Emotional self-control implies the ability to recognize and manage your emotions and remain effective even in stressful situations. It doesn’t mean to avoid, ignore or repress them as sometimes people misinterpret. It’s an ability that can be acquired by constantly repeating certain actions, even if people with weak emotional self-control have the impression that their emotional state doesn’t depend on them and they often feel overwhelmed by the tumult of emotions as if they control them and not vice versa.
When emotions take over the ability to concentrate, cognitive mental capacity or "functional memory" is blocked. This makes possible all other intellectual efforts, from forming a sentence to solving a complicated problem. The blockage of our cognitive mental capacity often makes us act impulsively, make or say uninspired and unhealthy things and damage relations. We are the ones who have the power to amplify or diminish our emotions. For example, the more we worry about something that has made us angry, the more we find good reason and justifications for being angry, and the more we get angry. If we try to see things from another perspective, we manage to calm down. Rethinking a situation in a positive manner is one of the most effective ways to quell anger.
Emotions are part of our daily life, and the way we feel and express them influences the quality of our life, but also the way others see us. If, for example, we are used to get angry and make a real drama when our partner doesn’t answer the phone, instead of addressing the situation in a rational, calm manner, this will certainly predispose the relationship to many conflicts . Or if we react aggressively in traffic, this can put our life in danger and we can also put others at risk.
Our emotional responses depend on how we perceive and evaluate the situations we are going through. If our emotional responses are functional, that is, they are appropriate for the situation we are in, we have nothing to worry about. But if we often feel negative emotions, if their intensity overwhelms us, stops us from naturally carrying out our daily activities, affects us both professionally and personally, we have to do something to change that.
People who lack emotional self-control...
- tend to blame others for their own emotional state;
- are moody and have whims;
- it’s difficult for them to control their negative feelings which they allow to escalate;
- they can often feel overwhelmed and that their emotions are out of control;
- may have inappropriate reactions, emotional outbursts;
- can be extremely impressionable;
- have low frustration tolerance;
- don’t manage well stress or crisis situations;
- aren’t effective under pressure;
- can be most of the time in a bad mood;
- aren’t constant and get easily rattled;
- may have too many stressors in their life;
- may have a low self-confidence;
- are seen as being too sensitive;
- have a poor impulse control;
- they don’t strive too hard to manage their negative feelings having the impression that they don’t have control over their emotional life.
People with emotional self-control...
- are aware of what they feel;
- realize what causes their emotions;
- are aware of the moment the emotion arise;
- realize if an emotion is about to escalate and consciously and voluntarily decide not to allow it to happen using, for example, their inner dialogue or getting out of the situation before something harmful happens;
- manage to find strategies for controlling their strong emotions, thus being able to continue their activity;
- don’t get overwhelmed by negative emotions;
- don’t lose their temper in stressful situations;
- are calm and calculating;
- you can rely on them in crisis situations;
- don’t have major emotional imbalances;
- don’t remain stuck in negative states;
- are attentive to their own thoughts, use a positive inner dialogue;
- take responsibility for what they feel and don’t blame others;
- are able to use strong emotions in a constructive manner - for example, they can get angry when they see something unjust happening and they can guide that energy to help change the situation.
What can you do to improve your emotional self-control?
Be aware of what you feel. Observe and describe your emotions.
- name your emotion;
- note its intensity;
- note what triggered that emotion;
- note the factors that predisposed you to be vulnerable to the activator event (what happened before?);
- note how you interpreted the situation (thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, expectations, hypotheses, scenarios);
- note what physical sensations you felt;
- notes what impulses you had / what you felt the need to do;
- what non-verbal language you had;
- what you said;
- what you did;
- what were the consequences.
Be aware of the impact your emotions have on you. Write down three of the emotions you've recently had. For each of these emotions write:
- what was the activator event, what happened more precisely;
- what did you think about that event;
- to what kind of action that emotion has driven you (resolve, overcome, avoid the situation);
- how did you express your emotion in front of others (facial expression, posture, gestures, words, actions, what kind of message you sent them by reacting like that, how your emotional reaction influenced others - What did they do);
- what effect did that emotion have on you (physically, mentally, behaviorally, socially).
Make a journal where you can write down every day what strong emotions you have most often, following the above steps, to make a habit of paying attention to yourself, to what you feel and think, so that you can change your negative thoughts and emotions.
Change your thoughts. Behind your emotions are your thoughts and beliefs. Even if you can’t change some situations, you can change the way you relate to them, what you think about what's happening to you, and so you can change what you feel.
Set yourself to have positive emotions. Write down what thoughts you need to have to access such emotions and what actions you need to do. Do this every day.
Use relaxation techniques. Make a habit out of relaxing and loosing up, either by meditation, sport, art, music, dance or anything else that makes you enjoy and be happy. Over time you will become more calm and at the same time more aware of your own person, becoming more willing to work on your emotional self-control.
Use imagery / visualization techniques. When you are in a stressful, pressing, conflicting, painful situation, use the technique of emotional detachment. Look at the situation from your position, then detach yourself from your own perceptual position and try to look at it from other’s perspective, then from the outside, as if you were an observer. This will make you see things more clearly and not get so emotionally involved. You will become less subjective and less emotional.
If the emotions have escalated and you feel overwhelmed and you feel that you can’t think clearly, change the focus of your attention. Do something else. Don’t focus on what you feel, what is wrong, don’t split hairs amplifying your negative state. Drink a glass of water, take a walk, take a breath, go jogging, whatever it takes to return to a normal state.
Emotional self-control is one of the most important abilities, and we need to give it the proper attention if we want to live in harmony with ourselves and others, because without emotional self-control, our inner strength becomes mostly negative, manifesting like a frisky horse or a tornado capable of destroying everything that gets in their way.
Dr. Ursula Sandner