What puts the ‘Bio’ in Biosocial theory

Hi All,

I’m nearly at the end of my dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) sessions, having spent a year studying the skills manual and practising the skills. So for myself and anyone else who is interested, i am going to write a blog post a week on most of the skills i use and the bits of the book i have found relevant to my recovery.

This week I’m going to talk about the ‘Bio’ bit in the biosocial theory. (I will do a separate post for the social bit) The ‘bio’ bit is the biological part of the theory and the social bit is the social part of the theory. Together they make one of Marsha‘s main theories on why and how some people develop borderline personality disorder.

This theory is explained is on page 14 of the book and is usually one of the first things you will go over when beginning DBT.

Why do i have so much trouble controlling my emotions and actions?                          

Emotional vulnerability is BIOLOGICAL: it’s simply how some people are born.

  • They are more sensitive to emotional stimuli; they can detect subtle emotional information in the environment that others don’t even notice.
  • They experience emotions much more often than others.
  • Their emotions seem to hit for no reason, from out of the blue.
  • They have more intense emotions.
  • Their emotions hit like a ton of bricks.
  • And their emotions are long-lasting.

Impulsivity also has a BIOLOGICAL basis: Regulating action is harder for some than others.

  • They find it very hard to restrain impulsive behaviours.
  • Often without thinking they do things that get them in trouble.
  • Sometimes their behaviour seems to come out of nowhere.
  • They find it very hard to be effective.
  • Their moods get in the way of organising to achieve their goals.
  • They cannot control behaviours linked to their moods.


When i first started DBT a lot of my preconceptions about my behaviour were that i I’ll always be this way because it’s who i am. I am meant to be broken, and there is nothing i, or anyone else can do to help.

Learning about the biosocial theory was confirming, in a way, that actually a part of it was out of my control.

So, surely this would have confirmed what i already knew? That there was no helping me, the illness was in every fibre that knitted me together.

Well you’ll be pleased to hear it actually gave me the foundation i have built my recovery on.


The idea that my behaviours were out of my control, went from being a death sentence to a life jacket.

Learning about the theory allowed me to accept that i am simply more vulnerable to emotional stimuli, and that’s OK, because lots of people are. We cannot change that fact, but we CAN learn ways to control how we behave. It was so comforting to know that there actually was a reason (for example) i could be on cloud nine one minute and want to die the next.

The biosocial theory is great because it can help you to let go of some of the burden of being ill. You can finally just accept that yes actually it is out of your control and you will probably always be sensitive and prone to being impulsive, but you can do something about it. You can master it. It’s a great beginning to the rest of the book…

This article is not a substitute for personal mental health treatment. Please see your doctor or mental health professional if you have troubling symptoms.

Source: Linehan, Marsha M. DBT Skills Training Handouts and worksheets, Second edition, New York: The Guilford Press, 2015.






  1. I have this book and my therapist is willing to help me practice the skills. Not ready to start yet though. I am between medications and not in a great place.


    • Hi Tessa, take your time with therapy. As i’m sure your therapist will have told you, you have to be in a stable place to be able to practice skills effectively. I hope you reach that place and i hope you find DBT as useful as i have 🙂 have a good Sunday x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so impressed with this post, you perfectly blend education with personal experience, which is what my blog is all about…would you consider letting me post this article to my mental health blog (of course, under YOUR name), or consider writing a guest post for my blog?


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