The processes by which individuals influence their emotions has been the subject of a wealth of psychological, and spiritual research. These processes may be automatic and without our awareness (closing our eyes while watching scary movies), or they can require our conscious efforts (forcing a smile before a talk, despite feeling nervous). While there is a myriad of methods we regularly employ to manage our emotions, researchers have identified a few defining features of emotion regulation. These include having a goal (for example, watching an uplifting comedy to alleviate sadness), as well as influencing the dynamics and trajectory of an emotion (for example, lessening the intensity of worry by distraction).
Although it may sometimes feel like they strike us out of the blue, emotions unfold over time. According to the process model of emotion regulation, we can interfere with emotional processes at different points during the emotion generation timeline using different strategies. For instance, before the emotional reaction is activated, we can target the selection and modification of the situation (for example, avoiding dreaded situations), our attention to the situation (for example, looking somewhere else), and the way we frame its meaning (for example, downplaying negative events). Once the emotion is on its way, we can alter our behavioral or physiological response to it (for example, smiling when feeling fearful). None of this will be possible if we do not take our thoughts, feelings and emotions captive.
Not all strategies are equally adaptive at regulating our emotions. Two of the most widely studied strategies — reappraisal and suppression — and their consequences for our well-being:
Reappraisal is cognitive in nature, which means that it involves how people think about and reframe emotional situations. It’s considered to be a positive type of emotion regulation, because it is flexible and because it transforms the whole emotion, rather than just one piece of it. Reappraisal is associated with lower levels of depression and greater levels of well-being.
Suppression, in contrast, is basically still experiencing the emotion, but inhibiting its behavioral expressions. It is considered to be a more negative type of emotion regulation. One reason is that the experience part of the emotion still persists. Another reason is more transactional in nature. It creates an asymmetry between how a person feels and what other people see, and that’s thought to be related to negative social processes.
Research has shown that people who use reappraisal strategies are able to reframe stressful situations by reinterpreting the meaning of negative emotional stimuli. They deal with challenging situations by taking a proactive role in restoring their moods and in adopting more positive attitudes. These efforts are often rewarded with more positive and less negative emotions, as well as resilience, better social ties, greater self-esteem, self control, and general life satisfaction.
Suppression, on the other hand, only affects the behavioral response of emotions, and does little to reduce their actual experience. It’s thought to be cognitively and socially costly — it takes continuous effort to control and suppress emotions — and can create feelings of inauthenticity. Studies have shown that people who used suppression were less able to repair their negative moods, despite “masking” their inner feelings. They experienced fewer positive emotions and more negative emotions, and had less life satisfaction and less self-esteem. Suppression is a form of acting out of the false self, as you will not be dealing with emotion in a genuine or authentic manner.
Emotion regulation is not as simple as learning a few tricks on reframing our circumstances. Various factors, including culture, can render different strategies adaptive or maladaptive. Emotion regulation also depends on the intuitive beliefs and mindsets people hold about their emotions. Do you think you have control over your emotions? If “yes,” then you are more likely to use reappraisal strategies than if your answer is “no.” Thus, training emotion regulation in more adaptive ways may involve “altering people’s mindsets and beliefs about their emotions.” We use REBT as a Cognitive Therapy model to assist in effecting this type of emotional discipline.
There is another form of emotion regulation which may help us see emotion regulation in the light of thousand-year-old traditions — acceptance.
Emotional acceptance is a stance of perceiving that one is emotional, but deciding not to do anything about it, i.e., not to alter the emotion. Somewhat paradoxically, emotional acceptance is related to decreased negative emotions, as well as resilience. Thus, the absence of emotion regulation can sometimes have the best emotion regulatory function. For example, people who accept their negative emotions when they are stressed out experience less negative emotions than people who don’t accept their emotions.
It’s one of the core processes of self awareness, which involves a number of different psychological processes. One of them is awareness of your emotional and psychological states, and the other one is non-reactance or acceptance, which could also be thought of as the absence of emotion regulation. That might seem contradictory at first glance, but perhaps it’s the combination of both that you really want: a posture of emotional acceptance — acknowledging your emotions and not being threatened by them — and the knowledge that you can, if you want to, cognitively transform them. (Taking your thoughts captive).
Wisdom is said to be the “harmony of reason and the passions.” Wisdom also is attributed to God. “Godly Wisdom” will provide proper reason, moral compass, and emotional balance, leading to more healthy and effective choices.. Adopting true wisdom will provide the balance, temperance and make way for increasing understanding of who we actually are… our temperament strengths and weaknesses, our propensities, our why and purpose.
The more we mature and become emotionally and spiritually grounded, the more we exercise self control, the more we take our thoughts, feelings and emotions captive, the more we will be able to regulate our emotions.
BH/ Adapted Psychology Today