How to Understand and Manage Your Emotions

manage your emotions

How to Understand and Manage Your Emotions

Humans are fascinating and complex

As a therapist, I have the pleasure of working with and getting to know people very well. Of the many experiences, personal qualities, different backgrounds, etc. that make each human uniquely different, there is also a shared foundation that makes up our similar human anthropology. The field of psychology is defined as the study of both the mind and behavior; I think this definition is reductionistic of the human person. In my graduate training, I learned that in order to give my clients the best care possible, I would need to treat the whole person. I studied the many aspects that make up our humanity.

The human person is rational, volitional, relational, sensory-perceptual, emotional, and possesses a unified body and spirit. This blog post is intended to look in-depth at our emotionality so that our emotions can guide us toward (instead of deterring us from) a life in which we flourish. I am going to teach you how to understand and manage your emotions by employing your capacities, while ensuring that your emotions don’t run your life.

Emotions are inherently good and can be defined as a basic human capacity

They open a way to understand other people, the world, and oneself. Ultimately, they call us to action. Humans are good at judging their emotions, but it doesn’t mean that we should be judging them; in fact, doing so often leads to undesirable behaviors and negative thoughts. Why do humans judge their emotions so harshly if everyone experiences them? Depending upon a person’s family of origin, early experiences, and examples from others in their lives, they may have skewed or charged opinions about what emotions are acceptable versus which ones must be hidden or extinguished. 

Some people like to label emotions as “good,” “bad,” “right,” or “wrong.” Doing so gets us into trouble. The truth is that all emotions are okay and safe to feel. Despite this truth, so many of us avoid them. Have you ever found yourself thinking, “I’m bored,” and before you know it, your social media is pulled up? Or, “I’m stressed by a hard day at work” and all of a sudden you’re reaching for a wine glass to help take the edge off? Wine and social media are not bad in and of themselves; I share these examples only to increase our awareness of how skilled we as humans are at avoiding unpleasant emotions.

Avoiding emotions actually gives them the power to run our lives.

Given that we are creatures of comfort, it makes sense that we would want to decrease experiencing perceived negative stimuli throughout our day. I propose we do just the opposite though, and instead tune into our emotions and bodies so that we can “name” our emotions and ultimately “tame” them through our faculties such as our cognition, volition, and interpersonal relationships.

Another term for “taming” is “coping skills.” Emotions and coping skills have a lot in common. Sometimes we mask emotions with negative coping mechanisms, for example, with addictions or avoidant behaviors. It would be most helpful to instead acknowledge and manage your emotions by naming it and then doing something to regulate it, if it’s too distressing. For example, I could offer myself some self-validation after a long and stressful day, do some deep breathing or stretching, remind myself that not every workday is like this, put on a song to ease my mind and ask for a hug when I get home from work. The calming skills that I just mentioned regulate my emotions.

It’s ideal to manage your emotions with healthy coping skills.

Once calmer, I can enjoy a glass of wine instead of relying upon it as an external aid to regulate myself. Consider working with one of our therapists to help you create calming habits in your life.

Emotions are like waves: They come but they’ll always go. They won’t decrease in intensity until we actually slow down to experience them. Of course, the alternative is that they build and build until they explode in unhelpful ways. We’ve all been there! Emotions show up in our body. Think of the classic instances like having butterflies in your stomach, clammy hands, or tightness in your neck or shoulders. Our bodies are so wise and if we tap into that wisdom, we’re able to figure out exactly what those emotions are trying to tell us.

I use Emotion Experiencing interventions in my sessions frequently to teach my clients how to sit with distressing emotions. My clients are always amazed at how their anger, disgust, shame, or sadness never actually “kill” them when they non-judgmentally pause to experience their emotions as sensations in their bodies. They ultimately decrease in intensity and/or morph into feelings of calm, hope, peace, contentment, or relief. 

Remember: Emotions are neither good nor bad; they are actually helpful! Learning how to manage your emotions takes practice and gets easier the more that you employ healthy coping skills.

Meta-Model of the Person (2016) C.S. Titus, P.C. Vitz, W. J. Nordling, & The IPS Group 

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