Are you letting your emotions control you instead of the other way around? Maybe you get angry and lash out with insults and criticisms you regret later. Or, maybe you feel like everything is spiraling out of control and are instantly in the midst of a highly anxious and panicked state you can’t see yourself getting out of. These extreme emotional states can be draining and destructive to not only yourself but your relationships.
Signs Your Emotions Are Controlling You:
- Situation vs. Reaction: Your reaction isn’t congruent to the situation. Individuals who are slaves to their emotions often find that their reactions greatly outweigh the severity of the situation.
- Example: Your partner eats the last cookie without offering it to you first. You perceive this to mean that your partner doesn’t care about you. Suddenly your anger takes over and you begin an onslaught of verbal put downs.
- Lizard Brain: The amygdala is the emotional part of the brain that is present in both humans and animals. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that separates us from animals and allows for reasoning, logic and problem solving. Both parts of the brain are necessary but have different purposes. The amygdala is necessary when there is an immediate threat that needs to be responded to quickly. While the prefrontal cortex allows individuals to take a bit more time to process incoming information and respond with logic and reason. Lizard brain is used to describe people whose amygdala takes over and responds to non-threatening situations instead of the prefrontal cortex.
- Example: Using the situation described in the last example someone using their prefrontal cortex instead of their amygdala may turn to their partner and calmly say something like “Recently, I haven’t been feeling like I’m a priority. You used to be more considerate and now I feel like you barely notice I’m here.”
- It Feels Right and then Wrong: In the moment your emotional outburst feel right, justified and necessary. However, afterwards you feel ashamed and regret how extreme your behaviors were.
- You End up Hurting Those around You and Yourself: Individuals whose emotions control them often find that their behavior hurts those around them.
- Example:You may be stressed from work but lash out at your kids or partner. This not only hurts your relationship with them but how you feel about yourself.
Strategies for Emotional Regulation:
- Warning Signs: Learn your warning signs. This includes physical symptoms such as heart racing, sweating, clenched hands, pursed lips, and negative thoughts. Tuning into these warning signs can help you to be more mindful of what is happening in your body and mind, and give you a chance to utilize coping skills to manage your emotions.
- Take a Timeout: This is the simplest tip and can be very effective if you follow through. Once your heart rate begins to rise the blood begins rushing towards your muscles and away from your brain. This explains why we often say things we don’t mean to say and have difficulty explaining things when we are emotionally escalated. Taking a timeout can give you the time you need to calm your mind and keep it from entering an escalated state.
- Recognize Catastrophizing: Often when our emotions takeover we play out the worst possible scenarios in our head. This further perpetuates the emotional downward spiral and can make it that much harder to get back in control. To combat this you have to use your prefrontal cortex to rationalize and reason in order to come up with alternative thoughts.
- Identify What You’re Really Feeling: Typically, underneath a heightened and emotionally driven reaction are other emotions that are being masked and haven’t really been processed.
- Example: Anger is a great masker of emotions. In my experience I have found that underneath most individuals anger is often an emotion related to either sadness or fear. These include insecurity, abandonment, inferiority, shame, inadequacy, and loneliness.
Once you can identify these feelings you can begin to understand the true source of your emotional response and begin to take steps to work through it. Therapy can be a great place to do this.
Author’s Note: Jasleen moved and is no longer working with Healing Hearts of Indy. You can choose another therapist by going to the ‘Meet The Team’ tab on the home page or by calling (317)218-3038.