Emotional Self-regulation: What It Is, And Strategies To Enhance It

emotional self-regulation

Although in recent decades the population has become more aware of the importance of emotional intelligence, the skills related to it are not always applied.

Among the most important we have emotional self-regulation essential to be able to deal efficiently, in a socially non-disruptive and non-individually harmful way, with all types of situations that alter us emotionally.

Below we will look at this idea in more depth, three types of strategies found within emotional self-regulation and ways to improve it in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

What is emotional self-regulation?

It can be understood as emotional self-regulation the ability to optimally manage emotions That is, it is a construct included within intrapersonal emotional intelligence that allows us to transform a potentially stressful and emotionally disturbing experience into something that, although it continues to be unpleasant, we understand to be temporary, impersonal and controllable. Having good emotional self-regulation implies being able to identify what happens to us, monitor its progress and intervene so that it ends up disappearing.

Based on this definition, the importance of having this capacity well developed is understandable. It allows us to face all types of life situations that, whether we like it or not, involve a series of emotional experiences When something happens to us we have a previous emotional state and, based on the characteristics of that event, our state can change positively or negatively.

We do not give the same response to the same event when we are calm as when we are angry. If we are under pressure, we are likely to give an inefficient response, which will frustrate us and cause us to suffer more anxiety. On the other hand, if we are more relaxed, we may think more coldly, calculatingly and efficiently, giving an adaptive response to the problem, whatever it may be.

Emotional self-regulation would imply that, even if we were in an undesirable mood for the situation in which we found ourselves, we knew how to manage this emotionality. That is to say, It involves being able to analyze oneself, reduce the degree to which feelings cause sudden ups and downs, and redirect your energy toward a more adaptive goal For example, if we are angry, instead of starting to destroy street furniture, a good option is to channel that energy and do a sport while we are in that state.

The modal theory of emotions

For some time now there have been theories within psychology that have endeavored to defend the idea that emotions are completely automatic and inevitable processes. That is, it doesn’t matter how much training we think we have: emotions appear and there is no way to control them. If you are angry, you will hardly be able to reduce that feeling and think coldly about how you feel. However, this is not the idea defended behind the construct of emotional self-regulation.

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The idea of ​​emotional self-regulation is based on the modal theory of emotions. This considers that emotions are not instinctive reactions, but rather occur for different reasons, such as the context, the person’s predisposition And, this is where the idea of ​​self-regulation would come in, the individual’s ability to moderate their mood.

According to the model, emotions imply a process that begins when an emotionally relevant situation appears. This may have its origin within the person, such as having remembered an unpleasant experience, or experiencing an emotionally tense situation. Afterwards, the person directs their attention towards that emotional event, evaluating and interpreting what happened on a cognitive and emotional level. From here the response is produced, which will mobilize emotional, mental and behavioral elements.

Depending on the model, it is possible to intervene in this process. Although there will be something that activates us emotionally, It is our capacity for self-regulation that will make our thoughts, emotions secondary to the event and behavior different from those that could occur if we did not control ourselves.

Emotional regulation strategies

There are many emotional self-regulation strategies, and each person, as long as they do it in a functional and adaptive way, can apply their own. However, the most frequent are the ones you will see below

1. Suppression of thoughts

This strategy consists, as its name suggests, of suppressing the thoughts that make us uncomfortable. Thus The aim is to change the emotional state, leaving the unpleasant situation and going to one, imagined or real, that does not cause us so much stress.

For example, if we think about a negative comment that was made to us today at work, which puts us in a very bad mood, the alternative would be to try to unfocus our attention by listening to music or imagining a beautiful landscape.

Although this strategy is very common, simple and cheap, not effective in the long term It’s true that it offers temporary relief, but usually the thoughts you were running away from end up coming back stronger.

2. Emotional reconsideration

The strategy of emotional reconsideration, or reappraisal, It consists of modifying the way in which we interpret a situation to try to change the impact it has on our emotional state.

For example, if we have just broken up with our partner, it is clear that we are going to feel negative feelings such as sadness, uncertainty or fear of not finding love again.

