What puts the ‘Social’ in Biosocial theory

So I’ve previously posted my explanation and feelings towards the ‘Bio’ element of Marsha Linehans’ Biosocial Theory – Click here to read the post.

I’m going to aim to explain what the Social part of the Bio social theory means to me.

Biology, according to Marsha, only makes up a certain percentage of her theory on how both biology and your social surroundings can have a large effect on the development of BPD.

So let’s have a look what the book says. The biosocial 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?      

An invalidating SOCIAL environment can make it very hard to regulate emotions.

  • An invalidating environment doesn’t seem to understand your emotions.
  • It tells you your emotions are invalid, weird, wrong or bad.
  • It often ignores your emotional reactions and does nothing to help you.
  • It may say things like ‘don’t be such a baby’ ‘quit your blubbering’ ‘quit being such a chicken and just solve the problem’ or ‘normal people don’t get this frustrated’


People who invalidate are OFTEN DOING THE BEST THEY CAN.

  • They may not know how to validate or how important it is to validate or they may be afraid that if they validate your emotions, you will get more emotional, not less.
  • They may be under high stress or time pressure or they may have too few resources themselves.
  • There may just be a poor fit between you and your social environment: You may be a tulip in a rose garden.


An ineffective SOCIAL environment is a big problem when you want to learn to regulate your emotions and actions.

  • Your environment may reinforce out-of-control emotional and actions.
  • If people give in when you get out of control, it will be hard for you to get in control.
  • If others command you to change, but don’t coach you on how to do this, it will be hard to keep on trying to change.


It’s the TRANSACTIONS that count between the person and the social environment.

  • Biology and the social environment influence the person
  • The person reciprocates and influences his or her social environment.
  • The social environment reciprocates and influences the person
  • And so on and on and on.

I do remember feeling wrong as a child. I don’t know where it came from. I remember having some pretty nasty friendships with people who would use me and emotionally abuse me, from early school upwards really, until I found ‘my people’ in year 11.

Whilst I will probably never be able to put a finger on WHY I have BPD, it really does help to know that some of the feelings I had when I was growing up meant something. They were real and I did have them.

The Biosocial theory really helped me to understand where I had come from and what aspects of my life had shaped the way am I now. Particularly the fact that I may just be more prone to emotional stimuli.

Many people with a serious mental illness have a history of childhood abuse, and I grew up in a lovely family who supported me as best they could, so I never really understood how I could have this illness.

In-fact as terrible as it is to admit this, I remember several times in my bad days wishing I had such a background, then maybe someone would actually listen to me for once instead of discharging me at my answer to the question:

“What was your childhood like?’’

When I started therapy and met all the amazing women in my group, I slowly started to see how diverse our backgrounds were. It gave me such relief to find out that there were lots of girls in my group who were like me, and had developed BPD despite having a normal family upbringing.

As the group went on, I realised whatever our background, we all suffered the same, and that just because someone has had a ‘worse’ life than myself does not mean they are any more or less ill than I am.

My favourite part of the Social element in the biosocial theory is the idea that everyone is doing then best they can.

Challenging judgmental thinking is a large part of DBT and I think I love this part because it does just that.

I look back at difficulties I have had in the past that were possibly as a result of other people behaviours, I can ask myself ‘was that person doing the best they could’

If the answer is yes this helps me to let go of any bad feelings I have held onto.

If the answer is No then you know that you need to use some skills like problem solving to find out what exactly it is you want from this person and this situation.


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.



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