Have you ever been overwhelmed by your emotions so much that it feels like they are completely taking over your mind, body, and soul? We as humans can get very caught up in relationships, criticism from others, or even other people’s pain.
This is a normal occurrence. And there is freedom. It is possible to learn how to regulate our emotions to a point where we can allow them to exist in a healthy way without being so consumed by them.
Emotional regulation is a very important skill to have. Yet, many people do not have access to the tools needed to learn how to emotionally regulate in a healthy way. As children, we acquire coping skills as a defense mechanism, especially if we are living in a chaotic home. And as we grow up, many times, those coping skills don’t serve us anymore.
So what do we do now that we understand emotional regulation is important, but also difficult to access?
The first step is self-compassion. Understand that we are all human, and we are doing the best we can. A lot of us are in survival mode where our behaviors are hijacked by the fight-or-flight response. In that state, we are only acting on impulse. In that state, it may feel as if we have very little control over our actions.
It can be difficult to have an abundance of self compassion; especially, if we are acting impulsively and destructively in the fight-or-flight response. Sometimes this can lead us to committing actions that we are not proud of.
Having just enough compassion to understand that you need help so that you are not continuing to hurt others or yourself is all you need. A trained therapist can help you to uncover the reasons behind emotional de-regulation. And they can give you healthier coping tools so that you can learn from your emotions without allowing them to control you. Here are a few you can begin to implement at any time.
A lot of times, when we feel an overwhelming emotion, it’s because something within has been ignored for way too long. Just giving our feelings a place to flow out of us can go a long way in calming our emotions.
There are a few ways to do this. Obviously, the pen-to-paper strategy is a dependable way to release inner turmoil. The process of slowing down our thoughts enough to handwrite them can be an added benefit. But if you’re experiencing racing thoughts, it might feel better to type them out in a document on your computer. And remember you can always use password-protection on your documents if you’re concerned that anyone might have access to reading them.
Voice recording yourself is another option. Unleash your emotions fully and with emphasis. Speak from your heart all the things you want to say but have been holding back. Play back that recording to yourself later when you are calm. Listening to this can go a long way in helping you feel heard and by the time you do, you may find you have a different perspective.
If you don’t fancy yourself as a wordsmith, you might try art journaling. Art journaling is a process of uses mixed media to create art within a book. Tell a story about your emotional experience in the art.
What can colors, lines, shapes and textures say about your emotions? Remember to use self compassion here too. Sometimes what’s in your mind’s eye is very different from what emerges on the page. That’s okay. Let that which forms on the page be exactly as it is.
Respond to it from a place of love and kindness. Ask it, “What do you have to teach me?” Have a dialogue with the art. Give voice to a color, let it speak to you. What does it say? Now, respond to what it says without harshness or judgement. Practice this technique. Notice any insights that emerge that help develop a greater capacity to love and accept when the difficult emotions swell.
This may seem strange and uncomfortable the first few times you use these methods if they are unfamiliar to you. Notice the story you might be telling yourself about the process. We make meaning and form beliefs by these stories.
If the story comes from the voice of a judge, notice it. Get curious. How is that judge protecting you? Is it from something that actually warrants protection? In most cases it’s not; it’s a ghost memory from our past hurts. This is the time when we act ourselves into feeling. We do it anyway knowing that after we do it, we will feel differently. Growth and healing happen in this space.
One strategy that can help you separate enough from your emotions so that you can really hear out what they have to say is personifying emotions.
Choose a persona that is endearing to you like yourself as a child. When you imagine that you as an innocent little child is feeling the big emotions you’re feeling, it can make it easier to listen and respond to your emotions in a more loving way. And remember, self-compassion is key to regulating emotion.
A lot of times we judge ourselves harshly for our difficult emotions, but choosing to view them as your inner child can help you to be more reassuring and comforting to yourself in times of distress. It can feel awkward at first, but it really can be a key to your inner growth and healing.
Susan Anderson is a psychoanalyst who is a pioneer in this area. Check out the resources on her website. She explains a process called inner child dialoguing where you literally journal a conversation where your inner child feels heard and your adult self speaks lovingly and reassuringly. It’s a beautiful, healing process.
Connecting to Yourself
Again, emotional outbursts happen many times because we have spent a long time ignoring an underlying need. So one of the best ways to prevent this and give yourself space to regulate during difficult feelings is to find ways to connect to yourself. One way is meditation, especially breathwork. It can seem lonely or like a waste of time to plan on sitting in one place for an extended period just focusing on our breath, but it does work wonders for regulating emotion.
At times, we can feel like it is downright torturous to go through the process of meditating. Dan Harris has a free app and podcast that is called 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. His audience is composed of people who feel very uncomfortable in a meditative setting. Go ahead and check it out if you feel like you might be in that category. Also there are some other free apps that help with meditation like Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer.
Connecting to yourself can also involve being in nature and taking up creative hobbies. But the key is to do these things on your own. Spend some time with yourself. Think about it this way, you would cancel plans to spend time with your friend if they were going through a difficult time. You are worthy of that as well. A big part of emotional regulation is learning to be your own friend.
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
We find it so easy to comfort our friends and even strangers. When we’ve been through a lot, we can understand that everyone has bad days. People are people. We’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got.
But you cannot truly meet other people with understanding and kindness until you learn how to give that love to yourself. We can only meet each other at the level of our own consciousness. Sometimes when we are externally focused, it can help to realize that when we invest in truly uncovering our love for ourself that is when we can truly begin to love others. Everyone has a journey they must go on in this life to grow and learn. We all make mistakes and there is no shame in that. May we have patience for ourselves on the journey.
If you find any of these techniques to be helpful, let us know! We would love to encourage you in your journey to emotional regulation. You don’t have to sit alone with the difficult stuff. If that’s something you are interested in, please contact us.
Take good care of you!