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However, Through reappraisal we can reconsider the situation, seeing its positive side For example, in this specific case, we can see that breaking up with that person is progress, given that we stop having a burden in our lives that prevents us from developing as full and happy people.

Emotional reconsideration is one of the most effective and adaptive emotional self-regulation strategies. In fact, it is very recurrent in cognitive-behavioral therapy.

3. Cognitive distancing

Cognitive distancing It consists of taking an independent and neutral position in the face of the event or emotional situation that upsets us This way we are able to reduce its impact on our mental state, and it is easier to choose the response we want to give.

This is complicated, but if we achieve it, what we do is refocus our emotional state, calm down and think coldly about what type of response we want to give. Basically, cognitive distancing helps prevent us from making bad decisions in the heat of the moment.

How to improve this skill?

Based on what has been seen, it is clear that good emotional self-regulation is a protective factor against psychopathology, in addition to avoiding problems at a social and work level. For example, having a good ability to prevent our feelings from controlling us while arguing with our partner or boss are ways to avoid breaking up with our boyfriend or girlfriend or ending up unemployed, respectively.

We’ll see now useful ways to improve emotional self-regulation both in childhood, adolescence and adulthood

In the childhood

An ideal time to work on this ability is childhood, given how moldable children are and their ability to learn easily. Teaching them to regulate their emotions so early will help them have better management of them in the educational and social context avoiding poor academic performance and having conflicts with other children.

The first thing to do is teach them to identify what feelings they are feeling at each moment. Children often have a lot of trouble being aware of their emotions. For this reason, deliberately practicing to realize this can be truly useful, always starting from a state of relaxation.

What you can ask them to do is dramatize intense emotions, such as sadness, anger, fear… The idea is to make them express these feelings in a safe and controlled way so that when they come in real life, they can identify them and they can manage them.

in adolescence

Although they have a greater ability to recognize emotions than children, adolescents may also have problems mastering this ability. This is because, despite having more cognitive abilities, adolescence is a turbulent period, where emotions are on the surface.

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A good way to make them aware of their emotions is to have them write a diary or make an emotions calendar In the diary they can write how they felt each day, writing what triggered the emotion, how they reacted and what they did to control it, while on the calendar they represent with colors what they felt.

Both the calendar and the emotional diary They serve for the adolescent to analyze, through the strategy of cognitive distancing your emotional state after the fact, and ask yourself questions like “Has it been of any use to feel this way?”, “What have I learned from this?”, “Why haven’t I been able to control myself?”

In adults

Adults have a much greater capacity to identify their feelings, although there are always those who still do not have adequate emotional self-regulation.

Likewise, In adulthood we play with certain advantages One is that since emotions are not so intense we can control ourselves better. The other is that since ups and downs occur less frequently, self-regulation is not a capacity that seems so useful to us at first and we consider that, either through inertia or simply avoiding unpleasant situations, we have control of the situation.

But despite these supposed advantages, we really need to improve a lot. Emotional self-regulation, as we said before, serves as a control factor for all types of unpleasant situations that, on many occasions, we cannot avoid: are we really going to control ourselves if the boss yells at us? How will we respond when our partner tells us that he cheated on us? What happens if we have cancer?

These situations are going to involve a strong emotional response, and the way we respond can be vital. Learning to respond in a calm, cold and responsible way can be what allows us to enjoy a happy life, whether our partner is by our side, we are fired or the illness worsens.

Accepting that we are emotional roller coasters and that unforeseen things happen in life is the first thing It is difficult, but it is also an easily observable reality. How we feel may not change the severity of our fate, but the way we are going to live it does.

In fact, Many therapies focused on cancer patients focus on doing everything possible so that the patient learns to modulate their emotions This makes sense considering that these types of patients have a life expectancy that is 5 years longer if they receive psychotherapy.

Going for a consultation, learning to control their emotions and applying it in their daily lives is what makes them more willing to respect the entire treatment, to not let themselves be carried away by the fear of death and despair. They control themselves, and enjoy the process, to the extent they can.