Emotion Regulation: Why We Need Emotions, and How To Cope With Them



With all that is going on in the world and in our day to day lives, it can feel daunting to connect with emotions and learn how to effectively regulate them. Along the range of emotional experience, there are many emotions that just don’t feel good. When these emotions come along, we tend to just write them off as useless and try to make them go away. However, typically this backfires and makes it even more challenging to cope. You might be thinking “why should I have to sit with an unpleasant emotional experience”? The reason is that each emotion serves a purpose, and that we can develop tools to effectively manage even the most challenging emotions. .


Emotions are responsible for:


  • Motivating and organizing us for action: Much of this is hard-wired in our biology. Emotions serve as a cue to lead us toward survival and away from danger. When we are strapped for time and need to act fast, emotions kick into gear and allow us to cope through challenging obstacles that life throws our way


  • Communicating important information to others: Facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice are all impacted by our emotions, and these physical expressions communicate emotion to others. The way we communicate our emotions influences how others interact with us.


  • Communicating important information to ourselves: Emotional reactions tell us what’s going on, and can be a signal that we need to react. However, sometimes we believe that our emotions are facts, and then use them to justify actions. This is why it’s important to connect with our emotions and learn to read them. When we develop a better understanding of our unique emotional reactions, we can decipher between strong feelings and actual facts.


Why Is It SO HARD to regulate emotions?


Life is complex, and so are our emotions. Some factors that impact our ability to regulate include biological disposition, lack of awareness of skills, environmental reinforcement of behaviors, moods, and overwhelming emotional arousal, and myths that we have come to believe. Common beliefs about our emotions are:


  • “Experiencing sadness is a weakness, and avoiding emotions is a sign of strength”


  • “I’ll feel better if I just don’t feel my emotions at all”


  • “The emotions I experience define who I am as a person”



What Can I Do To Cope With My Emotional Experience?


All emotions, whether positive or negative, serve some sort of function. Anger, disgust, envy, fear, happiness, jealousy, love, sadness, guilt, shame, etc. are all valid emotions. First, we must accept that the human experience includes a broad range of emotions, and that it is just not possible to be happy or content all the time. However, we can learn more about ourselves and develop skills to help respond to emotions.


Check The Facts

Oftentimes, our interpretations of events impact our emotions. Interpretations are not factual. First, identify the emotions that you are experiencing. Then, determine the event that prompted the emotions and explore what thoughts and assumptions you show up with. Is there evidence that this event is a threat or a catastrophe? Does the feeling and it’s intensity fit with the factual information?


Use Opposite Action

This skill should be used when you have determined that your emotions do not fit the facts, or that acting on emotion urges will not be effective.


First, determine the emotion and the action urge based on that emotion.


Example: Feeling shame in your relationship based on the assumption that your partner will judge you despite receiving love, support, and openness from your partner. Having urges to avoid vulnerability with partner.


Then, identify the opposite action, and choose to engage in that action despite discomfort.


Example: Have open and honest conversations with partner.



Engage in Problem Solving

Did you check the facts and determine that your emotions fit? Now, you can identify what your goal for solving the problem is. What needs to happen or change in order for you to feel better? Explore solutions with an outcome that is likely to work. Go beyond thought exploration, and put your solution in ACTION.



DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan. Copyright 2015 by Marsha M. Linegan


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