Emotional self-regulation: what it is and strategies to improve it

While over the past decades people have become more aware of the importance of emotional intelligence, they do not always end up applying the skills associated with it.

Among the most important we have emotional self-regulation, Fundamental in order to be able to cope in an effective, socially non-disruptive or individually harmful manner, all kinds of situations that affect us emotionally.

Below we will take a closer look at this idea, three types of strategies that fit into 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 an integrated construct in intrapersonal emotional intelligence that allows us to transform a potentially stressful and emotionally altering experience into something that, while still unpleasant, we understand to be fleeting. , impersonal and controllable. Having good emotional self-regulation means being able to identify what is happening to us, to follow its progress and to intervene because it ends up disappearing.

    Based on this definition, we understand the importance of having well developed this ability. It allows us to deal with all kinds of life situations that we want or don’t involve a series of emotional experiences. When something happens to us, we have a prior emotional state and, depending 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, it is predictable that we will give an ineffective response, which will frustrate us and cause us to suffer more anxiety. On the other hand, if we are more relaxed, we can think cooler, calculating and efficiently, giving an adaptive response to whatever problem it is.

    Emotional self-regulation would imply that even though we were in an undesirable state of mind for the situation we find ourselves in, we knew how to deal with that emotivity. In other words, that is to say it involves being able to analyze oneself, decrease the degree to which feelings produce sudden ups and downs, and redirect their energy to a more adaptive goal.. For example, if we are angry, instead of starting to shred street furniture, a good option is to channel that energy and play sports in that state.

    The modal theory of emotions

    There have long been theories in psychology that have insisted on defending the idea that emotions are completely automatic and inevitable processes. In other words, it doesn’t matter what training we have created to possess: emotions arise and there is no way to control them. If you are angry, you will hardly be able to reduce this feeling and think coldly about how you are feeling. However, this is not the idea behind the concept of emotional self-regulation.

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

    According to the model, emotions involve a process that begins when an emotionally relevant situation arises. It can have its origin inside the person, because they can remember an unpleasant experience or go through an emotionally strained situation. The person then directs their attention to this emotional event, evaluating and interpreting what happened on a cognitive and emotional level. From there comes the answer, which will mobilize emotional, mental and behavioral elements.

    Depending on the model, it is possible to intervene in this process. Although there is something that activates us emotionally, it is our ability to self-regulate that will make our thoughts, emotions secondary to the event, and our behavior different from those that might arise if we were not in control..

      Emotional regulation strategies

      There are many strategies for emotional self-regulation, and each person, as long as they do so in a functional and adaptive way, can apply theirs. however, the most common are the ones you will see below.

      1. Suppression of thoughts

      This strategy consists, as the name suggests, in suppressing the thoughts that bother us. This way seeks to change the emotional state, coming out of the unpleasant situation and going towards a situation, imagined or real, which does not cause us as much stress.

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

      Although this strategy is very common, simple and inexpensive, it is not effective in the long term. It is true that this offers temporary relief, but usually the thoughts of those who run away end up coming back stronger.

      2. Emotional reconsideration

      The strategy of emotional reconsideration, or reassessment, is to change the way 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 experience negative feelings such as sadness, uncertainty or fear of never finding love again.

      however, through reassessment we can reconsider the situation, see its positive side. For example, in this particular case, we can see that breaking up with this person is a breakthrough because we no longer have 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 common in cognitive behavioral therapy.

      3. Cognitive distancing

      Cognitive distancing it consists in taking an independent and neutral position vis-à-vis the event or the emotional situation which alters us. In this way, we are able to reduce its impact on our mental state, and it is easier to choose the answer we want to give.

      It’s tricky, but to get there, we need to refocus our emotional state, calm down and think coldly about what kind of response we want to give. Basically, cognitive distancing helps us avoid making bad decisions in the heat of the moment.

      How to improve this skill?

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

      Below we will see useful ways to improve emotional self-regulation in both childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

      In childhood

      An ideal time to work on this ability is childhood, given children’s malleability and their ability to learn easily. Teaching them how to regulate their emotions so early will help them manage them better in the educational and social context., Avoid poor school performance and have conflicts with other children.

      The first thing to do is to teach them to identify the feelings they feel at any given time. Children often have a hard time realizing their emotions. For this reason, practicing deliberately to achieve it can be really helpful, always from a state of relaxation.

      What we can ask them is to 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 to life, they can identify and manage them.

      During teenagehood

      Although they have a greater ability to recognize emotions than children, adolescents may also have difficulty mastering this ability. Indeed, despite its higher cognitive abilities, adolescence is a turbulent time, when emotions are at their peak.

      A good way to make them aware of their emotions is to get them to write a journal or put on an emotion calendar.. In the journal they can write down what they felt each day, put what triggered the emotion, how they reacted and what they did to control it, while on the calendar they represent in color what they felt.

      The Calendar and the Emotional Journal they are used for the analysis of the adolescent, through the strategy of cognitive distancing, His post-event state of mind, and questions like “Does it make sense to feel this?”, “What did I learn from that?”, “Why can’t I control myself? “

      in adults

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

      also, in adulthood we play with certain advantages. The first is that not being such intense emotions, we can better control ourselves. The other is that as the ups and downs occur less often, self-regulation is not a skill that we find so useful at first and we find that, either out of inertia or simply by avoiding unpleasant situations, we got the situation under control.

      But despite these supposed benefits, we really need to improve and a lot. Emotional self-regulation, as we’ve said before, serves as a controlling factor for all kinds of unpleasant situations that in many cases we can’t avoid: are we really going to control ourselves if our head hits us? How will we react when our partner tells us that he put horns on us? What if we have cancer?

      These situations will involve a strong emotional response, and how we respond can be vital. Learning to react in a proclaimed, cold and responsible manner can be what makes us live happy lives, whether our partner is by our side, whether we are made redundant, or the disease worsens.

      Accepting that we are an emotional roller coaster and that unforeseen things happen in life is the first thing. It is difficult, but it is also an easily observable reality. What we feel may not change the severity of our but, but the way we experience it.

      In fact, many cancer therapies make every effort to teach the patient to modulate their emotions. This makes sense given that these types of patients have a life expectancy of 5 years longer if they receive psychotherapy.

      Going to a consultation, learning to control your emotions and applying it in their daily life is what makes them more favorable to respecting the whole treatment, not to be carried away by the fear of death and despair. They control themselves and enjoy the process as much as they can.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Bonano, GA (2001). Self-regulation of emotions. In TJ Mayne and GA Bonano (Eds.). Emotions. Current issues and future directions. New York: The Guilford Press
      • Goleman, D. (1996). Emotional intelligence. Barcelona: Cairo.
      • Gross, JJ (2002). Regulation of emotions: affective, cognitive and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39, 281-291.
      • Mayer, JD (2001). A field guide to emotional intelligence. In Ciarrochi, J., Forgas, JP and Mayer, JD (2001). Emotional intelligence in everyday life. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.
      • Mayer, JD, Salovey, P., Caruso, DR and Sitarenios, G. (2001). Emotional intelligence as standard intelligence. Emotion, 1, 232-242
      • Schutte et al. (2002). Characteristic emotional intelligence and emotional well-being. Cognition and Emotion, 16 (6), 769-785.
      • Vallès, A. and Vallès, C. (2003). Self-regulation for emotional adaptation. In Vallès, A. and Vallès, C. (2003). Psychopedagogy of emotional intelligence. Valencia: Promolibro.

      Leave a Comment