“If you hold back on the emotions--if you don't allow yourself to go all the way through them--you can never get to being detached, you're too busy being afraid. You're afraid of the pain, you're afraid of the grief. You're afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails. But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your heard even, you experience them fully and completely.”
― Mitch Albom
A sincere thanks to all the awesome experts who shared their best tips, insights and strategies on emotional mastery - how to be in control of your emotions.
Our emotions can sometimes overwhelm us.
As an emotional person myself, I decided early on that my job was to repress what I considered to be the “bad” emotions so that I wouldn’t be a bad person. I strove to deny any feelings of irritation, anger, jealousy, anxiety, hurt or blame. It didn’t work.
When we bottle up our emotions or minimize them, they don’t just go away.
They get stuck inside us and build up. Then, they may come out in an explosion, or get buried deeper. Buried feelings often get covered up with self-defeating activities like over-eating, shopping, substance abuse or other risky behavior. They can also manifest as disease in the body.
Outward explosions can include projecting what we don’t like about ourselves onto others.
In my case, my buried feelings would usually come out as an explosion of temper over something that didn’t warrant that kind of response. That would then send me into a spiral of self-recrimination. In my mind, I’d become that bad person I didn’t want to be. My emotions had control over me, not the other way around.
Fortunately, I discovered the truth about emotions. Emotions are neither good nor bad. They're actually our internal guidance system, letting us know where we stand in relation to what we want to create in our lives.
Our feelings have a message for us. And the reality is, no one gets through life without experiencing anger, hurt, anxiety, jealousy and so on.
Even if you think you “shouldn’t” be feeling what you’re feeling, allow it.
Your emotions are real, so release the need to judge them. You don’t choose your emotions, even though many of us were given the impression that we do, as children. Having a feeling is not the same as acting on it.
The first step in working constructively with your emotions is to allow and acknowledge, with complete honesty to yourself, what you are feeling.
This is what therapist Tina Gilbertson calls “constructive wallowing.” Find a safe, private space and allow some time to just “be” with your emotions.
Name the emotion you’re experiencing. Breathe, allow your body to relax and realize it’s perfectly okay to feel what you feel. If you need to cry, do it.
When you fully acknowledge your feelings instead of fighting with them, they transform.
Once you’ve named the feeling and sat with it, practice compassionate self-talk.
Say things you would say to a friend. Try things like,
- “No wonder you’re upset.”
- “I’m so sorry you’re going through a hard time.”
- “I’m here for you.”
- “You’re so brave.”
- “I forgive you.”
A mistake many people make is to try to jump into positive thinking before they’ve actually allowed themselves to identify and allow their true feelings.
No amount of positive thinking will bring results until you’ve faced your unresolved emotions and inner wounds. What we resist, persists!
It can feel scary at first, to actually feel your deepest feelings, but with practice it becomes easier. When you allow them and understand why you (a good person) would have them, rather than resist them, you open to the message they have, and they dissipate quickly.
Seek the help of a qualified therapist or coach if you need support in this journey.
When we feel we can’t handle our emotions, we might be more inclined to avoid dealing with them.
Here is the thing about emotions, the more we fight against them, the more intense they become.
It may seem like a good idea to avoid, ignore, or deny our emotions, especially when they feel really overwhelming. The reality is that when we do this, it might bring temporary relief, but we will eventually feel this emotion and it will be more intense and harder to manage than if we had allowed ourself to feel the emotion in its entirety at the time.
The opposite of avoiding our emotions would be to practice radical acceptance around them.
This is an idea that is utilized in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, created by Marsha Linehan.
To radically accept an emotion means that we have to bring our awareness to it as it is. We don’t have to like the way it feels, but we accept that the way we feel is the current reality.
By accepting our emotions, we can allow ourselves to “ride the wave of the emotion” as it is in that moment, allowing ourselves to move with the emotion rather than against it.
This is a practice. It may not come easily at first. In fact, it may be very difficult to sit with your emotions rather than turn away from them. I often encourage the people I work with to find a way to sit with their emotions that feels right for them.
This could be something like journaling or meditating.
You may need to start by keeping a mood and emotion journal that helps you bring your awareness to your emotions so that you can begin to face them head on.
Radically accepting our emotions, and thus sitting with the discomfort of them is not easy and should be accompanied by other coping skills.
If you are prone to high intensity emotions, this is especially true. As you become better at accepting the way that you are feeling, you will also notice that you will find more effective ways of coping. As you work towards that place of building awareness and knowing what you need, try out some different coping skills such as mindful coloring, going for a walk, journaling, listening to music, or talking with a friend or family member.
As you work on building this practice of radically accepting your emotions, you might notice statements coming up such as, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”.
Gently remind yourself that your emotions are valid and they deserve to be attuned too. When you start to pay attention to them in the moment and accept that you are feeling the way you are feeling, the intensity of your emotions and the duration of them, may decrease. You will always have emotions, and by practicing radical acceptance, you will be able to manage them more effectively.
