Emotional self-regulation is one of the components of emotional intelligence, or what I call emotional competency. This article will tell you what it is and how you can develop it because emotional self-regulation is a foundational skill that you should master.
In essence, emotional self-regulation is the ability to work against what you are feeling in the moment. Emotional regulation can be automatic or controlled, conscious or unconscious, and may have effects at one or more points in the emotion producing process.
Imagine you are so angry you want to hit something. What do you do? If you yell or scream, you are failing to self-regulate. On the other hand, if you listen to what the other person is saying without reacting unconsciously, you are self-regulating. In other words, your behavior, your action, and your words are opposite to what you feel you want to do. 4 Essential Verbal Communication Skills For Accomplished Entrepreneurs
There is a massive conflict between the executive center of your brain and the highly reactive and non-thinking parts of your brain. The non-thinking parts of your brain can easily overwhelm the thinking part of your brain. Emotional self-regulation is the skill that allows you to keep thinking rather than be unconsciously reactive. Emotional self-regulation is critical to your ability to manage your emotions and ultimately manage the emotions of other people around you.
Emotional Self-Regulation Is Uncomfortable
Emotional self-regulation can be incredibly uncomfortable. If you cannot manage your emotions, you will just react. You don’t even think about what you’re saying. You put your foot in your mouth. Or you shame, criticize, or control. When you reflect later on the conversation, you might feel guilty. You might feel shame, or you might blame yourself. Embarrassment, shame, guilt, and self-criticism are all painful.
The discomfort helps you build emotional self-awareness so that you cultivate impulse control over your reactivity. If you have rage, frustration, irritation when around another person, but you are not in the present moment, you are unconscious. You just blow up. The good news is that moment of embarrassing reactivity can be a wake-up call to grow. Emotional Intelligence In Leadership: 10 Ways to Massively Grow Your Effectiveness
Three Steps to Develop Emotional Self-Regulation
Instead of creating a situation where you are ashamed or guilt-ridden because of your behavior, do this simple practice every day.
Step One: Bring your energy and awareness into this present moment. You can use your breath to help you. “I’m just going to be here right now. I’m going to be with my breath.” Do an inner check-in. How are you feeling? What’s going on with your body?”
That simple practice will you into the present moment, which increases your capacity to be aware of your emotions.
Step Two: Before you respond reactively, ask yourself, “Is that the way that I really want to respond? How am I going to feel three hours later when I reflect upon this? Is this really moving from my heart? Am I really deeply listening to this person?”
Step Three: Cultivate your ability to listen others into existence.
Put Your Feelings Into Words
One of the things you can do when developing emotional self-regulation is to think about and label your emotional experience. We call this self-affect labeling.
For example, if I’m angry, I’ll say, “I’m really angry right now. I’m really frustrated. I’m really mad, and I’m a little sad.”
When you put your feelings into words, all sorts of amazing things happen in your brain. Most significantly, as you label your own emotions, your prefrontal cortex comes back online while the emotional centers of your brain become inhibited. In other words, you immediately calm yourself down. 12 Powerful Benefits of Emotional Awareness
Stop Invalidating Others
At the beginning of your life, you learned emotional behaviors based on what your parents did. Most parents do not teach emotional self-regulation other than to say, “Shut up,” or, “Stop crying,” All parents inevitably emotionally invalidate their children. Even the most loving parents will do this unconsciously because they don’t know any better.
You were probably never taught how to emotionally self-regulate. If you were over-exuberant, you were to stuff that down. If you experienced so-called “bad emotions” like anger, rage, or frustration, you were told to stuff that down too. The way that you were taught to emotionally self-regulate was to stop feeling. That created a feeling of lack of emotional safety, which may have caused you to shut down, not relate to people, or not have intimate relationships later on in life.
So the importance of learning how to regulate goes far beyond anger management. Emotional self-regulation allows us to express who we are as human beings, without fear, and without anxiety.
When you know how to process your emotions by labeling them, you go through developmental stages you missed in childhood. As a child, if you didn’t let yourself feel emotions, you literally haven’t matured. That’s why you might still be reacting like a two-year-old. By labeling your emotions, you awaken and cultivate more awareness.
Gordon Neufeld, a brilliant developmental psychologist in Vancouver, British Columbia, talks about emotional “stuckednesss.” He says, “When children are invalidated, their emotional development stops.”
And he says, “Just because we’re in adult bodies does not mean that we’re emotionally adults.”
“Most adults are still emotionally childlike because they were stuck at six or seven or eight years old.”
As a result, when adults get under stress or conflict, they may self-regulate as a six-year-old. Their parents were not acting as emotional coaches but were telling the child not to be emotional.
The good news is that that emotional self-regulation is teachable. It is learnable, and once you start working on it, it doesn’t take long to develop. In fact, if you take any of our courses, you’ll find out that you can actually build your emotional self-regulation in about four to six weeks of practice.
To learn how our courses can help you self-regulate your emotions, go here.
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