Emotion Regulation

The second most challenging aspect of feeling and emotion as a human, after identification, is the art and craft of regulating our emotions as individuals, families, and systems. I tell my clients that this is an art because it takes a lifetime of effort and work to master the craft for ourselves, our family and our organizations.

Not only does it take a lifetime, but it needs to start as a process and objective just as soon as we can muster the motivation and dedication to address it. Best case scenario is that young children learn emotion regulation as they learn language, but many do not.

Once we start the process, regulating becomes our own relationship with ourselves that is deep, authentic, and transparent. A relationship with regulating our emotions, is a relationship that we can trust to perform no matter what we face in lifes’ challenges.

Emotions are difficult to regulate, to say the least. I have been working on feelings with thousands of people, my entire career, and I am here to say, “Emotions are incredibly difficult to manage.”  However, emotions can be coped with but it is never without effort and dedication. We have to spend the time, learn ourselves, agree to the work, and continuously place the effort where it needs to be; learning our own individual process of feeling our feelings and coping with them.

Regulating starts with identification (read my blog about Emotional Identification) and after identifying what we are feeling, the next step is figuring out what to do about our emotions. This is the part that becomes increasingly tricky if we have been through a lot of psychological trauma because the brain defines for itself the right way (the best survival mechanism) to respond to big feelings. We have to avoid the patterned response to big feelings if we have a traumatic history (distraction, dissociation, addiction etc.) as these patterned responses only lead to delays and increased emotions. There is no way around emotions, only a way through them.

When figuring out how to manage our own emotions, we have to identify them adequately and effectively, first. Then we have to apply a strategy. All of us do different things when we feel emotions.  Some of us activate, some shut down, some freeze, some fight. Adequately and effectively identifying emotion is not the only step. Identification is not necessarily a fool proof mechanism but a possibility and opportunity to learn what works for us. When we are feeling big feelings, we have to “try on“ new tools and strategies because what the world and society says is going to work for us, doesn’t always.

Some strategies on how to manage our own emotions after identification:

  • Some people I work with need connection and belonging after identifying their feelings, to regulate themselves. 
  • Some people need distraction to slowly regulate. 
  • Some people need achievement to push through. 
  • Some people need movement.  
  • Some people need nourishment, whether that be food, drink, music, smell etc. 

We are all different in how we feel feelings, how we identify them, how we process them, how we deal with them. This is wonderful and human. Acknowledging this is part of the regulation process.

Before regulating emotions one must identify the emotions. Learn how with my blog, Emotional Identifications.

Tips on working towards regulating emotions:

  1.  Understand that regulation can only come after accurate and effective identification.
  2. This, regulation of emotion, is a lifetime of work, not an experience.  We are always doing the preparatory work for the next big thing life brings us, and always doing the restorative work from the things that came before.  
  3. No one can do this for us.  We can do it in partnership, in therapy, in psychological safety with another, but no one can tell us how to do it.  We have to work on this for and with ourselves.
  4. Regulation is about trying on new skills and strategies as an attempt to learn about our needs and become our best selves.
  5. When we are “trying on new strategies” we want to be thinking about possibilities for our minds, bodies, and spirits as the most effective and healing strategies.

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