You’ll read article after article on how to control your emotions, don’t let negative emotions control you, control control CONTROL…
Emotions aren’t a bucking bronco or a bad hair day!
The truth is that our emotions, both good and bad, are actually helpful.
In fact, much of our own desire to “control” our emotions usually comes from other people, or sometimes, from our own projections onto other people. I’ll explain below.
Your goal should not be to control your emotions—it should be to understand and learn from what your emotions are telling you. In that way, you can see your emotions as objective, and more than likely when they come around again, you will recognize them and won’t feel so out of control.
This is exactly how we teach our toddlers to handle their own emotions… why should we do any different with ourselves?!
Why do you want to control your emotions?
We usually label emotions as being good and bad. And most of the time, we don’t want to control your “good” emotions… just the bad ones. But think about this. In some cases, happy is not a “good” emotion. For example:
- It’s probably not appropriate to feel happy at a friend or family member’s funeral.
- It’s not appropriate to feel loud and excited in church.
- It’s definitely weird if you feel at peace when a creepy guy follows you home.
Emotions are highly functional for whatever situation we’re in. Even the negative ones we experience have purpose and function.
So think about it for a moment. Why do you want to control these highly evolved reactions to our environments?
- Does it sometimes feel like you’re overwhelmed?
- Do you feel like your emotions are taking you for a ride?
- Do you feel like you lose control when you experience overwhelming emotions?
- Do you feel like you’re being judged by others when you experience big emotions?
READ MORE: I feel like a burden to my family
Gaining an understanding of what our motivation is will help you learn to “control” your emotions. In other words, once you’ve practiced these steps below, you’ll learn how to recognize your emotions and know how to react before your emotions take over.
12 Tips on How to Control Your Emotions
1. Take a breath and get objective
When you start to feel emotions like overwhelming anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, or grief coming on, begin to recognize them.
Once you realize that you’re experiencing these emotions, start to detach “good” or “bad” from emotions and just call them all “emotions”.
Tell yourself, “It’s okay to experience emotions.”
Take a couple deep breaths. If you need to, remove yourself from the situation that triggered you. Close the browser, step away from the conversation, or hang up the phone.
Put yourself in an environment that is safe for you so you can cool off.
2. Label the Emotion
The next step is to label whatever the emotion is. It’s important to be able to pinpoint what exactly you’re feeling.
Give yourself the facts and tell yourself them, either aloud or in your head. You can write them down too, if you like to journal.
“I’m feeling frustrated right now.”
If you’re having a hard time deciding what you feel, you can always take a breath, go about your day, and revisit it later. But if you want to get the insight and learn to control those emotions, it’s important to think about it deeply.
Here are some common “negative” emotions, and their definitions:
- sadness- the state of feeling sorrow
- anger- a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire
- frustration– a feeling of dissatisfaction, often accompanied by anxiety or depression, resulting from unfulfilled needs or unresolved problems
- grief– mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss
- disappointment– to fail to fulfill the expectations or wishes of
- resentment– the feeling of displeasure or indignation at some act, remark, person, etc., regarded as causing injury or insult
- fear– a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined
(For the record, depression is not an emotion in this case, but a mental disorder. Depression does not have anything to teach us except that we should feel comfortable going to talk to someone. Mental health should not have a stigma!)
3. Accept the Emotion to Control Your Emotions
Next, start to accept the emotion. Give yourself permission for the way you feel.
“It’s okay and completely normal for me to feel frustrated.”
“I give myself permission to feel afraid.”
Moving into a state of acceptance can help you lower your blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol response, and overwhelm. Acceptance is the catalyst for having full control of our faculties when we experience states of raised “bad” emotions.
4. Examine why you are feeling this way
Look at reasons why, or possible triggers for this emotion that you’re feeling.
“I felt frustrated when….”
“I feel angry because…”
Thinking about the “why” can help you learn to recognize, and, more importantly, anticipate your triggers.
A trigger is basically an object or scenario that causes you to feel severe emotional intensity. Usually, it’s related to trauma, whether big (like physical or sexual abuse) or smaller (like gaslighting or disrespect).
