hitting the Pause Button

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

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APA Reference
Hall, K. (2017). Hitting the Pause Button. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 May 2017
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