Emotional self-regulation is a sanctuary. Volatility can be replaced with stability.
Peaceful is powerful.
Self-control will enhance your self-respect and in turn gain the respect of those around you.
Similar to what makes you angry, intense trigger responses may be insidiously lurking inside of your brain. They can be difficult to recognize. You may get panic attacks or feel like you are “losing it”.
The word panic is derived from Greek mythology.
The demigod Pan would torment people by hiding in bushes and rustling leaves. This would scare unsuspecting travelers. They would "panic". It wasn't a real threat, but it felt that way. It was what we now call a trigger. Once you know what prompts your panic or anger, you can regulate your emotions by focused awareness.
The brain is very much like a circuit breaker box.
When overloaded, your brain can short circuit and cause a disconnect between you and your reactivity. However, the good news is your brain can be re-trained not to react but to respond.
You have Response-ABILITY!
Harness the power of intentional insight and foresight. You will still notice your feelings, but they don’t control you. You control the impulse by shifting away from the desire to act out of fear or anger.
Calmness is confidence.
Meditation is the mediator between your conscious and subconscious mind.
With this simple guided imagery, you can practice emotional self-regulation in many areas of your life. It works best when done with calm meditation music, but silence or being in nature is also of great benefit.
With practice, you will have self-awareness of what sets you off so you can avoid blow-ups, melt downs or altercations.
1. Close your eyes.
Think of something that makes you upset and angry. When you sense anger or panic beginning, feel the trigger for no more than 30 seconds. Imagine how you would normally react. See yourself acting on it. Lose your temper! Let them have it!
2. Notice how you feel. Angry? Mad? Enraged? (It’s not good is it?)
3. Think of how you feel afterward. Embarrassed? Out of control? Unhappy?
4. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth 3 times slowly and deliberately. Pay attention to each breath. (It slows the heart, fills the lungs with air and calms the brain.)
5. Now hit the pause button of your thinking.
Rewind the scene immediately before you lose your temper or are upset. Think of remaining calm, not raising your voice or walking away.
6. Notice how you feel. Calm? Peaceful. Powerful?
7. Think of how you feel afterward. Good? Stable? In control? Happier?
8. Think about a happy future.
Imagine a miraculous day. It can be fantasy or reality. Your brain can't distinguish the difference. Use your imagination to attach the five senses. Imagine being in a beautiful location. Feel your feet walking in the setting you have chosen. Envision it in detail.
9. How do you feel?
10. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth 3 times. Imprint this feeling into your psyche by relaxing. Press the soles of your feet gently into the floor. Wait until you feel centered and grounded.
11. When you’re ready, gently open your eyes.
Self-regulation takes rehearsal. It becomes automatic when you keep at it. It is undoing the damage much the same way it came; by repetition. You learned a maladaptive response from past conditioning. Now you can employ the same process to aid in extinguishing unwanted emotional reactivity.
Mary Joye, LMHC – www.winterhavencounseling.com
It’s simply human to want to experience more of our positive emotions, such as enjoyment and joy, and to control negative emotions, like distress, fear, anger, or shame.
Evolution has given us an impressive motivational system in the form of emotions to help us navigate through life. At times we may think the best course of action is to suppress, or disregard an intense emotion rather than figure it out.
But why do we attempt to control emotions that have evolved over thousands of years to help us? Often, it is because we don’t understand what they are trying to tell us.
Labeling emotions as positive or negative has little to do with their value, but instead involves how they motivate us through the ways they make us feel.
Emotions like distress, fear, anger, disgust, and shame motivate us to do something to avoid experiencing them, or they urge us to behave in ways that will relieve their effects.
For example, you would be motivated to back off from a dangerous situation based on your fear, or brush your teeth before a date to avoid possible shame due to bad breath. Essentially, we are motivated to do something based on our desire to turn on emotions that are positive or to turn off the negative ones.
All emotions direct and focus our attention. We really do not want to “control” negative emotions, but instead we want to learn how to interpret and respond to them.
Our lifetime of emotional responses, and the responses of others to our emotional expressions, script or automate our behavior in different ways.
These scripts organize information in our brain so we do not have to re-learn the knowledge we gained from prior similar experiences, yet they also influence our decisions and how we govern our lives.
If you have always responded with intense anger to being hurt, for example, you will continue to do so until you become aware of this tendency and learn new ways of responding. It’s not so much about control as it is about self-observation.
We do not really unlearn old behaviors, but we can learn new ones to take their place.
So it is important to take a look at our responses, be curious about why we respond the way we do, and consider alternatives. And that’s having control.
We can approach any feeling with interest—a curiosity about the sensations we feel and the thoughts that accompany it—and accept the feeling as our brain’s best guess to provide information that will guide us in a particular way.
As such, emotions are somewhat like a person in your life who gives you information that is vital to your goals, but at other times what he or she offers is misguided due to his or her own past experiences.
Being in control of one’s emotions has to do with an awareness of what we feel and how we respond to that feeling.
Mary Lamia, Ph.D. - www.marylamia.com