Anticipating your triggers means that you can catch yourself before your emotions fly off the handle. This is a great technique for when you take things too personally as well.
5. Examine why this emotion makes you feel out of control
As mentioned above, usually a trigger relates to something from your past.
Often, the reasons we feel so emotionally overwhelmed or out of control is because whatever the original situation was for us, we felt dreadfully out of control.
For example, you might find yourself triggered when someone doesn’t appear to be listening to you. This may stem back to your childhood when your siblings were talking, and as soon as you started talking, everyone changed the conversation or stopped listening.
Yes, it can literally be that small of a trigger.
6. Think about the people around you
Sometimes, especially when these emotions overwhelm us in front of others, we can feel embarrassed, judged, or worse. One thing to think about, is that, perhaps your own emotional reaction was called for, but the other person had unacceptable expectations of your emotions in that moment.
Remember, if you’re feeling overwhelmed because of an emotion or reaction that someone else is feeling, you’re not responsible for how they feel, only how you feel.
7. Treat yourself like a toddler
When we try to teach toddlers about their emotions, we usually try to follow some principles. For example, we usually tell our toddlers that it’s okay. We explain that it’s okay to feel bad, but it’s not okay to be mean to someone.
We usually validate their emotions and we may ask them why they’re feeling that way. Another thing that works well when dealing with toddler tantrums (BIG emotions), is that we don’t use extreme or never/always statements.
For example, if a toddler says, “I can’t do it.”
You might say, “Let’s try again until we get it right.”
If they say, “I’m just NOT good at this.”
You’ll say, “You just need more practice.”
Treat yourself like a toddler when you have big emotions. Give yourself room, and give yourself some space.
Most importantly, give yourself a hug and be gentle with yourself.
8. Plan a response accordingly
When you’re all done examining your feelings, it’s a good time to think about how you want to respond.
How can you reply to someone who has frustrated you without losing control of your emotions?
How can you turn a negative inner state to a positive outer experience?
9. What are the next steps?
Your next steps may be to seek out that person to clarify the situation and respond in a way that you’ve planned above.
But you might also want to do some more soul searching to determine more about your trigger and why you frequently feel this way.
The next steps are completely up to you.
However, it is always a good idea to wholeheartedly confront anyone that may have been in the situation when you felt emotionally overwhelmed. This may or may not mean apologizing. But it also might mean confronting someone who hurt you.
10. Write it down to Control Your Emotions
Don’t forget that writing things down in a journal or planner can help you process what you’re going through. Emotions can be messy, and sometimes when you are very precise with your words, you can give yourself more insight.
Here’s a few ways to journal about your feelings:
- Stream of consciousness
- Write dialogue with your inner child
- Write what you’re grateful for
- Log of successes
And 6 other journaling techniques for emotional healing at the link to Tiny Buddha above!
11. Let it go
One of the last things for you to do is to let go of those negative emotions you’re experiencing.
Letting go of emotions is NOT easy. In fact, a lot of the time, it feels good to hold onto our anger or disappointment, because it makes us feel like we’re in control. But really, we’re more a slave to those negative feelings when we hold onto them.
Letting go is difficult, but it helps us move past the emotions, for good.
Affirmations for Letting Go can also help you get into a more healthy mindset.
12. Surround yourself with people who also practice responding and reflection
Last, make sure you have excellent role models and partners in your life for responding in an emotionally neutral and appropriate way.
Whether it’s your husband, sister, or some friends, these people can be there to bounce ideas off of and help you through any tough emotions you’re experiencing.
They can also help you draft some responses to others without blowing up or even just commiserating with you.
The value of having a community of high EQ people is priceless.
You may even find good Facebook groups for people who are experiencing the same thing as you. Whatever your trigger is, try searching for a Facebook group and join a few to find a good fit for you.
Follow these 12 steps to unearth your emotions, accept those “bad” emotions that you experience, and let go.
It is possible to control your emotions, but you won’t get there by pushing them away.
The only way is to embrace them and work through them. Best of luck as you work through all your own difficult emotions!