By Susie Lee, ACMHC
Emotions are a normal, constant part of life and we all experience them. However, sometimes when we experience an intense emotional response, we have a strong urge to ignore them, push them away, or try to get rid of them in any way possible. While some emotions are unpleasant and we’d prefer to go throughout life without them, they do serve a purpose and provide us with the information we need to keep ourselves physically and mentally healthy. Emotions are there to guide us, motivate us, help us communicate with others and ourselves, help give meaning to our life stories, and store memories. When we suppress our emotional response it can cause us to become stressed and tense, along with storing that emotion in our bodies. Instead of healing and moving forward, we can become stuck, bogged down by unresolved emotional responses. But what do we do with our emotions to help them resolve and heal? Here are fives steps to resolving and regulating our emotional responses:
Step 1: Name Them
Identify what’s going on internally and externally – in yourself and in other people. Feel physically where you’re feeling the intensity in your body, let it be. Name the emotions that are going on for you and be as honest as possible, there is no need to exaggerate the emotion or try to make it smaller then it is. Simply label what it is.
Step 2: Accept It
Accept that you are feeling this emotion, don’t worry about whether or not you “should” or “shouldn’t” be feeling it and don’t beat yourself up for it. Accepting your emotion does not mean that you have to react to it. With this step we are simply accepting that this is something that is coming up for us and it’s providing us with something we need, whatever that might be. Choose to accept and learn from it, rather then push it away.
Step 3: Explore It
Ask yourself questions about this emotions, have you ever experienced it before? When? How does it feel? Where do you feel it in your body? Let it be there while you explore and reflect on it. We often respond to emotions without being curious about why they are coming up. If we can explore why they are there, we can learn a lot about ourselves and how we take in the world around us.
Step 4: Respond
How do you want to respond to this emotion? In this step we want to respond rather than react. When we react, we’re moving on autopilot, responding with a knee jerk reaction instead of choosing how we want to act or what we want to say. When we respond, we actively choose how we are going to communicate and act on this emotion. We want to think and move from a place where we are honoring ourselves, our emotional experiences, and any thoughts that come along with them. Try putting your thoughts and feelings into words and differentiate between communicating to assert your emotions versus communicating from an open, empowered place.
Step 5: Choose your story
We all have a story that we tell ourselves about our emotions. Sometimes, that story is very negative and other times we are able to put our story in a more positive light. When we communicate our emotions and work through them, we have the power to not only choose how we respond to our emotions externally, but internally as well. This doesn’t mean we have to invalidate what actually happened or make our story something that it’s not, but that we can find the good, even in the most awful of circumstances.
Learning to regulate our emotions takes times and practice. We won’t be able to apply these steps over night. However, with time, consistency, and patience, we can learn to apply these steps and see great returns because of them. Sometimes, our emotions get so tangled up and so confusing, we might need extra help to sort them out. When this happens, therapy can be a great place to explore our thoughts, feelings, and responses in a safe environment with someone who has an outside eye and can provide feedback.