‹ Back to Blog

The Truth About Emotional Regulation

So many people comment on how calm I am. Just recently I was speaking at a conference and one of the organizers said, “You are so calm. Does anything ruffle your feathers?” I started listing and naming all the things that frustrate me, but I realize people don’t think anything bothers me because I’m very even-keel in my responses. If I’m having a bad day I’m not crying or having fits, I just take myself to bed or watch a comedy. The presentation of my emotional regulation says to the world that I am managing, and I am fine.

I won’t say I’m not actually fine, but regulating your emotions doesn’t make them go away. There was a show in the 90s called Herman’s Head and it showed all these little people inside this man’s head as a representation of what goes on in a person’s mind all day. If you could see “Nedra’s Head” there are people in there going wild. I can just imagine my little people in there wondering why I’m saying yes to the things I’m saying yes to or doing the things I’m doing, but no one can see all that on the outside.

I used to work in a detox facility, and for some reason, the owner of this place only allowed people three cigarette breaks a day. Do you know what that meant for me? It meant I was cussed out constantly. These people were kicking drugs and to add insult to injury, they could only have three cigarettes a day. I got death threats. Having to be the responsible and appropriate party with someone who is being unkind is hard, but that is sometimes what emotional regulation requires. Matching people’s energy when they are unregulated just creates chaos.

When you are tempted to respond in a way that is reactive, erratic, and maybe even aggressive ask yourself:

  • Will responding this way actually make me feel better?
  • Is responding this way helpful?
  • Will responding in this way truly resolve anything?
  • Is responding in this way in alignment with my values and who I want to be?

Asking ourselves these questions can help us to bolster our self-awareness, which is a key component of emotional regulation. Being self-aware means that you:

  • Know your triggers

Pay attention to what consistently ticks you off. It could be people being late. It could be someone yelling at you. It could be someone bringing up their relationship with their sister or brother. It could be calling the cable company. That was a trigger of mine for years because I couldn’t understand how the prices kept going up while the service was getting worse. It could be anything because we’re all different and different things set us off.

  • Get to the root of why you’re feeling upset

If I look at the example of my experience with the cable company and dig into what was going on there, I think I was upset because I felt like I was being taken advantage of. I felt like the company was getting over on me. When we take the time to figure out what is truly causing our agitation we are better able to identify our triggers.

  • Recognize when your energy is being misplaced

When I was calling the cable company fussing at the customer service representative, I would have to remind myself that those people were not the cable company. They were just people with a job, like me. Getting upset with them didn’t make any sense. They weren’t who I was really upset with. (Apologies to anyone who worked at a cable company between the years of 1999 and 2019.)

  • Acknowledge when it is inappropriate to direct your energy at a particular person

You have to consider whether the person you are speaking to can withstand your wrath. In boss-to-subordinate, parent-to-child, teacher-to-student situations, or others like them where there is an imbalance of power, it is unfair and even abusive to unleash your frustrations on those people.

  • Seek out support

When we find ourselves in situations where we need to manage our reactions amid other people having their reactions and it feels like a lot, we have to find ways to replenish ourselves. We need to figure out who our people are – the ones we can call to process what’s going on. It’s important to have someone you can talk through your experience with, whether that’s a friend or a therapist.

Being emotionally regulated doesn’t mean that you don’t have feelings about things. It doesn’t mean that nothing gets under your skin. It just means that you have learned to manage those feelings in a healthy way.

Journal Prompt
What strategies do you use to remain calm and regulate your emotions?

Reposted with permission from nedratawwab.substack.com.


Mastering boundaries for a balanced life & harmonious relationships.